What is it about houses?
These floors know the first tentative steps of infancy. The stampede of children’s play. First breaths, short breaths, sighs and last breaths. These doors observe good night kisses, others slammed in fits of rage. Darkened corners watch frustrated tears, hear desperate prayers.
Our houses are more than structures of wood, steel, brick and plaster. We shape our homes, and in turn they shape us. A home speaks. These houses we inhabit tell the beautiful and terrible tale of humanity’s journey from, and to, home.
History comes to life when we understand it as the story of our exodus from home in eden, our wandering through the desert of hollow humanity, and the Father’s breathtaking invitation back to home.
The opening chapter of the book of John tells us Jesus came and tabernacled among us. The tabernacle was the temple tent where God and humanity met, the interface and place of meeting. It was God’s house, where you could go to meet Him. Jesus came and ‘tented’ among us, he set up camp. He walked our trails, set up home and moved into the neighbourhood.
Sometimes out on the road, sometimes travelling from home to home, many of Jesus’ teaching stories centred around the home.
To what can I compare the kingdom of heaven? It is like a long lost and wasteful son coming home. Or… maybe it is like a king with a very long table who throws out invites to a wedding feast for his prince and princess. Or again, maybe it’s like a man who built his home firmly on the teachings of Jesus, or like a lamp placed on a high shelf that lights up the whole house…
It seems the table is the most important piece of furniture in the kingdom of God. And indeed, it’s been said that Jesus ate his way through the gospels. The religious purists of his day were scandalised that Jesus ate with sinners. He’s still up to it today of course- we sometimes feel his presence in my lounge at home.
But deeper than the home being just a symbol, Jesus claimed to be the very temple home of God Himself. Jesus is called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”. He’s the home of God on earth, the place where God and man meet and where we come face to face with YHWH. He is the interface between heaven and earth and the place of atonement for sin.
People who followed him saw the proof: the Spirit of God that once filled their physical temple as a cloud then descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. Later, perhaps glancing around at the impressive stones of Jerusalem’s physical temple, Jesus put out a bold challenge: “tear this temple down, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.” He was speaking of the death and resurrection of God’s true temple: his body.
Then after his body ascended into heaven, he sent his Spirit to live in his people. Perhaps just as extraordinarily, just as Jesus is, so in a curious way we have also become this temple-home for God too. We were dead in our sins, but His Spirit came and filled us, bringing us to life as God’s living, breathing body on earth, His home made of living stones.
So it’s no wonder that for the first Christians the focus of their assemblies was the home. Congregations were “households of faith”, with elders appointed in each. When writing letters to churches in each city apostles instructed Christians how they should relate to each other by rewriting their society’s existing household codes in light of the gospel. 200 years passed before buildings started being modified specifically for Christian worship, and even then it was a home that was expanded.
Nowadays ‘church’ is more usually associated with a building than a household. Large congregations and religious buildings have altered the ‘church’ paradigm into something the early church would probably associate more with an old covenant temple or gathering of the citywide Church than a family household of faith.
Earlier this year we had half our Sunday morning meeting around a big dinner table in our lounge at home. We decked it out nice with tablecloths, roast lamb, decent bread and grape juice, and we all crammed in around the long table. We made the eating a part of our meeting, centering it around the communion meal. With several people around the table asked to read scriptures out loud, I was surprised how profoundly this changed the dynamic of the sermon. The eye-to-eye dialog was ten times more engaging than a monologue delivered from across a stage.
In the early Church the ‘agape’ feast seems to have been a kind of community meal to which all contributed, and an act of charity for poorer Christians. I consider it a great loss that today’s Church has little understanding of the fellowship or sacramental potential of full meals [Also see A Theology of Food – As Easy As Pie].
Following this thread, to the church in Laodicea, Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I’ll come in and we’ll eat together.” (Revelation 3:20).
I believe he’s saying the same thing to us. Jesus the carpenter is building his house (John 14:2), but we sometimes try to lock him out of it! If we allow him to take his place at the head of the table, we can have fellowship with him as intimate as a meal with friends.
God desires to travel from heaven to hearth, from distant theory and the pages of history to the fireside of human friendship. God is making a home in human hearts. He is the Grand Architect, He’s the designer. C.S Lewis said it brilliantly in his book Mere Christianity:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
This works for each of us individually, for specific church “households of faith” and for God’s global Church.
When we move into a house, in order to turn it into a home we give it a deep-clean, move furniture around, paint the walls, maybe tear something down, maybe rebuild something else, maybe replace things here and there. In the same way, God is making His home among us. Sometimes He uses a hoover or a paintbrush, sometimes a hammer.
So let’s let Him move the furniture around as He wills, even if it sounds like thunder when He does so. Even if we’re particularly attached to that tatty sofa.
Let us all find our home as we fit in with the architect’s design.
Let us be a home in which God is happy to live.
And let us welcome others home.
The table is already set.