Sermons

'A Reflection' 

 

 

From the service on 7 March

           

 

A Reflection from Richard Newton

 

 

A Reflection for Lent 3

 

 

“Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’  The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body.  After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this.”

 

The fourth Gospel is clear that the temple is an important place in Jesus’ life.  It’s a place he goes to regularly to teach.  It’s also a place he goes to regularly to pray during the major festivals of the Jewish year.  The Gospel records Jesus observing those important festivals at the temple in Jerusalem – Passover in the spring, Tabernacles (or Booths) in the autumn, and Hanukkah (or Dedication) in the winter.  In fact in Jesus’ short ministry the Gospel mentions Jesus and the Passover on no less than three occasions.

 

The temple is conceived of as a space where heaven touches earth.  Jesus evidently values going there himself – but that he “cleanses the temple”, as we’ve heard in today’s reading, shows that he believes something is fundamentally not right about the way it’s operating.  In the other three Gospels we read of Jesus turning over the tables of the traders and the money-changers because they’ve turned God’s house into a den of robbers.  It sounds as if corruption and extortion is rife in the selling of animals for sacrifices, and in the exchanging of different currencies for purchasing temple goods, and in the collection of temple taxes.

 

There is, though, no hint of this in the fourth Gospel.  It may perhaps still be the reason Jesus gets so angry and does what he does, but it’s not actually mentioned in the way the story is told.  There’s nothing to suggest dishonest practices or any evidence given of economic exploitation.  All Jesus says to those selling the doves is “stop making my Father’s house a market-place!” – and he makes a whip of cords and drives those selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers out of the temple.

 

It feels as if Jesus believes that all this trading and all these sacrificial rituals are getting in the way of people’s worship, and of people encountering God, when they come to the temple at festival time.  People are not having the experience of heaven touching earth that the temple is all about.  The disciples later remember that when Jesus talked about rebuilding the temple he was talking about himself.  It’s as if he’s hinting that the time will come when it will be through Jesus himself that heaven will touch earth. 

 

When we delve into other parts of the fourth Gospel, we find details in what Jesus says and does that relate to elements that are part and parcel of those three important Jewish festivals.

 

In the festival of Tabernacles, there’s ceremonial pouring of water and lighting of lamps.  Remember how Jesus told the woman at the well how he himself was the source of living water gushing up to eternal life, and how he later said “I am the light of the world”.

 

At Hanukkah, the rededication of the temple is celebrated.  In some of the last things Jesus says to his disciples before he’s arrested, he talks about sanctifying himself so that his Father might sanctify his disciples in the truth.  He and they are to be set apart and consecrated, just as the temple is set apart and consecrated at the winter festival.

 

Jesus himself dies on the day of Preparation for Passover, the day when the Passover lambs are slaughtered – fulfilling the description given to Jesus in the first chapter of this Gospel, “the Lamb of God”.

 

     

Jesus tells us that we are to worship God in spirit and in truth.  Fond though he is of the temple and its festivals, there’s clearly much that’s getting in the way and not enabling people to do that.  But after his death and resurrection, Jesus himself is going to become the way through which people can encounter God, and worship in spirit and in truth. 

 

However we conceive of ourselves as a church, that still must be our focus and be real today.  We need to purge ourselves of anything that gets in the way of that.  However we worship – on Zoom or in church buildings – and however we organise ourselves, let us pray that we will always enable and encourage one another to encounter God, and together to worship in spirit and truth.