The New Ark of the Covenant: YOU!

In early Israelite history, the Ark of the Covenant was a gilded vessel of astonishing magnificence and holiness housing the spirit of God – it still is today.
by Suze Forster | Source: Catholic.net

Today the Ark of the Covenant is no longer fashioned of wood and gold, but a chalice of flesh, and the Spirit of God which was once visible as a cloud about the Ark is no less real now that it is the Holy Spirit residing in each of us.

So much of what we see in the New Testament is a continuation of what was recorded in the Old Testament. We often make the mistake of thinking that what was written in the Old Testament (laws and conditions for living, cultural and traditional practices) was cast off with the coming of Christ when He established a new relationship between Man and God through His life, death and Resurrection. In fact, this could not be further from the truth. Many traditional practices were no longer required by virtue of His divinity and the newly established covenant between Man and God through Christ (ie, circumcision, distinctions between clean and unclean foods, etc) but this did not negate their pre-Christian purpose, importance and significance.

Jesus did not overturn the Word or the Law of His Father in Heaven – He could not, for to do so would be to contradict Himself and God is incapable of either deceit, inconsistency or ambiguity. Much of what was of cultural, spiritual and lawful significance before Christ merely either evolved or dissolved as a result of His First Coming – but was never overturned, negated or undone.

The Ark of the Covenant was one of those things that evolved, for it was so symbolically and culturally and spiritually significant to pre-Christian Israelites that it warranted continuation during and after Christ’s earthly ministry as the most powerful emblem of the divinity He left with every individual of every age following His death and Resurrection.  And so the Ark of the Covenant was transformed in the most spectacular and incomparably beautiful way. What was once a magnificently adorned and symbolically rich, holy chest housing articles of indisputable divinity has blossomed and transformed into an even more wondrous form. Dead wood is now living flesh. And the Spirit of God no longer needs to be a visible cloud whose spoken word is heard by the ear, but is now an indwelling Holy Spirit whose counsel can be perceived by the heart. What an astonishing blessing!  That which was once outside of ourselves now dwells and gives life from within!

When looking at the history of the original Ark of the Covenant, many parallels between its form, purpose and character then have translated almost unchanged into what it has become now.

 

 

 

 

Ark – before Christ

Ark – after Christ

Made of setim wood (an incorruptible acacia wood). (Exodus 37:1-9)

Christ taught that every believer will become a vessel for the Holy Spirit effectively rendering us all Arks. (John 16:5-15) (2 Corinthians 4:10-12) (Colossians 3:1-17

Touching the Ark (if you weren’t of the tribe of Levi, and then one of the priests specifically appointed to its care) resulted in death. (Numbers 3:28) (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

The mishandling of our bodies (sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, etc) can result in death. (Genesis 18 & 19) (Leviticus 18) (2 Samuel 12-15-18)

Housed the Spirit of God and the Word of God. (Exodus 25:10-22)

We are intended for the same purpose as vessels of God’s presence in the world. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Was kept largely concealed in recognition of its divinity and to prevent it becoming an object of idolatry.  (Exodus 40:1-33) It could only be approached and touched by those appointed by God. (Leviticus 8 & 9)

St Paul provides guidelines for modesty and propriety in how we treat (clothe) our bodies to deflect a culture of worshipping only outer beauty. (Romans 8:1-17) (Romans 13:8-14)

The cloud that settled over the Ark (the Spirit of God) was a guiding sign in the Israelites’ journey. (Exodus 40:34-38)

The Holy Spirit in each of us guides us and provides counsel in our life journey. (Acts 2:38-39)

The Ark influenced the natural world by supernatural means (dividing the waters of the Jordan  and allowing the Israelistes to cross through a dry channel on the river bed).  (Joshua 3:14-17)

The Holy Spirit through the faithful has empowered saints and beati who have performed miracles in life and beyond death that defy the natural law (suspension of decay  after death, healings attributed to saintly intercession after their death, stigmata, and levitation during fervent prayer or when receiving a vision of and message from Christ). [1]

When the Ark was captured by the enemies of (removed from their presence) calamity beset them.  (1 Samuel 5:1-12)

When the Holy Spirit departs us (when rejected or denied a dwelling in us) we are rendered desolate and will belong to and be at the mercy (or lack thereof) of a fallen world. Spiritual and temporal peril close in on us. (1 Samuel 16:14-23)

The presence of the Ark brought blessings to the house of Obed-Edom. (2 Samuel 6:9-11)

When the Holy Spirit dwells in us and is animated by our sincere worship and love of Jesus Christ, we are showered in blessings most abundant. (Acts 2:1-12)

For anyone who ever asked why they shouldn’t smoke, why recreational sex was harmful, why abortion was murder, or who used it for self-gratification to justify drug use, the Bible gently and sagely sets out guidelines for its treatment.  We are made in the image of God and our original purpose (for which we are still intended today) was to worship God and to become a holy vessel for His Holy Spirit.

We must be diligent and disciplined caretakers of our bodies – our Ark - because the body and spirit are indivisible. There are those who believe that they are separate entities, that the sins committed by and to the body cannot taint the spirit, that the body is unable to corrupt the spirit. But can a body survive without the spirit – the very thing that animates it? And neither can the spirit endure in the absence of the body when deterioration through malignant disease, battery, overdose or ultimately extreme old age overcomes it – at least not in this world.

Jesus ascended into heaven bodily (Luke 24:50-53). He was not resurrected in spirit only and appeared in physical form. He was clothed in the same flesh in which He died on the cross when He appeared in His resurrected state before His ascension. Thomas had to be certain by touching him. Elijah too was swept up into Heaven as a living, breathing, flesh and blood human being (2 Kings 2:11-12). And while our bodies will go down into the dust at the time of our death, they are nonetheless designated holy and sacred while we are yet living because, like the Ark which housed the holiest of items – the Word of God and the Spirit of God – so too do we cradle these most holy of things within ourselves.

If, as the Bible demonstrates, the body and soul are indivisible, then the Holy Spirit does not merely reside in us spiritually, but suffuses our bodies with its holiness, consecrating us to the Father in Heaven not as a disembodied spirit but as flesh and spirit fused into a singular being. We cannot compartmentalize ourselves and corrupt the body by introducing harmful practices or substances into our lives in the conviction that this is permissible as long as we nourish our souls with the spiritual fruits of prayer, thanksgiving and worship. This creates an internal and external conflict that cannot be overcome until either the spirit or the body buckles under the strain. If the body buckles, we have been proven wrong and at great cost. If the spirit buckles, it can result in turning away from God or lapsing into spiritual apathy, at an even greater cost – our salvation. The body we are born with may be terribly flawed (by virtue of physical abnormalities at birth) or else be subjected to some form of subsequent disfigurement or severe encumbrance (through hereditary disease, genetic aberration, etc) or else be suffer extreme trauma (the result of an horrific accident or sustained burns, but the imperfections and defects of its substances renders it no less holy than one formed without blemish. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that holy people were physically perfect human beings. Some of the most radiant beacons of faith in Christ’s times were lepers and cripples convinced of His healing power if he but uttered the word, of if they were to but touch just the hem of His robe, or even merely come into His presence. He restored disfigurements and disabilities in simple people of powerful faith. While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.’ (Luke 5:12-13)

But His word remained consistent with that of His forefathers – whether in robust health or in dreadful decline, the body was a thing most sacred (used for worship in the temple, given to a spouse in marriage, which carried new life into the world, preached the Word of God and was home to the Holy Spirit) and therefore subject to the same principles that applied to any hallowed object. It was not to be used for sinful purposes, kept from unholy practices, and viewed as the sanctified vessel of the most Holy Spirit and therefore preserved in its holiness.

Sexual immorality, then as now, was considered to be the ultimate compromise of this sanctity because it dismantled a person spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically on every level. It invited disease, promoted a culture of using sex for gain, power or influence, and it focused on lust instead of love. ‘You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own’ (Leviticus 20:26). This call to holiness was not intended to be a buzz-kill or a deliberate extrication of all fun in life. It was in fact a demonstration of God’s great love and mercy, for He wishes to promote peace and joy amongst the Israelites. The hedonistic, debauched lifestyles of the surrounding pagan nations wrought disease, treachery, murder, tyranny, oppression, and enslavement, from which God wishes to see His beloved people spared. Today we don’t have entire nations that can be categorically labeled pagan or chosen but we are one or the other in our hearts and this determines what we choose to believe and subsequently how we live our lives. But God’s eternal promise and invitation remain – He invites us to approach him in holiness of spirit and body that we, in our fallen and sinful state, may draw closer to Him. Sin distances us from our Lord. Refusal to repent and the active and ongoing pursuit of sinful gain or desires creates an ever-widening, yawning gulf between us and our God. He does not wish this for He loves us unimaginably beyond even our most profound comprehension of love, which is why He instructed us on how we can come into His presence once again. He who is without sin cannot tolerate the presence of it and while we are incapable of being sinless, we can approach Him if we accept His Son whose blood atoned for and washed away our sins and if we do so in observance of holiness.

Adultery was seen, then as now, as one of the most contaminating forms of corrupting the Ark of the body (as evidenced by the consequences of such defilement – stoning). It was not merely about the act of sexual intercourse. From it flourished betrayal, dissolution of trust, selfishness, envy, pride, guilt, wrath, the breakdown of the family, degradation of self worth, and the invitation of critical judgement from others. But more than this, it violated a sacred vow, a Sacrament, one so holy it required testimony before God in the presence of God through the power invested in a priest.

The union of our bodies are the manifestation through which love within a marriage finds expression, reserved solely for husbands and wives to demonstrate that love – ‘The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.’ (1 Corinthians 7:3-5) – and to bring forth children.

Just as the Ark of the Covenant held sacred objects (the 10 Commandments, manna from Heaven on which the Israelites were sustained 40 years in the desert, the budding staff of Aaron, etc) and was the earthly dwelling place of the spirit of God, our bodies house the most sacred of all articles – the Holy Spirit and the Sacraments we receive. We were created by holy hands for a holy purpose and to house holy things. When we refrain from defiling our Ark , we enter into a state of holiness that allows us to approach our most holy Lord. We are caretakers of our earthly Ark – when we consecrate our bodies to Christ, we honor Him by treating as holy that which was fashioned by holiness for a holy intention.  It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)

Often we awe at biblical accounts of the Ark of the Covenant – indescribably holy, astonishingly powerful, capable of exercising great influence (even domination) over the natural world because of that which dwelt therein. We are no less holy, mighty and influential as the new Ark – for the Holy Spirit is the same Spirit of God that once dwelt in a coffer of wood and gold. That which was once so holy it could not so much as be approached, much less touched is now in us.

Within us!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit' (Galatians 5:22-25) 

So what are the results of this consecration of our bodies to holiness? What are the benefits? The Holy Spirit, by residing inside us, by extension makes of us holy vessels and demands of us holy integrity. In return He promises us fullness of life in the Spirit, the promise of salvation, counsel and comfort throughout the pilgrimage of our loves, and reconciliation with our most High God who through His love sets us free from the shackles of sin and sorrow. Embracing holiness sews a seed in the earth from which strong, verdant shoots spring forth and produce a multitude of buds.  The seed is faith, the earth is our Savior Jesus Christ who bids us abide in Him, the shoots are the decisions we make and the actions we take to cultivate the milieu that invites the Holy Spirit to reside in us, and the buds are the blessings wrought by the unity of a holy life merged with the Spirit of God. Such unity and harmony with our Lord (a relationship for which He created us out of His unfathomable love for us) can alone produce the joy and peace and love we all so desperately long for. And it is ours for the taking – at our very fingertips. It all starts with recognizing that we are the New Ark of the Covenant and starting down the path of holiness that arrives at reunion with Christ our Lord and ends with peace, joy and an experience of love that renders all other experiences pale and porous. 'We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.' (1 John 4:13-16)

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the good shepherd who protects from predator and entrapment His beloved flock, settle in your heart and overwhelm your distress, anxiety and despair to the benefit of your most cherished soul and the glorification of His name.

Amen.


  

 [1] http://www.catholicapologetics.info/library/gallery/incorrupt/incorrupt.htm

http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/practices/honoring_saints/canonization.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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