For centuries, archeologists have devoted huge efforts to locate and recover of the Ark of the Covenant. They dig through the crevices of the Holy Land hoping to someday find the ark or remnants of it. Good luck to them. The 1981 film by Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was partly influenced by this search. But what archeologists (who are mostly naturalists) are searching for, John the Evangelist tells us today that he saw in heaven (see Rev 11:19).
What happened to the ark? First of all, what is the ark? The Ark of the Covenant was the holiest object in ancient Israel’s life and worship, containing inside it the tablets of stone on which God wrote the 10 Commandments. It also contained a relic of the Manna, and the Rod of Aaron—symbol of the priestly office. According to divine prescriptions given to Moses, the ark was made of acacia wood, covered with gold ornaments, with carvings of the cherubim. It had space for “God’s Mercy Seat,” that was always unoccupied.
Biblical typology makes clear that all the objects inside the ark, namely, God’s Word, the Manna, and Aaron’s Rod (Priesthood) became concrete in Jesus, who is the Word of God made flesh, our Eucharist, and the Sacrificial Victim (Priest) for our sins. What about the ark (the container) itself? Biblical typology also indicates that the ark took flesh in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose womb contained the Incarnate Son of God. If you think that I just made a bogus claim, read again the words of Psalm 44 (which was the response for today’s Responsorial Psalm)—“The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold.” Like the ark, this queen is “clothed with splendor, her robes embroidered with pearls set in gold” (Psalm 44:12-13).
How did the ark get lost? Around BC 587, the ark was hidden by prophet Jeremiah to preserve it from defilement by the Babylonians who had a mission to conquer Jerusalem and destroy the temple. In 2 Maccabees 2:5-8, we read: “Jeremiah came and found a cave, and he brought there the tent, the ark and the altar of incense; afterwards blocking up the entrance. Some of his companions came up to mark out the way but could not find it. When Jeremiah learned this, he reproached them: ‘the place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together and shows them his mercy.’”
Scripture puts that last statement on the lips of Mary, as heard in today’s Gospel: “He has come to the help of Israel his servant, remembering his mercy” (Luke 1:53). And it was someone as unlikely as Caiaphas, the high priest, who would prophesy that Jesus was to die “...to gather together in unity God’s scattered children” (John 11:51).
In BC 539, when Israel returned from the Babylonian exile and proceeded to rebuild the temple, it was lacking of the very thing that made the temple holy—the ark of the covenant. The temple’s Holy of Holies remained markedly empty. It’s a void that still gapes in the life of Israel.
The core definition by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950 and mystery of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrated today, is that the ark (who) encased the Living Word of God did not experience corruption. By the testimony of the prophet Jeremiah and vision of the apostle John, Mary, the ark of the new covenant (like Jesus, the Word of God) was kept safe from corruption, and reigns as queen in heaven. Tradition holds that Mary lived with John the apostle in Ephesus until her Dormition. Thomas’ late arrival for the burial ceremonies and his insistence to pay his last respect led the apostles back to the cave where the body of Mary was deposited. Opening the cave, they saw no body. But they at once remembered seeing the cloud open as they left and saying to each other: “the Lord has received the body of his handmaid.”
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo