|God's Holy Altar, His Abode|
Jacob took the stone and poured oil on top of it. (Genesis 28:18)
Many figures of the Old Testament were holy men and women, sturdy examples of integrity. But many others were, at times, dishonest cheats and thieves who relied heavily on God’s mercy to pull through in the end. That’s one way to describe Jacob. He plotted and lied in order to receive a blessing from his father, Isaac. The blessing he tricked Isaac into giving him was hard-won, and once it had been given, it could not be taken back. But if a blessing was such a valuable thing, why on earth do we read about him blessing a stone?
Isn’t it so in keeping with the kingdom of God that the greatest gifts get lavished on the most ordinary things? Think about it: what’s the most mundane object you can imagine? Can you think of anything more ordinary than a rock? Now compare that with oil. In recent years, wars have been fought, and entire national economies have hung in the balance over this precious substance. It was no less important in ancient times. Not only was it expensive, but it had political and spiritual significance; oil was used to ordain priests and crown kings. Even the highest name of all, “Christ,” means “anointed.” That’s how important oil was. And Jacob poured it out on a stone!
For all its lowliness, stone has a special place in a number of churches. Where it is available, it is incorporated in the construction of an altar—as a way of linking the altar to the tradition of a “memorial stone” that today’s first reading represents
(Genesis 28:22). Just like the stone that Jacob rested on and then consecrated with oil, in Mass, the altar is revealed to be a “gateway to heaven,” an earthly place where God makes his presence known (28:17).
So the next time you’re in a church, remember that the altar helps mark out this place as “an abode of God” (Genesis 28:17). It’s not your fervent prayer that sanctifies the church; it’s the anointing of God’s own presence. He is just as fully present whether you’re praying fervently or fast asleep like Jacob! And remember: more likely than not, at the center of it all is something as simple as a stone.
“Lord, thank you for revealing yourself to humble people in humble ways.”
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne