Sunday, August 16, 2015

I Kings 8: Praying for the Church

Solomon's dedicatory prayer for the Temple (I Kings 8) is the reading from Hebrew scripture for Proper 16B/Ordinary 21B/Pentecost 13. It is a prayer that reminded the first hearers - and us - that God is present with us. The conversation about a house for God has been going on since David spoke aloud the wish to build God a house. David was told that God would make him, David, a "house" but that not David, but rather his son, would be the one to build God a house. That has happened in the construction of "Solomon's" Temple.

Here Solomon prays that God's presence will fill the temple and that the people will know that God is with them and will hear them (and the foreigners living among them) when they pray. The building is a sign of the presence; it does not contain - or restrain - that presence according to the text. But even as "only" a sign it is a reminder to the people of God...then and now.

 It is appropriate, then, that subsequent houses of worship would employ this moment in scripture as a touchstone for their own houses of worship. The builders of the cathedral in Amiens, France (1220-1240), included several scenes from the life of Solomon in the quatrefoil designs on the cathedral's exterior walls. At left, the four scenes are Solomon eating (upper left), Solomon on his throne (upper right), Solomon and Sheba (lower left) and Solomon praying at the dedication of the Temple (lower right and bottom detail).

The composition of the dedicatory prayer segment is interesting in several ways. It differs from scripture, which identifies Solomon as standing before the altar. Here Solomon kneels outside the temple. He kneels on a column that bridges the gap between one corner of the quatrefoil and the entrance porch of the temple. This allows him to have his knees on a level with the floor of the Temple. The shape of the quatrefoil also drives the design of the king's bowed head.

Solomon's "Temple" bears more resemblance to a medieval cathedral than to the description in scripture, and Solomon is attired more like a European king than anything else. Neither of these things is surprising. But in the artist's transference from the Middle East to medieval Europe, we are reminded that all the faithful people would be well-served to remember the attitude of prayer by Israel's leader. Often, I think, we pray when we are in our congregational buildings. We offer prayers of intercession and thanksgiving, petition and praise for the people of the world. But it might be beneficial from time to time to stand outside our buildings and pray as Solomon is praying in the Amiens interpretation. Pray that the people remember and turn.

For thoughts on John 6:56-69, click here.

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