When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. -Luke 21:5-19
About This Week's Prompts For Personal Meditation
As Christians come to the completion of the Cycle of Pentecost - the hard work of being church in the world - the lectionary offers this scene: Jesus advises his followers to remain steadfast in the face of persecution and apocalyptic hardships. "This will give you an opportunity to testify," Jesus said.
This end-times conversation comes about while the friends admire Herod's Second Temple "adorned with stones and gifts dedicated to God." Jesus contributes to the discussion by predicting the destruction of the temple. I chose this theme for meditation: the destruction of the Temple and the eternal nature of the Temple made "not with human hands." (1 Corinthians 5:1).
The Temple itself, though, teaches sanctification. How do we know how to be in the Holy of Holies without the structure to teach us? (meditation one). Our prayer inherits the sense of the Holy as we're sent into the world to treasure the whole of earth as Holy Place (meditation two). And yet, a final word. We can't do it all. We're not messiahs, only ministers...prophets of a future not our own (meditation three).
And Jesus' last word? "By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Meditation One (introit) the whole city
The old temple was temporary, just as the tabernacle in the desert had been temporary. In the parable of the sheep and the goats - Jesus' version of this story - those who survived the judgment did not enter the new temple, they entered the Kingdom. The Kingdom was the new temple, as implied by the visions of the Book of Revelation. John said the heavenly city had no temple, presumably because the whole city was the temple, or rather, the whole city was the holy of holies. -Margaret Barker Temple Themes in Christian Worship
Light Light The visible reminder of Invisible Light.
Oh light invisible, we praise Thee! Too bright for mortal vision We see the light but see not whence it comes O Light Invisible, we glorify thee.
T.S.Eliot 1888-1965 Choruses from the Rock (last lines
They then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." They then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. -John 2:18-22
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" -Mark 15:29-30
Arch of Titus Forum Romanum, Romans bringing back the spoils from the destruction of Jerusalem
On all sides was carnage and flight. Most of the slain were civilians, weak and unarmed people, each butchered where he was caught. Around the altar a pile of corpses was accumulating; down the steps of the sanctuary flowed a stream of blood and the bodies of the victims killed above went sliding to the bottom. (259) Book VI. The spoils in general were borne in promiscuous heaps; but conspicuous above all stood those captured in the temple in Jerusalem. (148) Book VII -Josephus 37-c100, The Jewish War (descriptions of the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E.)
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are. -1Cor 3:16-17
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. -1Cor 6:19-20
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.-Eph 2:19-22
Burning of First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, Unknown Illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372
Meditation Two (insight) sanctus
This extraordinary vision, at which Isaiah is forgiven his sin and commissioned to be God's mouthpiece, is the setting for the "Holy, holy, holy" hymn that countless Christians sing weekly at the Eucharist. Our musical settings and the very spirit of our song should transport us into Isaiah's mystic vision. Paradoxically, it is at our simple Christian altars that we sing this song. In Isaiah's vision, the Jerusalem temple became the heavenly courtroom with angelic attendants of the Holy Sovereign. Each week at the Eucharistic prayer, Christian meeting rooms become the Jerusalem temple become the heavenly court, for the church understands this table as God's throne, the bread and wine as the body of God. In an adaption of the Hebrew words, Christians sing that the entire earth is filled with the glory of God. So the church is called to care for the earth, as the place of God's creation and the manifestation of God's glory. -Gail Ramshaw Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary
Meditation Three (integration) impossible?
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about: we plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. -attributed to Oscar Romero 1917-1980
The Last Word
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? -1 Corinthians 3:16
While reflecting upon Jesus prediction of the destruction of the Second Temple, this scene came into my strange mind: the moment the Grinch pauses to hear the moaning of the Whos in Whoville after he has stolen everything related to the village Christmas celebration.
"That's a noise," grinned the Grinch, "That I simply must hear!" So he paused. And the Grinch put a hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low. Then it started to grow... But the sound wasn't sad! Why, this sound sounded merry! It couldn't be so! But it WAS merry! VERY! He stared down at Who-ville! The Grinch popped his eyes! Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise! Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, Was singing! Without any presents at all! He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!
I don't mean to trivialize the destruction of sacred space. Everything depends upon our sanctuaries. The sense of increments of holiness from narthex to nave to crossing to choir to the holy of holies, teaches us to approach the sacred first with reverence, passion, and finally awe. And once we partake (literally, in a Eucharist) the Divine into our own flesh, we're sent out from the sacred space to bring the qualities of the Deity into a suffering world.
We need sanctuaries to enter into mystery. How else would we come to learn that the holy of holies is all of life, each other, all of earth? But once we're sent out from the Holy of Holies into the … Holy of Holies, we bear the sanctuary “not made with human hands” within us.
Even the greatest of buildings will fall. But our prayers, which seem so ephemeral now, endure.
World Map with Jerusalem at the center, Heinrich Bunting, 1581