In her recent Conference address Diana alluded to a remark of mine earlier in the year. Having no recollection of it, I later checked my texts (I probably keep more texts than anyone I know!) and discovered one that had been written following her online communion service (5 July):
It was a lovely service this morning yet again. In particular, I found something profoundly stirring in the thought of people all over the world linked to us. Trying to capture just what it was, I felt it was this: we sometimes think of the love of Christ flowing across the world ‘out there’, but this morning it felt as if the world was being brought inside under the same canopy of His love that we were experiencing.
Re-reading it, I thought it might be worth sharing and perhaps expanding. Although there was probably no particular verse of Scripture in my mind at the time, there was a definite feeling associated with the word ‘canopy’ that was likely to be scripturally based, and so I went in quest of its actual use. Very rapidly I found what I was looking for.
‘Canopy’ in this context spells both protection and a love that unites those under its embrace. Its equivalent in Hebrew is huppah, a word still in use today.
We encountered it memorably in an earlier New Year Word (2007):
And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a covering (canopy: huppah). (Isaiah 4:5)
An alternative rendering is that over everything the glory will be a canopy. In either case, the idea of protection is to the fore. The older translation (KJV) actually used the word defence.
But the word means even more than this. It is specifically used in two instances in the Old Testament to denote the bridal chamber, and to this day it refers to the canopy under which a Jewish wedding is conducted – a practice that goes back centuries into the mists of time. It is an awning supported by four posts, representing the shared home or chamber of the couple entering into mutual commitment. Thus we have a reference to the bride and groom coming out of their chamber or closet or retreat (huppah) as required by a solemn assembly (Joel 2:16).
A wonderful metaphorical application of this meaning of the word occurs in the psalmist David’s celebration of God’s manifest handiwork in the heavens:
[The sun] is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber (huppah), and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. (Psalm 19:5 KJV)
God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding (huppah). It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. (Psalm 19:4–5 NLT)
Here the sun is like a bridegroom inspired by joy in his bride to set out on his exultant daily journey.
In both of these instances, in Joel and the Psalms, there is a leaving of the shelter or retreat to engage in the ordained activity, be it solemn assembly or joyous sowing of heat and light. And there is a sense in which we know this principle very well as it applies to us. We love to nestle in the shelter of God’s protective love and to commune with Christ in the inner chamber of the soul, but we are called also to engage in work and warfare, in the ordinary duties of life and in emotional and spiritual conflict. This can cause a feeling of distance between the place of shelter and the place of outward activity and struggle. But in fact we have not left the canopy of God’s love, and as we turn to Him in the midst of daily life we can sense again the sweet impartation of His grace, the reassurance that His Presence is near.
In the sense in which we do go forth, could it be as the Sun? Could it be like Christ Himself? Being with Him we become like Him. It is His love, and the assurance of that love, it is His very Person, that sustains and strengthens us on our mission and on our journey. And indeed, if we refuse to embark on whatever He calls us to do, or if we lag in the doing of it, we also lose that keen sense of being under His canopy of love and protection.
Diana’s response to my original text vividly illustrates the way in which the two aspects are harmonised. She wrote:
That's a lovely thought of others coming under the same canopy. Could feel rivers flowing worldwide from Calvary at the end.
What I had originally pictured as two contrary movements – the bringing in and the sacrificial outpouring and the outgoing of the Evangel – is but two aspects of the same wonderful reality. As we go forward into this New Year, strengthened and inspired by what has been a remarkable online Conference (literally ‘a bringing together’), we are all under the protective canopy of the love that flows from Calvary.
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