Assistant Priest - Revd Canon Wendy Robins
Exodus 20. 1-17 1; Corinthians 1. 18-25; Gospel - John 2. 13-22
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen
If you are fortunate enough to visit the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall, as it was more often called, in Jerusalem you will almost always see men and women, in separated enclosures facing the Wall and praying. Some stand at lecterns – large for the men and smaller for the women – and rock back and forth as they study scripture and pray. Others simply sit and appear to contemplate and yet more make their way to the wall and put their hands and/or their heads on it and pray there.
In the women’s area there is often a sense of stillness and intensity despite the huge number of women together and the fact that some of them are obviously engaged in deep conversation. I assume that this is the same in the men’s area but for obvious reasons can’t actually attest to that!
When I see this, especially when there are a lot of young women devoutly praying, I am moved deeply by what I see as this is such a positive and living example of an ancient faith being worked out today. More than that it is an example of the importance of the Temple in Judaic tradition, for here people pray at the wall on the Temple Mount, at what is believed to be the remainder of the Second Temple. It is this sense of the holiness of this place that makes the sense of shock that those who heard Jesus speak of the Temple in the way that he does, in the Gospel reading, so real. Here Jesus is talking about the Temple as his Father’s House and telling those who look after it that they have made it into a ‘market place’. His anger is almost palpable in this passage as it is in similar passages in the Synoptic Gospels. And more than that he tells them if they destroy the Temple he would rebuild it in three days. People then seemed to take what he said literally but the disciples here is a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection which as we see the disciples remembered.
It will come as no surprise to those of you who were on the Diocesan Pilgrimage or know that I have been on it that it is hard for me not to think of today’s readings in that context for, within the space of a week, we travelled the route of much of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We started as always, in what can only be described as reverse order, in Jerusalem and walked on the Mount of Olives, saw the Garden of Gethsemane and walked the Via Dolorosa in the Souk before heading up to Galilee and seeing the places of Jesus’ Lakeside ministry. Being there brings to life not only the cleansing of the Temple but makes real the sentiments from the passage in Corinthians about proclaiming Christ crucified as the wisdom and power of God. It is as if, if one sees the places and gains a sense of the holy in them, then belief and devotion is somehow made easier – even if sometimes things don’t make absolute intellectual sense!
During Lent we are called to prepare ourselves for Easter, to consider our lives and the things in them that we want or need to change in order to live as God would have us do. And it is so much more than simply trying to follow the Ten Commandments good starting points though they are. In many ways they give to us the way of life which we who have been brought up in the Judaeo-Christian tradition have inherited. They teach us about how to respond to God to our parents and to live in society. Jesus helpfully summarised the Ten Commandments when he replied to the lawyers question concerning which was the greatest commandment: in Matthew’s gospel it is recorded that he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 32:38-40
As we journey through Lent it is a good time to measure our life against how God would have us live. And that is not just about measuring ourselves against the Ten Commandments or even against Jesus’ two greatest commandments. It is about reviewing our lives in the light of all that Jesus taught and thinking about how he urged his disciples to live then firmly grounded that in the reality of life today.
Some of that reality became clear to the Pilgrims as they walked the way of the cross through the souk in the early days of the pilgrimage. Life in the souk is very busy and there is a buzz and a sort of controlled chaos as little tractor type vehicles and motorbikes and trolleys bounce through the streets and up and down the stairs as they deliver goods to the shops and transport people about it.
It is an amazing place full of life and smells and noises. Here we remembered Jesus as he journeyed to the cross. In the middle of everyday life, as people bought their food and spent time drinking coffee at the café’s, we shared in the recollection of Jesus’ journey to the cross and prayed at each station. We recalled Jesus’ agony, in the middle of the souk and somehow it seemed more real because of the life that went on around us.
In the midst of all that was happening we shared carrying a cross and thinking and praying about Jesus passion. As we move on through Lent we will not all be able to visit the Holy Land and say the stations of the cross in the place where Jesus walked but we can all spend time in prayer and contemplation as we prepare for Easter Day for the day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
Most of us will have already worked out our Lenten discipline: what we are going to do to help us prepare for Easter. But if you have not yet settled upon what you are doing for Lent it is not too late. Think about how you might make time to spend with God in the next few weeks and especially about how to listen to God in the everyday.
As we move through the rest of Lent do think about life in all its fullness and all that we can each to do spend time with God contemplating our lives and all that we should do in response to all that God has done for us.