Sometimes when we are home on Shabbat we stream services from Central Synagogue in New York City. I enjoy the liturgy, the beautiful singing of the cantor accompanied by acoustic guitar, and especially the young people reading from the Torah scroll on their bar- or bat-mitzvah.
On the Sabbath before Hanukkah, I was watching this before heading off to our local home fellowship group. As I was looking at the order of service, I noticed the words for a song titled “Sanctuary” and was surprised to see the familiar lyrics of the Christian chorus by that name that we occasionally sing. I didn’t expect that; Central Synagogue is a Reform Jewish congregation, not Messianic. My Celebration Hymnal, a Christian publication, shows this song as being written in 1982 by John Thompson, co-author with Michael Card of the song El Shaddai, and Randy Scruggs, son of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs.
Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for you
I never actually heard this song during the live stream that Sabbath, but I did find a YouTube video from Central Synagogue from back in 2015 with Cantor Julia Cadrain singing this song. And yes, it really is the same song I know from back when I attended church on Sunday. This beautiful rendition also included some Hebrew lyrics.
The date on the video is February 20, 2015. The Torah portion for that Sabbath was Terumah, “Offering,” from Exodus 25:1-27:19. The beginning of this portion reads:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me … Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.
The remainder of the portion details exactly how to prepare this sanctuary so that it will be suitable for our Holy God.
In this video, the Cantor quotes verse 8 and then points out that it says God desires to dwell among “them” – the people – rather than “it” – the sanctuary. The Hebrew lyrics she sings at the beginning of this song are not the same as the well known English lyrics that follow. It didn’t take me too long to find them though, because they come straight out of Scripture.
The first part is from this Torah portion in Exodus 25:8:
V’asu li mikdash (make for me a sanctuary)
V’shachanti b’tocham (that I may dwell among them)
The second part is taken from Psalm 115:18:
Va-anachnu n’varech Yah (we will bless Yah)
Me-ata v’ad olam (from this time forth and forever)
As I write this we are in the midst of the Hanukkah celebration. Enjoy this song and make it your prayer as we remember the rededication of a defiled Temple. Lord, prepare me to be a living sanctuary for You.
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation