In today’s second Mass reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
When we use the term dwelling, we mean something more than a casual residing. When we go on a business trip and stay in a hotel, we don’t speak of the hotel as our dwelling. When we visit our relatives and friends and stay at their home, even for a long visit, we don’t speak of dwelling with them. “Dwelling” carries with it a sense of continuing and remaining, as in how we live in our own homes.
So to say God dwells in us speaks of much more than casual contact, but of something far more permanent and intimate. And that permanence and intimacy is something accomplished through the Incarnation of God.
I don’t mean by that statement to suggest that we do not hear of God dwelling among his people in the Old Testament. On the contrary, the references are numerous. In Exodus God says: “I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites and will be their God. They shall know that I, the Lord, am their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I, the Lord, their God, might dwell among them.” In the Book of Kings God promises: “I will fulfill toward you the promise I made to your father David. I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites and will not forsake my people Israel.” Similarly, in Leviticus, God reassures his people, “I will set my dwelling among you, and will not disdain you. Ever present in your midst, I will be your God, and you will be my people.”
But for all their beauty, these Old Testament statements speak of nearness or closeness, dwelling with, dwelling near, dwelling among. And although God dwelt with, near among, there is still separation. Even those closest to the God of the Old Testament, like Moses, could only look at his shadow and not on the face of God.
With the Incarnation, however, God comes to dwell in humans. God opens himself to a deeper, more intimate relationship with us by becoming one of us. God first dwells in the man Jesus. But with the death, resurrection and ascension Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God now dwells in the disciples of Jesus, in the body of Christ that are his people.
One important way to express the good news of Christianity is this: God the Son became human so that through His death and resurrection He can secure the gift of the Spirit for His people, so that God might be, not just with us, near us, among us, but in us.