Have you ever stopped at a wayside chapel? They are a curiosity you occasionally come across on day trips far away from the madding crowd. Wayside chapels are a bit of folk art, an odd invitation on the roadside, to rest, reflect, and recharge your spirit. They are also a nominal creation. Someone had to care enough to create one and plunk it down on the edge of life’s pathway. These postage-stamp points of worship, can range from quaint and simple to quite elaborate.
I have to confess that I have been captured by their whimsey. Let me explain. My wife and I are truly the Odd Couple. No amount of logic could explain how two people from opposite ends of the world could end up making house and home together. I met my wife at a bomb scare, and therefore owe a debt to providence, I think.
We went through a two-year long distance courtship at first. That is why when we finally got married, we came to appreciate wayside chapels. While taking day trips in between the work of life, we would come across them, stop, pray, give thanks for the very odd confluence of events that brought us together. We liked wayside chapels so much that when we did a backyard tenth anniversary celebration, I built one where we could stage a renewal of vows. After that it became a play-house of sorts for the kids.
“God with us”. It is a prayer breathed out by many before we even have time to think. It is also a strange point where what burns in our hearts is also theology at large.
The idea of ‘God with us’ has currency. The tribes of ancient Israel brought God along in a tent... a makeshift tabernacle that moved with them through the desert. Jews world over still celebrate the holiday of Succoth to celebrate the wandering nature of their relationship with God, during their exodus from Egypt. Wherever they live today, they build a temporary shelter to celebrate, “God with us”.
For the wandering Jews, the moveable tabernacle in the desert gave way to the ‘permanent’ temple in Jerusalem. The only portion of that temple still intact today is the wailing wall. Jews congregate there for the same reasons, a point from which to contact God. They place their prayers and petitions on little pieces of paper stuffed into the cracks of the stones. They bemoan the destruction of their Temple, and yearn for the day when it will be rebuilt. God with us.
As a Christian, I am acutely aware of the Temple. The original Jewish tabernacle had a curtain to separate the Priest from the Holy of Holies, the exact location where God resided. The curtain existed, because our sinfulness vs God’s holiness meant we could not have direct access to God. This changed however, when Jesus was crucified. At the moment of his death, that same curtain was torn asunder from top to bottom. Jesus cried out “It is finished”, referring to the plan of Salvation. His sacrificial death removed the barrier that separated us from God.
There is a wonderful reference to the completed work of Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation. It is the final chapter of the timeline in the story of God and Mankind, because there is simply nothing left to be done.
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”
God with us is a beautiful thing, because Jesus has paved the way. According to that promise, there is no more distance between God and Man. Wayside chapel was something in the mind of God all along as part of the big plan.
You never know if you will find God somewhere along the way, or if like the Apostle Paul, God will find you on the roadside instead.
No matter how your Wayside Chapel comes into view, it is to be celebrated – a reminder to pause, pray, rest, and give thanks, on whatever road we happen to be found. After all, “God with us” is the kind of traveling mercies that everyone needs.