Tents and Tabernacles


Tents and Tabernacles

We want to learn from the stories of those exploring contemporary expressions of incarnational and contextualised mission.

John starts his gospel with a really strange set of images. He doesn’t talk about the birth of the Christ as a story of inn-keepers, shepherds and mangers. In fact, he doesn’t tell the story of birth at all. He talks about Jesus as light coming into the world and as the word of God being made known, but perhaps the most interesting metaphor he uses is that of tabernacle.

The Word became flesh and he [TABERNACLED] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John1v14 (NIV with direct translation of σκηνόω/skenoo)

It’s a weird idea for John to use. He verbifies a noun and not just any noun but a really specific image of the Hebrew people. John is saying to those that hear that Jesus’ journey into flesh is like taking on the form of this ancient tent that is so central to the people of God’s story.

But what’s this got to do with pioneering? Why have the white canvas of a tent as one of the images behind White Canvas Collective? To put it simply, many pioneers are taking their lead from this aspect of Jesus’ character. They are choosing to live incarnationally in their communities, neighborhoods and work-places. They are choosing to not stay far off but to embrace the neighbourhoods and networks they love. They are choosing to become part of their contexts, part of the day to day lives of the world around them. They are choosing to not dip in and out of communities but to take on the form of a tabernacle. To be present in their locations and to point towards the glory of God. They are taking seriously Paul’s teaching to the church in Ephesus and asking questions around what it means to be made into a holy temple (Ephesians 2:19-22.)

The concept of the tabernacle stems from the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. It is the main image of the God who saves in the Hebrew story. It is the central motif of a God who cares about the Hebrews. As the Hebrews settle into their freedom God commands them to build a structure. He gives them extremely detailed blueprints to a moveable tabernacle.

But the story of the tabernacle starts even further back in Eden. The tabernacle is in fact a reinstatement of Eden. In Eden mankind could see the glory of God and God walked among them. God says to Moses, “Then let them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8). The tabernacle is an image of Eden, an image of the place where God walked with humanity. God tells Moses that through the tabernacle God will dwell with mankind again.

And then John uses this term to describe the incarnation. God put on flesh and tabernacled among us. God came in human form so that he could dwell with us again. John starts his gospel with the assurance that God is not a far off deity. He is intimately entwined with our stories. He doesn’t stay far off. He comes close. He, to borrow Eugene Peterson’s words in the Message translation, moved into the neighbourhood.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1:14 (The Message)

Our primary posture as White Canvas Collective is that of listening. We want to give space for those who are pioneering incarnational forms of church to tell their stories. We listen so that we may learn from these stories.