A Most Sacred Service
This past Sunday was my first Sunday serving with our Set Up and Tear Down teams at church, and the experience of working with those guys really messed me up — it was one of the most stressful, difficult, painful and worshipful experiences of church I’ve ever had. Here’s how it went:
7:00AM – arrive at the Rec Center with driving rain and 30mph winds from Hurricane Harvey outside
7:15AM – Some of us start putting the stage together, one guy takes all the children’s ministry equipment to the kids wing of the rec, then hustles back to start grabbing stacks of chairs out of the storage closet
7:30AM – We get all the sound equipment out of the trailer, using our own rain jackets to make sure none of the electrical equipment got fried
7:45AM – we finally get the stage finished, call in for reinforcements to get the pipe and drapes set up
8:15AM – Tim grabs the 30 foot ladder to hang the blackout curtain behind the stage
8:30AM – We finish the pipe and drape and the empty gym is transformed into a church
At one point, Adam, one of our set up team leaders, came up to me as I was setting up the drapes to hang around the gym (The drapes create the “walls” of our sanctuary so it really does feel like a church and not a basketball court). As I was hurrying to throw the drapes up, Adam put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Hey Phill, you’re doing good, but it’s really important that the seams are on the outside. That way the drapes are all lined up with the good looking side facing in.”
That’s really when I started to get it. I mean, who cares? If you go to Wells Branch Community Church, I challenge you, when was the last time you noticed what side the seams were facing on the drapes? But to these guys… it was important. It was important because this was God’s house, and even how the drapes were hung was an act of worship.
Some of the guys head back home to take a quick shower and change for service. Other guys walk over to the hospitality room to grab a cup of coffee. And I… I just stood there for a minute to wonder at the fact that half the churches in our city were closed, and these guys were willing to literally set up our church in the middle of a hurricane.
After service ended at noon, while most of us hurried out to get home or lingered to catch up with friends, the tear down team spent the next 45 minutes doing everything in reverse, loading our tabernacle into the trailer making sure that next week, we could all gather again to worship together.
The New Levites
What a lot of us don’t understand is just how sacred the service of setting up the church, tearing it down, and setting it up again really is. And yes, I do mean sacred. Many of us have heard the saying: “the Church isn’t a building, it’s the people.”
But also, yeah, it’s a building. It’s a space. It’s a sacred space, and God wanted his people to know that indeed the space in which they were to gather was something special. That’s why so, so much of the Old Testament (you know, all that stuff you skipped over in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers) had to do with the space of worship. That’s why it says in Acts 2 that the people of God gathered at the temple daily. If the space wasn’t important, why go through the trouble of going to the temple? Why did Aquilla and Priscilla go through the trouble of acquiring a house specifically designed for the church to gather? Because the spaces in which we worship are important and meaningful!
In the early days, the people of God were counted and numbered and each family was given a certain portion to call their own, an inheritance in the promised land… except this one family. The Levites were told that they wouldn’t receive an inheritance like the rest of the tribes of Israel. Instead, God set them apart, consecrated them, made them sacred, and told them that He himself would be their inheritance:
Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The LORD is his inheritance, as the LORD your God said to him.
Given this special place among the people of God, they were also given a very special responsibility:
Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the covenant law—over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp around it. Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who approaches it is to be put to death.
God consecrated a special group of people to serve as the O.G. setup and tear down team for the tabernacle. The place where God was going to meet with his people, the place where all true worship was to emanate from, the place from which God’s blessing and justice would flow… was a tent. Pipe and Drape. Chairs and lighting.
And before we begin to start thinking that the job of the Levites, the Set Up and Tear Down team of the people of God was somehow less important, or something requiring less skill or quality, consider that in verse 51 it literally threatens DEATH to anyone who even approaches the work these Levites were supposed to do.
I just think about our guys who climb that thirty foot ladder every Sunday to put up the blackout screen over the giant bank of windows behind the stage… I think about some random person trying to climb up the ladder and God striking that person down for assuming he would dare approach the ministry of our set up and tear down teams. That’s pretty serious stuff. This was the house of God, and their ministry, largely unseen and unappreciated, was a sacred duty and holy ministry… maybe that’s why the Lord made a special point to say that He would be their inheritance, that they had a special place in his heart.
The Last Day of the Tabernacle
There was a last day the people of Israel encountered God at the tabernacle. And Lord willing, there will come a day where our church will meet in a space where we won’t have pitch a tent every week. But for now, I’m so grateful for the men and women of our church, our sons of Levi, who pitch the tent for us each week. The funny thing is that there isn’t anything particular about them; there isn’t some certification or special skill set that makes them Levites in our church. (except I guess Adam who’s a foot taller than me and doesn’t need to get a chair to connect the piping) Unlike the Levites of the Old Testament, they weren’t born into this ministry. They were chosen by God because they were willing to obey. They were willing to serve.
Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.
I Samuel 15:22
These guys live that every week. It’s not grunt work. Please. It’s sacred. It’s worship. And I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for them.