Jesus makes quite the entry into the temple today in the Gospel reading we just heard read to us: turning over tables, pouring out coins, and whipping animals right out of the place. When you were hearing the words of the story, how did you respond to it? Did it elicit a positive response in you? This is great! This is the portrayal of Jesus I need, righteously correcting the corruption of this world. Did you take great comfort in knowing that Jesus loses his control sometimes? Is that how you responded? Or did you have a negative response when you heard it? Were you upset at this portrayal of Jesus, an angry Jesus, the opposite of that peaceful, all-loving Jesus that you know and like? How did you respond when you heard these words?
I have heard both of these responses over the years from people here at the parish: people who love it and those that hate it. There have been a few people in-between, but most people seem to have a strong reaction. But whether or not you love this passage, or hate this passage, or are somewhere in-between, I think we can all agree that it is a rather dramatic moment. It is a scene so dramatic, so arresting that it grabs you, demanding your attention; a scene so dramatic that for many years my mind would stop and dwell here. While my ears might have heard the words that followed, my mind could not quite catch up to what was said next. This is really quite unfortunate, because in John’s telling, the part after the overturning of the tables is the meat of the story. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus told the authorities there that day. Raise this up in three days? Who the heck do you think you are? It took our ancestors forty-six years to build this place. You’d do it in three days? But Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.
It is not an overstatement to say that the temple was the center of mainstream Jewish faith in Jesus’s day and the centuries before hand. It had not always been so: there wasn’t a temple before Solomon, and yet Abraham and Sarah and Moses and Miriam and Joshua and Deborah and Ruth and Samuel and David and all the rest of them had a very profound and robust faith without it. But once that temple was built, that was the center of the faith. After it was destroyed in the Babylonia era, they rebuilt that temple within a generation, as soon as the Persians came in and allowed it. Several centuries later, King Herod, who was a complicated King with tenuous political support, knew that if he enlarged that temple it would shore up his support and allow the people to overlook some of his more problematic sides. And so for forty-six years they had been doing just that.
The temple was critical because it was the location of the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelt. The temple was the only place you could go to offer your sacrifices, the Torah required sacrifices for thanksgiving and the forgiveness of sins. The devout who did not live in Jerusalem would make a pilgrimage several times a year to offer their sacrifices. We see Jesus doing exactly that throughout John’s Gospel. Estimates range from a hundred thousand to a million people went to Jerusalem every year for the Passover to offer their sacrifices at the temple.
The temple was everything. So what we hear Jesus claiming is quite audacious: he is the temple, he is the Holy of Holies, he is the location of God, the place where God dwells, the place where sins are forgiven, the center of faith. Those who confronted him are incredulous of his statement that he can raise a temple in three days, but they misunderstood him to be referring to the stone building. You can imagine how angry they would have been if they had understood what Jesus actually meant. They might even try and kill him, because he would be making an audacious claim, a blasphemous claim to them that his body is the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God where all sins, not just the sins of the individual but the sins of the entire world are forgiven. This temple would be destroyed and this temple would be raised again, a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others, but to us the glory and power and wisdom of God. Through his death and resurrection, in his incarnate body, we find God.
We are currently in the season of Lent, almost halfway through our Lenten journey. During this time we are symbolically traveling to a place, Jerusalem, where Jesus died and rose again. We are metaphorically traveling to a time, about 2000 years ago, when these events took place. But our Gospel reminds us today that what we are searching for on this journey is a person, Jesus Christ. For in Him we find our faith; in Him we find our hope. We have so many opportunities to find Him this season, for the risen Christ is to be found all over if we would just open our eyes and see Him. Christ is there, in the bread and in the wine. As the Disciples discovered in Jerusalem and Emmaus, and followers of Jesus have discovered throughout the ages, This is my Body, this is my Blood. When the Body of Christ taken into us, the body of Christ, we receive that which we are, and it points us to another place we can find Christ this season. Christ is there in the gathered community of the faithful, the continuing body of Christ who act as Christ’s loving hands and heart in this world, serving the needs of many. And that points to another place that we can find Christ: Christ is there in those whom we serve. Those to whom we give a glass of water when they are thirsty, or give them food when they are hungry, or visit them in prison, or take care of them when they are sick or in any need or affliction. Finally, Christ is there within us and we who have been baptized into Him. In that Lenten practice of self-examination, we discover ultimately that it is not us that we find, but the Christ in us.
Seek out Christ this season. Journey not to a place, but to a person—Jesus. Seek Him in the breaking of bread, or in the community of faith, or in those whom you serve, or deep inside yourself. Seek Him, find Him, and discover within Him the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God where every sin is forgiven, every wound is healed, where love and hope reside.