Thursday, January 14, 2010

Menorah Christians

"Peace Menorah" by Joyce Brown,
22 by 14 by 12 inches,
reduction-fired stoneware

In the first three chapters of Revelation, the symbol of the church is not the ever-present cross we see in Protestant churches or the crucifix we see in Catholic churches. Not the “body of Christ” of Paul’s epistles or the living stone temple of Peter’s epistles. In Revelation the church is pictured as a menorah. “I saw a gold menorah with seven branches…. The menorah's seven branches are the seven churches." (1:12,20 – The Message) Christians would do well to recapture the spiritual symbolism of the menorah.

For one thing, we are connected to each other and to Christ. “I saw a gold menorah with seven branches, And in the center, the Son of Man.” (1:12-13) We are not independent lights but branches of a single lamp centered in Christ who is the Light. In the vision Christ’s eyes are pouring fire-blaze, his feet are furnace-fired bronze, he holds burning stars in his hand and his face is a perigee sun. (1:14-16) It is clear that Christ is the light of the menorah. In fact Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” while participating in the menorah lighting ceremony in the Jerusalem temple (John 8). Likewise we are earthly vessels indwelled by the light of Christ.

In the Jewish temple the menorah stood in the Holy Place. So we are a holy priesthood (I Peter 2:5-9) that stands on holy ground. According to Exodus 25:31-40, the menorah was lit by the priests every evening and cleaned every morning. (The Jewish day began in the evening and ended in the morning.) It is a good practice to begin each day by dedicating ourselves to God, and end each day by repentance, cleaning up the mess we made of our good intentions. It is called the Daily Examen in Ignatian spirituality.

The purpose of this menorah is to be a light to the world. Israel understood itself as fulfilling this commandment of Isaiah 42:6 to be a light to the nations. Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Jewish sages say the menorah symbolizes the blending of the physical life (the gold) with the spiritual life (the light). Scientists say that we are all made of stardust. All physical matter was forged in the furnace of the stars and ultimately is the product of the “Big Bang,” the original creative explosion of light that began the universe. If so, then it is our nature to shine!

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