I stood in the tiny foyer of the holy of holies two days ago, the old knotty pine auditorium of the Tabernacle church of Christ, remembering my wedding day, June 15, 1985, and Thom Mason is fidgeting and pacing, preparing to walk down the aisle and give away his daughter Karen to the likes of me. In the front corner of that auditorium, surrounded by the mops and brooms of a janitor closet the size of a phone booth I received a marital blessing before Roger Hladky performed the official rites. Rick Carpenter, my best man, and my brothers Toby and Greg, and Ralph Rowand prayed that I would not faint and that our marriage would be blessed. Twenty-nine years later I still pray near brooms and mops and call those five men some of my best friends, and that twenty-two year old beauty is still my love, my wife.
Last week, my Oklahoma friends asked where I was headed for the weekend and I told them New Jersey, to the shore, the Wawa, and the Tabernacle. They understand the shore. I tell them Wawa is an Ojibwe Indian word for coffee at sunrise and hoagie at sunset, and they understand that also.
Acts 1:8 says you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and from Nottingham England to Philadelphia, from New Jersey to California. William Cutts was a pebble splashing into a spiritual pond, a witness for Christ who settled with his father in Tabernacle, New Jersey after coming over from Nottingham, England in the middle of the nineteenth century.
William walked twenty miles round trip from his farm near Tabernacle on many a Sunday to catch a train in Medford and on to Philadelphia to the nearest church he could find that resembled the one from his youth in Nottingham, England, a church born of the English restoration. William’s funeral in 1914 was the catalyst for the beginning of the Tabernacle church, a funeral preached by E.E. Joynes who would become the preacher at the Tabernacle church from inception in 1914 until 1947. Because of William’s witness, the church has grown and spread across communities, states and nations.
Sometimes we see heaven on earth. And if heaven can be compared to unquenchable oceans in massive unseen underground reservoirs where God’s will and work is always done, occasionally the unseen becomes seen in springs of living water, and the veil is pulled away and heaven nourishes earth in previews of transcendent beauty and love. This past weekend I tasted the water from that unquenchable well.
I’m a gentile from Oklahoma, an adopted son, but a common believer at Tabernacle, born into this church faster than I could eat baked goods from Rhonda Kate Cutt’s kitchen and sing a verse of A Common Love. It’s a church like my own family as Robert Frost once described as, “a place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.”
With a God honoring compass and scriptural map, the Tabernacle Church is a gathering place where memory is honored and hope is fostered and love is practiced, and where strangers in a strange land gather to nurture and reveal the fountain of living water that springs from reservoirs that never go dry. This church has been an oasis, a cup of cold water at Jacob’s well, where God is worshipped with passion and sinners are taken in with tenacious love.
Today, many choose spiritual shortcuts, forgoing the long road of perseverance. Sound bite twitter posts and flying thumbs have replaced callused hands. One hundred years ago Christians gathered in Tabernacle to worship with songs echoing in the pines as they became Jesus hands.
John Donne wrote that, “Reason is our Soul’s left hand, Faith her right, by these we reach divinity.” Sometimes we seek salvation in nanoseconds of emotion and we forget the long walk and how callused hands and blistered feet are the way to reach the Divine.
So I stood in that foyer staring at the pine-clad walls of the inner sanctum, the place where our marriage began in 1985 and Karen walked up to me and we strolled down the aisle once again, backwards, as if by some act of ritual we could reverse the years, be kinder, love more, pray more, worry less, give away more. And be more grateful, for those who walked before us, sometimes twenty miles on a Sunday, to the City of Brotherly Love.
George Eliot once wrote, “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
This weekend past as the Tabernacle church celebrated 100 years of faithful life and worship, I walked backwards through time with my bride paying respects to those who have walked before us without fanfare, just doing the work of Jesus in this corner of the world, those who have lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs, at least unvisited by the modern world, although I somehow sense their spirit is visited daily by people who in their own time and place walk with faith. They’ve chosen the long and narrow path, the difficult and often rejected way.
If you look carefully, God gives us a snapshot of those moments to come, where the world is restored to its rightful design, where everywhere you look you find beauty and truth and perfect relationship, where hugs replace darkness, smiles erase anger, a place where love flows like endless springs.
So, this weekend I went to Tabernacle, what my bible calls a dwelling place, where once upon a time God’s presence travelled in a tent.
Someday, God will make His home among men and women once again and there will be no tears, and that twenty-mile walk will be much easier, just a stroll across the room, in a place where all is beautiful, relationship is restored, and the singing will surpass any beautiful noise you’ve heard before.
It will be a lot like this weekend where the Okies sat next to Californians as dust bowl stoics danced with the high-handed, and Texans nodded joyfully swaying shoulder to shoulder with Tennessee Volunteers, and the can’t-contain-their-joy-bobble-headed singers swelled to the Hallelujah Chorus, an ocean of souls that would not be quiet, God’s choir singing and swaying in perfect harmony in the Tabernacle of God.
Sometimes Heaven and Earth overlap, and sparks fly and angels sing and the world appears complete and perfect. I never made it down to the shore, didn’t set foot in a Wawa, but I did see God’s reign come down to earth, a coming attractions glimpse of where William Cutts was walking twenty miles on a Sunday. Think I’ll lace up my shoes and take a walk.