Some people construe the Old Testament Book of Exodus to be primarily about a politics, a treatise on freedom and self-determination. Now while one can cite elements in the Book of Exodus that gesture towards these themes, the main point of the Book of Exodus is not about politics, but about worship.
If one recalls the reason Moses insists to Pharaoh that the Israelites be permitted to leave the lands of Egypt it is not to form a new government or write a new constitution, but so that the people might worship the God of Israel as he wants to be worshipped.
Thus, the commandments given by God to the Israelites are not just for the sake of providing a code of conduct, but of expressing for the people those expectations that would conform the Israelites to the God whom they worship.
The Book of Exodus is really about worship.
In today’s excerpt from the Book of Exodus, the prototype of the temple of Jerusalem is completed. This prototype is described as an immense tent that would serve as a dwelling place for the divine presence. In this sanctuary God would have a home among his people.
The Israelite temple, in its prototypical form, or as it took shape as the great temple of Jerusalem, was not just a civic center or a gathering place for the community to celebrate itself. Instead it was literally God’s house, the Lord’s dwelling place on earth. The Lord would make his presence known in this place in signs and wonders and the Israelites would have recourse to the temple, not as some kind of faith-based clubhouse, but as the privileged meeting place of God and his people.
Thus, does the Church gather the faithful, not in civic centers or gatherings spaces or clubhouses, but in temples- for this is what the Church’s place of worship is properly called, for in our places of worship it is not just the community that is present, but the divine presence of God in Christ.
The divine presence of God in Christ is revealed in the great mysteries of the Mass, mysteries that culminates in the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, which is not just a symbol of Christ, but the real presence of the Lord Jesus himself. This presence dwells in the faithful, who carry out into the world in their own bodies the divine life of Christ, but also this presence abides in the holy of holies of the tabernacle, where the divine presence endures and beckons the faithful to adoration and worship.
The purpose of the Church is not simply to advance this or that cause or promote this or that agenda. The purpose of the Church, like that of Israel, is to invite people into an experience of true worship- to call people from the darkness of false gods and into the light of the one, true God. It is from its worship that the life of the Church is sustained and grows. The source and summit of the Christian life is the worship of God in Christ, not our causes, cultures, or agendas.
The worship of the Church is God in Christ’s gift to us, we receive worship from him, we do not make it up for ourselves.
Pope Benedict XVI was apt to point out that the mission of Church can be summed up in three great tasks- worship, evangelization and care for the poor. Of these three, worship has a priority, for without the worship of God in Christ we will not know the God whom we are to invite others to know and we will not know how to love those whom Christ insists that we serve.