7th March 2021

Third Sunday of Lent

I Corinthians 1.18-25
John 2.13-22
Rev. Canon Cheryl Collins

May I speak in the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit

One sure fire way to wind Tom up (I like to make a note of them) is to talk about the Bible as the Word of God. He will be very quick to point out that in the Bible the Word of God is not this collection of texts but a person, Jesus Christ, as in ‘in the beginning was the Word’. The Bible, which is the story of our relationship with God, frequently reminds us of the folly of thinking we have got God all sussed out. The totality of who God is remains beyond our comprehension; but God gives us the gift of Jesus so that we can understand who God is through the medium we understand best, the human person. Jesus is how God chooses to communicate with us. Jesus tells us what God wants us to know about who God is and how we can relate to this mysterious being. Because one of the paradoxes about God is that God wants to be in intimate relationship with us, wants us to know that we are God’s children, made in God’s image.

Paul uses other significant words to describe Jesus in his first letter to the Corinthians, in verse 24 he calls Jesus the Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. God wants us to sit with the fact that the power and wisdom of the one who created everything is best understood in the life and death of a man whose life ended in defeat, executed as a common criminal. This kind of power and wisdom is as unexpected as the Spanish inquisition! In fact, the Spanish inquisition itself, a body which examined people’s opinions and beliefs through bodily torture and declared them sound or unsound, is a great example both of the way the followers of Jesus have fallen prey to the temptations of worldly power and of the misunderstanding of faith which assumes it is all about believing the right things and not about being in the right relationship with God through Jesus.

Jesus is God’s power, because it is in and through Jesus that we come to know God, love God and build a relationship with God that aspires to be like the relationship of the Son with the Father. Jesus is God’s power because it turns out we are saved, not through our own actions, beliefs or worldly connections but through the life and death of this obscure Galilean peasant. Jesus is God’s wisdom not because he impressed people with his cultured and educated speech but because he invited us to discover who God is through the  power of stories about simple everyday things like yeast and sheep and journeys. God’s wisdom is about who you know, not a well-connected old school chum, but Jesus, the Word of God who shows us best what God is like. And just as Jesus is the Word, the power and the wisdom of God he is also
the new Temple of God, the place of mediation between God and human beings, which is why John places his version of Jesus in the Temple right at the beginning of his ministry.

So, in today’s gospel, Jesus wasn’t cleansing the Temple because it had become corrupt; he was throwing out the whole Temple system because it was not working as the way to draw close to God and he was here to replace it. This was partly because human beings had become adept at corrupting it. Solomon, rich as he was, had relied on taxing his subjects and forced labour to build the Temple. Herod the Great had undertaken an ambitious building programme which we hear had taken 46 years as a way to establish his importance and he used the same methods of financing and construction. But the moneychangers and dove sellers performed an important and necessary function in the economy of the Temple. The reason they were no longer needed was because John wants us to understand that Jesus took into himself, into his own body and being, the purpose of the Temple. John emphasizes this through the enigmatic sayings about himself which Jesus gives- ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me’ and ‘I am the light of the world’ for instance which refer to religious festivals whose symbolism Jesus takes into himself.

The role of the Temple as a place of sacrifice, of celebration, of identity as a community is taken over by Jesus. He says in effect, I am this. He carries the Temple in his bones. John will reveal more ways in which Jesus uses his body to evoke and provoke. He offers his body as a dwelling place, a place of meeting, a site of worship. At the last supper he invites the disciples to abide in him, he underlines the sacredness of bodies by washing their feet, he identifies the very meal itself with his body and his blood, the ultimate sacrifice. His body is broke open, naked and made completely vulnerable on the cross, it is re-formed in the
resurrection and his wounds themselves become a portal to belief for Thomas. Jesus gives us a body which is definitely entirely physical but also a rich body of meanings and signs.

And when we follow Christ we ourselves become Christ’s body, what Paul describes as a living sacrifice. He calls us to be his body in the world, his hands and feet, a living Temple of self-giving which receives and offers his presence through the physical, embodied worship that we offer in the bread and the wine, in the service and the sharing. In our bodies, in our lives, in our communities, by our hospitality, by our witness, by our life of prayer: Christ calls us to be living stones of his Temple, a place of meeting with God for the healing of the world.

All that might sound a bit airy-fairy and theological at first, but in fact our present circumstances only reinforce our understanding of the body as both uniquely vulnerable and the place where we meet Christ. When modern medicine could offer little, it was the dedication of the weary bodies of doctors and nurses, gently turning a Covid patient to help them breathe which spoke of the sacredness of bodies. Their bodies sweated under protective clothing, ached from long shifts on their feet and in some cases even absented themselves from their home and loved ones to keep human bodies as safe as possible. But the bodies which collected a neighbour’s prescription or went to the supermarket for them so the most vulnerable bodies could shelter at home also served. It was the body of a 99 year old man that walked a hundred laps
to raise funds, it was the body of a healthy volunteer that tested vaccines, it is the body of a delivery driver and a checkout operative, a farmer and a factory worker that have kept us fed. It is our bodies staying at home, day after dreary day, which are helping to keep our neighbours safe. All this is not to romanticise bodies, or to forget that they are also the sites of abuse and violence and hate crime. It is to call us to our vocation as the living Temple of Christ’s body. We are the body of Christ. As such are there things we need to let go of for the body to flourish? How are we, in all our bodily frailty being the body of Christ in this place? Whose body is not being seen or valued by us? How can we serve these bodies? How can we be a place of hospitality to all that is holy and embodied?

‘“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours
are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through
which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours
are the eyes, you are his body.’ Says Teresa of Avila.

Amen, may it be so.