There are few more significant words regarding worship than those found in today’s text for the Sixth Day of Lent. John 2:13-22:
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
This site has included several posts concerning the importance of the church over the past several months. Many of the responses given to those posts have been in overall agreement; some have approached the subject with words of due caution. I suspect that it is the abuses of positions and practices which are at the heart of those latter responses. In some people’s’ experiences of the church those less savory things are too closely associated with the word itself to hear “church” without negative connotation. That is indeed unfortunate.
But what we think the church to be has much to do with how we respond to the word. When Jesus went into the temple he found just as much, or far more, extraneous activity than what we find in our churches today. Things associated with piety and worship had become ends in themselves, rather than things to be used in service of the due exaltation of God and the resultant attitudes of confession, repentance, and reparation of life. The Temple was the place where God’s presence was especially recognized and acknowledged. It was therefore the appropriate place to offer sacrifice and petition.
In this incident Jesus changed many things regarding worship. He made it clear once and for all that God does not dwell in temples made by human hands, but dwells fully and completely in the body of Christ–that which cannot be destroyed, against which the gates of hell cannot hold. Worship is in Christ; God’s presence is recognized and proclaimed therein; confession, repentance, and reparation of life happen therein. While therefore not tied to place or organizational structure, that body comprised of believing, redeemed persons gathers, worships, confesses, proclaims, and celebrates. And in the doing of these things we are susceptible to setting up tables to commemorate and facilitate the practices to the eclipsing of the reality.
Today’s invitation for renewed thinking is to reflect on what any such tables might be and to confess this.