Recently I have been reading through the book of Exodus. As you may know, the book contains detailed instructions about the building of the ark and the tabernacle with its various items as well as the making of the garments for the priests. In describing the garments of Aaron and his sons there is a phrase that is repeated twice: for glory and for beauty [Ex. 28:2, 40]. I was struck by this phrase when I read it because it communicates that God’s intention in giving these details was not merely to describe their function but there was also an aesthetic value to these garments. The portrayal of glory and beauty in Aaron’s garments, those garments in which he would approach the Lord, illustrate for us that God delights in glory and beauty to the point of requiring them to be woven into the priestly garments themselves for the priest to wear in his presence.
It made me think of the great cathedrals of Europe. Recognizing the abuses of building these huge edifices on the backs of the working poor or for the personal wealth and fame of ego-maniacal clerics, the magnificence of them remains. There was an attempt to capture glory and beauty in the house of the God who is glorious and beautiful. Though we might even think the building and expense of them to be misguided, our ancestors may have been seeking to capture something we have lost. Today, while the spiritual vitality of such cathedrals has been largely drained, elements of this attempt to capture glory and beauty remain and still produce wonder.
American evangelicalism has essentially lost this desire for the display of the glory and beauty of God. Our church buildings and our liturgy (or professed lack of liturgy) tend toward the pragmatic and the functional. It is push-back against this which has given rise to movements such as the emergent church and the return to ancient forms of worship and its expression – movements which pose helpful questions but not always helpful answers. Since we are created in the image of God, I believe we desire to delight in glory and in beauty, as the Lord does, and the inability or unavailability to do so, especially in worship, can leave us weighed down by the daily grind and render us unable to find the glory and beauty that is there.
George Herbert, poet and pastor of the early 1600’s has a poem called Aaron. In the first stanza he describes something of the glory and beauty of the garments and work of the priest. In the second stanza he contrasts his own sin-filled garments and work with that of Aaron. In the final three stanzas he speaks of Christ as the great priest who transforms our sin-filled garments and work into his holiness, perfection and light. Here is the first stanza:
HOLINESS on the head
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto light and rest
Thus are true Aarons drest.
Where will you find the glory and the beauty of the glorious and beautiful God this week?