Windows of Salvation – The Ark of the Covenant
The next stained glass window we have is pretty recognizable – the Ark of the Covenant! And I guess there’s a reason it’s so recognizable: the Scriptures are pretty precise in its descriptions. The Ark was to be 2.5 cubits long, 1.5 cubits wide, 1.5 cubits high. And for all you who are asking, a biblical cubit would be approximately 18 inches. The Ark would also have four rings on the corners for the poles to carry it around, and it would have a pure golden lid with two cherubim angels facing each other.
The Ark held the stone tablets of the Commandments, but also Aaron’s priestly staff and a container of Manna from the desert. All these items recalled God’s faithfulness through the flight from Egypt, the Law, and His care for them in the desert, and truly became a concrete reminder of God’s presence with Israel, which they would bear before them, whether in battle or at peace.
After it was built by Moses, it was carried by the Israelites through the desert, and when the people were camped, it was held in a separate tent, called the Tabernacle (Wait, the presence of God reserved in a special place called a “tabernacle?” That sounds familiar!). As the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they carried it around Jericho, sending the walls crumbling to the ground. The Ark was later captured in battle by the Philistines, but returned by them voluntarily after it destroyed pagan idols nearby and caused plagues throughout the Philistines’ land. The Ark was taken to the hill country of Judea outside Jerusalem before it was received into the city with great rejoicing, and eventually, a place was made for it within the great Temple of Solomon, called the Holy of Holies. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BC, it was suggested that they took the vessels of the Temple, but there is no definitive reference to the Ark after that point.
So what ever happened to it? Where is the Ark today? That’s a pretty good question, with a number of different theories presented. It might be on Mt. Nebo, as 2 Maccabees recalls a tradition that Jeremiah took the Ark and other sacred items to be buried there until they could recover them later. It could be in Ethiopia, or at least so claims the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Our Lady, Mary of Zion, which claims to hold it under guard. It could be in Egypt as Indiana Jones suggested, or it could have been brought to Europe during the Crusades. The simple answer is: we don’t know!
Well, of course, we as Catholics know, right? The Ark of the Covenant has been front of us this whole time! If the Ark was the container that held the presence of God, then truly, Mary fits the description, and there are many symbolic parallels as well: the Ark travelled to the hill country in Judea just as Mary travelled there to visit Elizabeth, David leapt before the Ark just as John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of Christ, and of course, the Ark was brought to Jerusalem, where the glory of God was revealed in the Temple, just as Mary came to Jerusalem to present Jesus in the Temple and his glory was revealed to Simeon and Anna. The Ark was a constant reminder of God’s presence, and Mary continually points us to God made visible in Jesus. May we carry Jesus before us as the Israelites bore the Ark, proclaiming his faithfulness!
Lord God, in the Ark of the Covenant, you make your presence real. You will never leave us – help us to worship you in spirit and truth!