Lord, I have loved the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory abides. (Psalm 26:8)
One of the memorable moments of my teaching career came when I was standing with a student in a Roman church, the Nth one we’d visited on our quarter-long study abroad program. He had long since passed the point where they all start to run together, and asked me rather abruptly how many more we would have to endure. It had been a long day, so I turned to him and said, “You signed up for a program on the historical sociology of Christianity. In Rome. Did you not think you’d be visiting some churches?”
I love visiting churches. It’s partly an extension of my passion for visiting dwellings of all kinds: cabins, Craftsman-style bungalows, chateaux—I love seeing how dwelling places are configured. But even an ordinary house can be made extraordinary by its inhabitants. So churches have a special fascination, and I love finding the sanctuary lamp lit, the sign that God is at home, in the place where his glory abides.
So great was Jesus’ passion for the Temple, the place where God’s glory dwelt, that at age twelve when his parents were leaving Jerusalem for home he couldn’t tear himself away. Not realizing where he was, Mary and Joseph searched for three days before they found him there, having a nice scholarly chin-wag with his elders. Jesus apparently took this whole “I’m a man now” thing pretty seriously.
So when the folks asked why he’d been so inconsiderate, Jesus said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I’d be at my Dad’s house?” I detect in this just a hint of “well, duh” with a suggestion of pre-teen Divine eyeroll. This is why God was smart to give the job of bearing the Messiah to Mary over me (no, really): I would’ve slapped him.
But I love the places where God’s glory abides. There are churches that leave me cold, like St. Peter’s in Rome, which with its high altar as anchor store and its collection of side chapel boutiques, feels to me like a giant Catholic mall. Others, like Notre Dame in Paris, remind me that the word “awesome” used to mean something.
For Christians, the “place” where God’s glory ultimately abides is Christ himself, the Temple that could be rebuilt in three days. But before his arrest, Jesus told his disciples: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” The habitation of God’s house, the place where God’s glory abides, is us. Do we love that place?
The next time you read that psalm, instead of saying the words to God, try hearing God say them to you: “I love the habitation of my house, and the place where my glory abides.”