“Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.
“He said to the sons of Israel, ‘When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, “What are these stones?” then you shall inform your children, saying, “Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord God forever.”” Joshua 4:20-24)
The twelve stone “ebeneezer” was placed at the entrance to the Promised Land to acknowledge the mighty work of God to deliver the Israelites from slavery into a land of hope. This was a physical marker to provoke praise, adherence, obedience and honor to God.
This was a day of significant physicality in the Jew’s religious and sacral state practice. There were not only stones to see, but the Ark of the Covenant in their midst, soon to be placed in Shiloh in the Tent of Meeting which had also been carried through the wilderness of Sinai. There were priestly robes and altars and liturgies and the showbread and incense of the tabernacle, the place God chose to manifest himself. There were ceremonies and feast days and rituals and rites in abundance. And, there was the land itself, a testimony of God’s purpose for the Israelites.
But things have changed. In the New Covenant, shadows became reality. God does not call us back to the emblematic and formulaic past of the Old Covenant, though there was much glory there in its time. The glory that surpasses it is among us in the very presence of Christ who died and rose again, rising above all that earlier pointed to him in the externalism of the past.
We are now primitive in our worship not requiring the smokey symbolic days again, but living in the fiery present. We have the real and constant presence of Christ among us, the gift of the Spirit, and free access to the Father. The veil is torn and we have been let in. Christ and his Apostles left us only two rustic but beautiful symbolic reminders of the death and resurrection of Christ — baptism, a first order command of Christ like putting on the uniform of a Christ-follower, and the Lord’s Supper, an actual weekly fellowship meal with the bread and wine as the reminder elements which Jesus emphasized. Immersion shows publicly our union with Christ in his death and resurrection with ongoing effects (we died in his death and are raised in his resurrection to a new life and future resurrection). And the meal, an apostolic tradition to be obeyed, is a call for the church to remember his death as the means by which communion with God and others is opened to us, seen in the actual fellowship of the meal itself. That’s it.
The showy vestments are gone, the liturgies vanished, the feast days dropped, the temple destroyed, the true sacrifice completed in the death of the Lamb. We go back to the old way to our peril. We should not want to return there, as if that is the path of finding God’s glory, for that was a day when our forebears lived under the Law with all of its hazy and obscure ceremony now blown away through Christ’s victory and the rushing wind of the Spirit. As we read the New Testament we do not see that old way promoted in rigid worship, a substitution for circumcision, priestly service and choreographed worship, but a new freedom of spontaneous and interactive life and worship together around the Christ who is with us and active in us. Regardless of some ancient ceremony and pageantry and dramatic liturgy showing up in some of those who lived years after Christ ascended, we are to be bound to what is revealed in Scripture about our life and worship together, not deterred by any former drifting into the Old Covenant’s faded aura. These is no substitute for the true glory.
“For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory . . . . But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:9-11, 18.