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"And I beheld, and heard the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven,
saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth....
[Apocalypse (Revelation) 8:13]

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fr. Campbell, "The Ark of the Covenant"

The Ark of the Covenant

Today by God’s good graces we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It gives us an opportunity to speak of things to come. St. Luke’s account of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth is not well understood today. It is not just a simple account of the events leading up to the birth of our Savior. There are things hidden to our generation which were well understood by the early Christians. No doubt they knew the story of the ancient Ark of the Covenant, and its journey through the hill country on its way to Jerusalem.   

The Ark of the Covenant must not be confused with Noah’s famous Ark. The Ark of the Covenant was a special container made for the Tablets of the Law which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, with a solid gold cover, the Mercy Seat, over which the glory of God could at times be seen. Facing the Mercy Seat were two adoring angels.

When the Ark was captured by the Philistines, God gave them such a hard time that they decided to return the Ark to the Israelites. On its journey back to Jerusalem (2 Kings 6:1-19) it was accompanied by King David with great solemnity and rejoicing. But just before the invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 579 B.C., the ancient Ark was hidden in a cave by Jeremiah, who declared: “The place shall be unknown till God gather together the congregation of the people and receive them to mercy” (2Macc.2:7). 

Then where is the Ark? St. John at the end of chapter 11 of his Apocalypse tells us:

“And the temple of God in heaven was opened, and there was seen the ark of his covenant in his temple, and there came flashes of lightning, and peals of thunder, and an earthquake, and great hail” (Apoc.11:19).

Did St. John see the ancient Ark in heaven? One Protestant commentator (gotquestions.org) says, “…the ark that John sees in his vision of heaven is probably not the same ark that Moses constructed. We know that the articles in the tabernacle were ‘copies of the heavenly things’(Heb.9:23) and that the sanctuary itself was but ‘a copy of what is in heaven” (Heb.8:5).

Probably not? Well, certainly not! Anyone familiar with the Holy Bible should know that St. John was not looking at the ancient Ark before which King David did his dance. In the Gospel today, St. Luke is speaking of the true Ark of the Covenant, as he describes Mary’s journey through the Judean hills to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary, questioned by the Archangel Gabriel, gave her consent to be the Mother of the Son of God, the power of the Holy Ghost overshadowed her, just as the glory of God descended upon the ancient Ark of the Covenant a thousand years before. Mary immediately rose up and, like the ancient Ark, traveled through the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. 

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, just as the Ark on its journey to Jerusalem stayed three months in the home of Obededom. Elizabeth exclaimed upon hearing Mary’s voice in greeting: “How is it that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” David similarly exclaimed: “How shall the Ark of my Lord come to me?” At the sound of Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. So did King David dance for joy before the ancient Ark as it entered the city of Jerusalem.

St. Luke’s intention is unmistakable. He is telling us that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant bearing the Holy One, Jesus Christ. The ancient Ark was “a mere copy and shadow of things heavenly,” as St. Paul observes (Heb.8:5). What St. John saw in the heavens was not the ancient Ark, but the Blessed Virgin Mary in the glory of Heaven (Apoc.11:19). 

St. John describes what he saw next:

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon was under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried out in her travail and was in the anguish of delivery. And another sign was seen in heaven, and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems. And his tail was dragging along the third part of the stars of heaven, and it dashed them to the earth; and the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bring forth, that when she had brought forth he might devour her son. And she brought forth a male child, who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Apoc.12:1-6).

This is the “Great Sign” that many are saying will appear this year, 2017, on September 23. Everything that St. John describes will be seen in the sky at that time. But still many are uncertain about the identity of the Woman. Could it be that they don’t want to admit that the Woman has anything to do with the Blessed Virgin Mary? They will say that the Woman is Israel, or that she is the Church, which is closer to the truth. The great theologian of Charlemagne’s court, Alcuin, wrote in his commentary on the Apocalypse:

“The Woman clothed with the sun is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was overshadowed by the power of the Most High. But in her we can also understand the race of men that is the Church, who is not called ‘woman’ to suggest weakness, but on the contrary because of her strength in daily bringing to birth new peoples to build up the Body of Christ.”

No doubt the best commentator is Our Lady herself who, since her first appearance to St. John on the Island of Patmos has not ceased to be in labor for her children of every age, instructing them in her visitations, and interceding for them with her Divine Son, Jesus Christ. As she said to the waiters at the wedding in Cana:

“Do whatever he tells you” (Jn.2:5).