Fourth Sunday of Easter



Preacher: The Dean


Lections: Ezra 3.1-13; Ephesians 2.11-22

The General Election campaign has only just begun but already there’s a phrase that one party is using and using and using – ‘strong and stable’. It’s a good phrase - though I think we will get sick of hearing it – but good because one of the things that, whatever our own political colours might be, we would want in government is strength and stability.  What we have to do as the electors is to decide which of the parties before us, which of the people standing for election in our own constituency, is going to be deliver on these aspirations of strong and stable for the whole of the community.

When I was spending time in the Holy Land last year one of the intentions I had was to visit places that I’d never had the opportunity to visit previously.  The main focus of my time was Jerusalem and that is a city dominated by what is known in the Islamic world as Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, what we’d call the Temple Mount nowadays, or at least for the last 1330 years by the name of the Islamic Prayer Hall that stands at the heart of it, the Dome of the Rock.

It’s hard to escape the Dome and the Temple Mount on which it stands and why would you want to do so, it’s truly magnificent.  But I’d never been below modern street level to visit the Western Wall Tunnel, an excavation that allows the visitor to see 485 metres of the wall that had been lost under later levels of construction.  However, whether or not to visit it wasn’t a straightforward decision to make as when the tunnel was finally opened in 1996 80 people were killed in the riots that ensued.  The reason for the rioting was that the tunnel emerged underneath a madrassa on the Via Dolorosa and the fact that the Israelis had been excavating beneath houses and buildings in the Muslim Quarter was objected to.

But I made the decision to go and see what could be seen.  What you walk alongside are the walls of the Temple Mount, the continuation of what we know as the Western, the Wailing Wall, the foundations of the Temple.  What you see is amazing – the size of the stones that Herod had laid, the strength and stability of the place on which the Temple stood.

Our First Lesson from the Book of Ezra was about the laying of the foundations of the Temple, and the joy and the tears that accompanied it all – joy that building had commenced, tears in remembering the beautiful Temple that had stood there before.  Then in the Second Letter the writer of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks to the people about the foundations that we should be laying in life, those strong and stable foundations built upon ‘the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone’.

The Temple for all its solidity would be destroyed again and again and again, Jesus was clear about that and the weeping and the wailing at the wall testify to the continuing pain of that.  But what Jesus is encouraging us to build is something in our lives that floods, nor storms, nor strong armies can destroy.  We build on rock and that rock is Christ.

Samuel Johnson in his hymn ‘City of God’ ends it in this way

In vain the surge's angry shock,
in vain the drifting sands;
unharmed upon the eternal Rock
the eternal City stands.

Strength and stability can be challenged whether that be in the spheres of politics, or community or in our personal life.  What we need therefore in all of these places are the best of foundations and that’s what God holds out to Ezra’s congregation and to us what’s held out to the people in the church in Ephesus and why they and we sing out with joy

He is good,
for his steadfast, his strong, secure love endures for ever.

The question for us is how strong are our own foundations, of faith, of relationship, of life and where they could be stronger by doing some rebuilding.