Thursday, 18 October 2012
Temple tantrums and new truths!
I love to visit some of the grand church buildings that have been preserved for us. St Paul's, almost hidden under all the new glass and chrome in the best part of London, the turreted Orthodox cathedral in Cluj Napoca, Romania. My favourite of all is still the Pantheon in Rome, with it's odd mix of Roman pagan, catholicism and Italian nationalism rolled into one breathtaking whole!
2000 years ago Jesus outraged the legalists by standing next to Herod's massive temple building project in Jerusalem and claiming that he was going to tear it down, then rebuild it in three days. He was either crazy, or he had a different way of understanding the way we think about temples and church buildings.
Jesus took all the prophetic promises about Jerusalem's temple and pointed to himself. This centrepoint building in the nation, where broken, penitent people would come to find forgiveness of their sins, to get right with God, for physical healing even – Jesus put all of this on Himself. Sanding by the impressive temple building, he had the nerve to say 'Come to me!' This physical temple is good, but He's far more impressive!
John gives us a little commentary on this story in his gospel account. Letting us in on the incredible secret that Jesus wasn't really talking about the physical temple, but about his body. The disciples of course didn't realise this truth until after the events that followed. We shake our heads at their slowness, but would certainly have jumped to all the same half baked conclusions if we had been standing in the shadow of that enormous temple with Jesus.
The scriptures tell us that Jesus died, rose again after three days, ascended into glory, from where He has sent the promised Holy Spirit upon his followers.
He was absolutely right! In those three days, the role and purpose of the physical temple was totally undermined. It stood in Jerusalem a few years longer, but was already an unnecessary monument to a lesser covenant by the time that the Romans pulled it down in AD70.
In and through the body of Jesus, a new, greater temple now lives and breathes. The temple has come out onto the streets and lived amongst us. The ongoing presence of God by His Spirit now fills and lights up the lives of millions of believers. Every day for them is a temple moment as God comes down and inhabits ordinary lives, in ordinary homes, doing ordinary jobs - gracing our insignificance with His magnificence. No wonder Peter later calls us living stones - the old static temple has come alive and is slowly but surely filling the earth!
I'll be back in Cluj, near the beautiful Orthodox cathedral in a few weeks, but getting near the presence of God is no longer about going to the right building, or entering a special city, a sacred place.
All those images are shadows of the greater reality which has been fulfilled in the man Jesus who tore it all down! Whatever our culture or tradition, as Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox. Whatever we may think about pilgrimage to Lourdes, or even Mecca, there is a new and greater truth to grasp which trumps all our old understandings and ways of seeing the world.
There is a greater revelation that in the person of Jesus Christ we find the presence of a prefect God has come to live on planet earth. Even more unlikely, we discover that his ordinary followers are built up into some kind of living temple, greater than any ever built by human hands and shining with glory into eternity.