As the Ark of the Covenant bore the Presence of God in ancient times, so the Virgin Mary bore God in her womb. She is thus the Living Ark of the New Covenant.
How This Teaching Exalts Christ
This teaching upholds the Deity of Christ; as the original Ark bore the Presence of God, so Mary truly bore God Himself in her virginal womb.
The Holy Ghost inspired St. Luke to portray Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant in his Gospel. In Luke 1:35, the angel Gabriel tells Mary "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." "Overshadow" here comes from the Greek word episkiasei, which denotes a bright cloud of glory. It is used in reference to the cloud at the Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7. Luke 9:34). This cloud is none other than the Shekinah Glory, the visible Presence of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, which dwelt in the Holy of Holies above the Ark of the covenant (Exodus 24:15-16, 40:34-38, 1 Kings 8:10).
The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made two centuries before Christ, uses episkiasei in Exodus 40:34-35, to describe the Shekinah's overshadowing of the Temple. Saint Luke, who was quite familiar with the Septuagint, uses the very same word for the Spirit's overshadowing of Mary! The angel Gabriel clearly drew a parallel between God's presence in the Sanctuary and in Mary. She is the new, living Ark chosen to bear the God-Messiah.
St. Luke also draws a parallel between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant in the account of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-52). Compare it to 2 Samuel 6:4-16, where David tries to bring the original Ark into Jerusalem. Both the Ark and Mary are on a journey. David dances before the Ark; John leaps in his mother's womb. David says: "How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" (2 Sa 6:9); Elizabeth says: "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me??" (Lk 1:43). The Ark stayed in the house of Obededom for three months (2 Sa 6:11); Mary stayed in Elizabeth's house for three months (Lk 1:56)
The two passages are clearly parallel. The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to draw this parallel, to show that Mary is the New Ark, chosen to bear God. The Ark was a sacred vessel which bore the Divine Presence, Mary is a holy woman who bears the Lord God.
Finally, just before the vision of the New Eve in Revelations 12, we read "and the temple of God saw opened in heaven, and there was seen the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail" (11:19). Now remember; the Bible was not written in chapter and verse; that was added in the twelfth century A.D.. When St. John penned these words, there was no division between chapters 11 and 12; he wrote about one right after another as a continuous thought. The appearance of the Ark here immediately precedes the appearance of the Woman, the Mother of the Christ Child; and we saw above that the Woman is Mary. This also indicates a relationship between the Ark and Our Lady.
Early Christian Witness
"O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O (Ark of the) Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides." (Athanasius of Alexandria, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin)
That passage reads: "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God". This means that Jesus is a propitiatory sacrifice, not the Propitiatory itself (which was the cover of the Ark, also called the "mercy seat"). Though some Christians throughout history have speculated that the Ark might be a type of Christ, the Bible does not actually state that Jesus is the Ark of the New Covenant. Nor does it deny that Mary is the New Ark - in fact it strongly insinuates that she is, as we saw above in the parallels between II Samuel 6:2-11 and the Visitation.
Consider this: the Ark was a created thing, a mere vessel which carried the presence of God. Jesus is not just a vessel carrying God's presence, He is God Incarnate - a big difference! Mary, on the other hand, is a mere creature, a living Vessel who carried the presence of God. She is to the New Covenant what the Ark was to the Old Covenant. So while the original Ark may parallel Christ in some respects, the comparison between Mary and the Ark is more "fitting".
Again, this passage does not state that Jesus is the Ark of the New Covenant, while Mary is compared to the Ark in St. Luke's Gospel. As the Ark bore God's Glory in ancient times, so Mary bears God-made-flesh.
Why should part of the Ark "symbolize" Deity when it bore the Deity Himself? This seems needlessly repetitious. The gold may just as well symbolize royalty, since Mary is the queen mother (more on that in Chapter 8), or perhaps grace, with which Mary is filled.
The tablets containing the Ten Commandments, the Manna and Aaron's budded staff all do signify Christ, Who is the living Word of God, the Bread of Life and the High Priest. But the Ark is the vessel meant to hold these items, even as Mary is the Vessel who bore Jesus.
Well, Christ wasn't kidnapped by pagans and carried off to a foreign land either, yet that doesn't stop most Evangelicals from saying that the Ark is a type of Christ! As we discussed in the last chapter, a New Testament personage need not experience everything which his or her Old Testament type did. King David was a type of Christ, but Jesus never committed adultery as David did! The prophet Jonah was a type of Christ, but Jesus never disobeyed God as Jonah did. Even so, Mary also did not have to experience everything which happened to the Ark of the Old Covenant.
I doubt the Jews actually did that; after all, they were not supposed to worship the Ark itself, only the Glory of God enthroned upon it. Similarly, Catholics do not worship Mary, but the Divine Child she bore. If any Israelites did actually worship the box itself (which is doubtful) then they were committing idolatry - and the same goes for anyone who worships Mary, the New Ark!
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