When your Temple is destroyed. . . Who you gonna call?
We who stand in pulpits this coming Sunday could preach with a sensationalism that might actually be able to compete with the season finale of the Walking Dead.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of impending wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes in addition to famine and plagues. I suppose of all of these thoughts, the greatest fear for the leaders of the Temple would come from the thought of the massive stones of that ediface tumbling down one upon another.
This priest, however, is reminded of the words of the great American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who said:
It is unwise for Christians to claim any knowledge of either the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell; or to be too certain about any details of the Kingdom of God in which history is consummated.
I am also reminded of the words of Jesus who said, “You know not the time or the place.”
I think it needs to be said that our Gospel from St. Luke appointed for this Sunday is not a quick link to the end of time, but neither is it irrelevant to OUR time.
I really believe that this Gospel is more germane to our spiritual lives as we live them today than it is to some future end of time.
Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt when they heard from Jesus that the great Temple is going to fall. Jesus had pretty much shaken every one of their foundations up to this point in the Gospel, and they were actually being fairly good sports about it too.
But this time he was speaking about the one place they could count on being able to hang their trust and their faith.
What a magnificent edifice it was; admired by the whole world.
It was a masterpiece of construction that would surpass all others.
It was, if you can even imagine this, a single structure that occupied over 40 acres of land. Can you imagine the size of the walls of such a temple? Well if you can, then I ask you to picture those massive walls mostly covered with real gold plating.
I ask you to picture a building of such magnitude that when the two front doors of solid brass were opened in the morning, the sound rang out such that it sounded the beginning of the day for the entire city.
Now if you assign a spiritual value to that building such that it becomes the most holy of places in the known world, then you can imagine how important it would become to the people for whom it served.
That is why, in our appointed Gospel, we find some well-meaning folks just standing back, gawking with their mouths open, at those beautiful huge stones. Because that’s really all you could do . . . . GAWK!
And Jesus sees them staring at the Temple that represents all their hopes and dreams, and what does he say?
Jesus says, “Guess what, don’t bother to count on those stones, because one day they will all come tumbling down one upon the other.”
Now, at first this might seem somewhat cruel, but we have to remember that Jesus is in the Holy City. He knows Passion Sunday is not far off, and that his ministry is now being measured in hours, and minutes, weeks and days. It’s time to teach about life! That is what this Gospel is about, the realities of life here and now.
I’m sure many of you have seen the bumper sticker out there that says, “When the rapture comes this car will be unmanned?”
Well, I saw the sequel to that bumper sticker the other day. It read, “When the rapture comes, can I have your car?”
I not only turn away from the notion that Jesus is talking about end times in this Gospel, but I’m going to go a step further on that limb and say that I think some have made too much of Jesus’ theology of end times in general.
Jesus always seems to talk in terms of the Eternal Now. “The Kingdom is now, it’s within you.” “I will be with you always.”
No, I don’t think Jesus is speaking about the end of our living; he’s talking about the realities of our living. Temples make good metaphors for all the things we rely on in life. Temples are going to fall, and where do you turn when yours come tumbling down?
Temples come in many forms. For some people their job is their temple. Where do they turn when they lose it?
For others it’s a relationship. Where do they turn when that special person is parted from them through divorce or by death?
In my years of ministry, I’ve sat in many surgery waiting rooms and outside quite a few emergency centers. I’ve held people and listened to people as their temples were crumbling all around them, and I’m always amazed at how many of them say to me, “I don’t know where I’d be without my faith community.” Would it be too presumptuous of me to say that I think that’s the real point of our Gospel today? Temples are going to eventually crumble; it’s only a matter of time. The only temple that can stand forever is the Body of Christ, the faith community that is now the very person of Jesus, the Christ.
You can look all over the place for Jesus, and you might find his reflection in a flower or in a beautiful sunset, but the only way you’re going to be able to look the REAL JESUS in the eye is to look into the eye of your brother or sister nearby.
Someone once said, “The best way to prepare for the coming of Christ is to never forget that Christ is ever present!”
Now if you’re having trouble believing that this Gospel has to do with community, then I invite you to read beyond the passage the Lectionary gives to us this week. Right after Jesus speaks of these life realities, these unpleasant, heart-breaking events that will most definitely occur in our lives, right after this, guess what he does?
Our Gospel today is from the end of the twenty-first Chapter of Luke, let me quote for you from the beginning of the twenty-second chapter, just a short time later.
Now the feast of unleavened bread which is called the Passover, was at hand. . . So Jesus sent Peter and John, and said to them, Go and prepare the passover for us to eat . . . And when it was time, Jesus came and sat down, and the twelve apostles were with him. . . and he said, ‘I have greatly desired to eat this meal with you before I suffer’ . . . And he took bread and gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them and said, ‘This is my Body, which is given for your sake; do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise also he took the cup . . . and he said, ‘This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you.’
Right after Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple, right after he speaks of being deceived, right after he speaks of wars and earthquakes and plagues and persecutions, right after he gives them the hard facts of life, what does he do?
He does Eucharist! He calls them into communion with him and with each other!
My dear friends in Christ, the only real Temple is our faith community.
When a Christian community forms a circle of love with outstretched arms, that is when that community becomes an eternal and indestructible temple. That is why elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus can say, “I will rebuild the destroyed temple in three days.” Jesus was speaking of the temple that was his Body!
When God seems far away where will you find God?
When your temples begin to crumble where will you turn if not to the Body of Christ?
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