In the Second Book of Samuel, King David surveyed his own dwelling with that of the Lord. He said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” King David is bothered by the injustice of honor as he dwells in a place of dignity and the Ark of the Covenant is in a temporary dwelling. David was not permitted by the Lord to build a Temple, that was reserved for his son, Solomon. God would establish for David “a house,” that is, a ruling lineage, and David’s son will “build a house for my name” (2 Samuel 7). The house that Solomon built was the first of the two famous Temples in Jerusalem.
The Israelites knew that God was not like the other gods of the people around them, contained in stone, wood, and gold. But they also knew that the Ark of the Covenant revealed God’s presence. Chapters 25-27 from Exodus detail God’s instructions on the construction of the Tent of Meeting, the temporary Tabernacle. The “meeting” was not between human beings, but between God and his people. Pure olive oil was to burn regularly as a sign of God’s presence (Exodus 27.20).
For the Israelites, there could only be one Temple. For Christians, Christ’s Real Presence is on every altar through the Holy Spirit. If Christ is present, really present, how does our space reflect this? The conceptual design for the altar is to establish to a place of honor and dignity for Christ’s Sacramental Presence. The altar represents Christ, the Holy Sacrament is Christ. The altar is the focal point of our space as it should be, after all, this is our “tent of meeting.” On the altar is a tabernacle, a place for the Reserved Sacrament. Currently, the Sacrament is reserved in an aumbry (wall niche) behind the altar that cannot be secured and is separated from the Sanctuary Lamp. Behind the tabernacle is a triptych, or three-paneled altarpiece. The subject matter for the altarpiece would be decided later in the process, but would be a custom work of art. The panels of the triptych are closed during Lent, emphasising the austerity of the season. Decorative accents in wood frame the triptych from above. Curtains, a very English custom, are on either side to frame the altar from the sides. A distinctive, and again very English, feature is the tester high above. From the earliest days, altars have been covered as a sign of dignity and visual focus. It lets someone know that underneath that tester, there is something holy. There is something holy, indeed. This is the Temple, the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, where Jesus Christ comes and abides with us.