In 2005 land was purchased to begin a dig that would reveal one of the most important archaeological sites in recent history. This place was the home of one of Jesus’ most famous benefactors: Mary Madelene. The way we say her name in English makes us imagine that her last name is Magdalene, but in fact this is a misunderstanding. In the text she is Mary OF Magdala. Or Mary the Magdelene.
This excavation that began in earnest in 2005 would uncover the city that was home for this important woman in the life and ministry of Jesus. This was an incredibly faithful Jewish city as you can see from the many MIkvehs (ritual baths) found within.
But what is most overwhelming about the archaeological discoveries is the first century synagogue. Because this city stopped being inhabited after the first century, the remains from the first century are in impeccable condition. What will strike you about this synagogue is the intense beauty.
Because the passage of millennia and repeated destruction, we generally lose the features of color and decor in the archaeological remains. For me, it has made me imagine the ancient world as a colorless beige in all directions, but that is far from what we find at Magdala.
As you walked through the door to the synagogue in Magdala, just wide enough for two people to pass, you would be struck by the beauty of the place. Looking down you would see an incredibly intricate mosaic floor. A darker color tile was used to make an ancient infinity symbol carrying on in a beautiful pattern all around the perimeter.
But the beauty was not only on the floor. The wall was covered with beautiful frescoes (paintings) that were the most vibrant red and gold colors. The benches were set into a sunken floo so that the faithful could gather to hear the reading of he word of God.
But the most beautiful element was the table on which the scroll was set. This table was made to support the precious message of the Lord for the people who gathered in Magdala. It was decorated with columns and flowers and menorahs. All of these symbols of the temple brought the symbolic power of the priesthood to bear on the reading of the scripture.
Jesus taught here. He pulled out the scroll (most likely after doing a ritual dance with it around the room), set it on the special table and read to the people. He read and taught and ministered in this beautiful setting. His feet stood on this very mosaic floor.
All of that reminds me that our modern efforts to make worship an immersive experience have deep roots. Some of our churches use stained glass instead of frescoes, others use moving lights instead of mosaic tile floors, and many use screens and projectors instead of carved tables for the display of scripture, but it all flows from the same heart.
Our God is a God who deserves a beautiful space for worship. Our God deserves more than stark empty rooms. Worshipping this creative God calls on the people of every age to reflect that creativity in the spaces he is worshipped. It calls us to pull out all the stops to create environments that surround us with creative elements that draw us into the presence of God.