Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! [Psalm 141:2 (ESV)]
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6 (ESV)]
One of the countless questions we have about this pandemic is how God could allow church doors to close throughout the world. 2020 is not the first time the doors to His house have been shut. In 586 BC, the Temple doors closed for the Jews when Judah fell to Babylon; Jerusalem was laid to waste and the Temple destroyed. Its doors didn’t open again until the exiles returned and completed the second Temple in 515 BC. Destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, all that remains of that Temple is a small portion of an external supporting wall on the Temple Mount.
Although the focal point of Jewish worship was the Temple, we know that synagogues existed in Jesus’ day. They may have evolved as a substitute for the first Temple during the Babylonian exile. Rather than houses of worship, however, they were places for study, communal meals, the local court, and from which to distribute charity. Until 70 AD, the Temple remained fundamental to Jewish worship and, every year, Jews from all over the world returned to Jerusalem to worship there for the festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
After the Romans destroyed it, the Jews wondered how they could continue to worship and offer the required sacrifices without a Temple. Looking to the Bible and tradition for answers, they found scripture that connected prayer with sacrifice. Prayer became a satisfactory substitute for ritual sacrifice and the synagogue became a place of worship and prayer (as well as study).
Nowadays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw Jews to the synagogue the way Christmas and Easter draw Christians to a church. COVID changed that this year and, when the High Holy Days were celebrated last month, even the doors to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue were shut. When asked how they could observe the holiest days of the year without going to synagogue, Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky replied, “You’re going to make your home into a mini-synagogue.” He then made reference to a quote by Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a 19th century Hasidic rabbi who, at the age of five, is said to have asked his father, “Where is God?” When his father answered, “God is everywhere!” the future rabbi responded, “No, I think God is only where you let Him in.”
God needs somewhere to live but that place isn’t a church or synagogue; that place is us! When we ask, “Where is God?” let us remember He doesn’t live in a building. God is wherever we allow Him in! He is in the simple everyday miracles of life and His Holy Spirit dwells within us. Since God has allowed our church doors to close, He must have His reasons. Perhaps it’s simply a reminder that being a Christian isn’t going to church; it is being the church! We can do that anywhere! Let our homes become mini-churches and may our lives reflect His presence.