And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.
The Old Testament presents the Tabernacle and then the Temple in Jerusalem as the locus (the ‘place’) of God’s presence for blessing. This is apparent in Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8 for the dedication of the Temple, in which the petitions repeatedly refer to prayers made in relation to the Temple, either at it or towards it, asking God to honour these prayers. At the same time, this prayer clearly acknowledges that God is to hear these prayers from heaven, not from within the stone walls of the Temple. The theology of Solomon’s prayer tells us something about Christ’s sacraments and their efficacy.
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? Yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant, and to his supplication, O LORD my God, to hearken unto the cry and to the prayer, which thy servant prayeth before thee to day: that thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place.
The rest of the prayer repeatedly refers to the Lord’s hearing from heaven, but it also repeatedly refers to these prayers being made in relation to the Temple.
There is what may be called a real presence of the Lord in the Temple, but neither is this a truly local presence. The Reformed principle of finitum non capax infiniti (‘the finite cannot contain the infinite’) is fully in force, since the Lord hears from outside the Temple rather than being contained in it; but the text also shows the Lord present at the Temple in some way that exceeds his omnipresence. The Name of the Lord is present in a special way, not by the ministrations of men but by God’s own might. Though the Lord is everywhere, he did in fact fill the Temple with his presence for the benefit of his people Israel: the Temple conveyed to the people of the world the grace of fellowship with God. The divine presence was not local but relational.
The presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is no less than his Spirit’s presence in the Temple, but now, as then, his presence is relational, not local. These are also the terms in which Anglican divine Jeremy Taylor wrote of the sacrament:
But now a fourth word must be invented, and that is, sacramentaliter. Christ’s body is sacramentally in more places than one; which is very true, that is, the sacrament of Christ’s body is; and so is His Body figuratively, tropically, representatively in being, and really in effect and blessing; but this is not a natural, real being in a place, but a relation to a person.
The presence of Christ’s body in his mystical Supper is like the presence of God in the Temple. It is true, of course, that the Church is God’s Temple, joined as she is to Christ as his mystical Body, and equally that the Holy Ghost dwells within every believer (Rom 8.9–11). It is, however, the word and the sacraments that constitute the Church visibly, since otherwise the Church is only an abstraction, not an organism, in relation to earthly life. For the most part, the following is true: no sacrament, no Church. Richard Hooker’s reading of the sacrament is consonant with both this and the affirmation that every believer is a temple in which dwells the Holy Ghost, for he says the question that lies between the Reformed and the Romanists is ‘whether when the sacrament is administered Christ be whole within man only, or else his body and blood be also externally seated in the very consecrated elements themselves’, and then takes the former interpretation. When the Church is gathered visibly around the word and the sacraments, they are indeed, as St Peter says, living stones of God’s Temple. Therefore Thomas Cranmer says in his response to unreformed bishop Stephen Gardiner, regarding the theology of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer,
And the bread and wine be made unto us the body and blood of Christ, (as it is in the book of common prayer,) but not by changing the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ’s natural body and blood, but that in the godly using of them they may be unto the receivers Christ’s body and blood.
And though the Scriptures never record a cloud filling the Second Temple, I think it safe to believe that both temples were equally efficacious as God’s conveyance of grace: that God equally honoured prayers said in or directed toward the first Temple and the second, as if he were physically present. For this reason Christ, the truest Temple of the Holy Spirit, still treated the Temple in Jerusalem as consecrate, and was filled with wrath at its desecration by money-changers in the Court of the Gentiles. It is also reasonable to say that the Lord’s renewed presence for blessing in the Second Temple, being distinct from the physical location of Christ’s body, shows that the Temple, though effective for blessing not by the blood of goats and bulls but only through the merits of Christ, did not derive its efficacy from the local bodily presence of Christ. Though Christ was corporally elsewhere, the Temple was valid by the ordinance of God, and through it Israel’s prayers were heard in heaven.
Thus the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which St Paul calls the communion of Christ’s body and blood: the body of Christ is physically elsewhere, yet in the respect of its blessing effect it is present to us who live here on earth. It is this sacrament, one may say (together with baptism, effective by the word of God), that glorifies us into the corporate body of Christ, the Temple of the Shekhinah. The bread and wine are the cloud. They are effectively, though not physically, the presence of the divine and human Christ in the midst of the assembly.
I shall not hesitate to press toward liturgical application. If it was proper to do obeisance in the direction of the Temple, then a fortiori it should be proper to bow in the general direction of the Table at which bread and wine become the means by which the Lord Jesus Christ is specially present to us. In both cases there is no local presence of God, but there is a material means through which we enjoy the same relationship signified by physical presence. Do we bow to the cloud, or do we bow to the Temple? By no means either, but we bow in their direction in honour of the spiritual reality that in the sacrament the believer really encounters and receives the body and blood of Christ, not by virtue of his own thought but by virtue of God’s promise to be present: This is my body.