As you step through the opening of the red-purple-blue curtains, you walk back centuries into the ancient Jewish tent Tabernacle.
In the outer courtyard, you first see a bronze “altar of sacrifice,” where the children of Israel would bring animals to be slaughtered and their blood sprinkled on the rams’ horns atop the shrine.
Next you encounter the “laver of water,” where priests purified their hands and feet after the sacrifice.
Finally, it’s into the “holy place,” which holds a table with a pitcher for wine and 12 rounds of bread (symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel), a menorah with seven candles, and an altar of incense (symbolizing wafting prayers to heaven).
Finally, there is the “holy of holies,” the most sacred part of the Tabernacle, which only the high priest enters and only one day a year — the Day of Atonement — to sprinkle blood on the Ark of the Covenant, between two golden cherubims.
The path is meant to lead humans from the fallen world of Genesis back to God.
Thousands of Utahns have toured one of two re-creations of the biblical Tabernacle during its time in the Beehive State. It is currently erected at 1851 E. Sunnyside Ave. in Salt Lake City and will be open through April 30. On May 3, it will be in Holladay.
It is a project of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the purpose, organizers say, is to help young adults and youths “to become deliberate disciples of Jesus Christ who work to gather Israel on both sides of the veil, and empower them to fulfill their divine potentials as teachers and leaders in the Lord’s restored church.”
Many of the tour guides are youths assigned to one of nine stations or the exhibit in the attached Latter-day Saint meetinghouse, where they describe what visitors see as all pointing to Jesus Christ.
“My favorite thing is watching the youth enthusiastically explain the deep symbolism of the Tabernacle,” says Greg Monson, who was called with his wife, Nancy, by the church on a special mission as site directors, “with the light of Christ shining in their eyes.”
Nancy Monson echoes that sentiment, praising the volunteers who “teach about the prophecies and symbols of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.”
Wait a minute. Isn’t the Tabernacle as described in the Book of Exodus, well, a Jewish sanctuary? Isn’t this Christian appropriation?
The Tabernacle “is no longer part of our practice today,” says Rabbi Samuel Spector of Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami. “The church is bringing alive part of our shared biblical history with Christians.”
That’s not the same as Christians hosting their own Seders and calling them Jesus’ “Last Supper.”
To the rabbi, those “Seders” are inappropriate.
“But this feels more historical, with Christians adopting the Hebrew Bible as an integral part of their faith,” he says. “It is something we share, not something that is taken from us.”
That, he hopes, will celebrate the “commonalities between the two faiths.”