“The Temple of his body”

John begins his gospel as if he is describing creation – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”


John returns to that image in our passage.


Don’t get distracted by the crashing tables and scattering sheep, the fleeing crowds and the free-flying doves, the merchants chasing coins and cattle or the man from Galilee brandishing a whip and shouting “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection

John 2:13-22

March 7, 2021

Todd R. Wright


John begins his gospel as if he is describing creation – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”


John returns to that image in our passage.


Don’t get distracted by the crashing tables and scattering sheep, the fleeing crowds and the free-flying doves, the merchants chasing coins and cattle or the man from Galilee brandishing a whip and shouting “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”


Don’t get caught up in debating whether this is out of character for “gentle Jesus meek and mild” or an example of righteous anger that was as appropriate for him as for any prophet.


Don’t listen to the disciples trying to explain things by quoting Psalm 69, “Zeal for your house will consume me!” because this gospel has a bigger point to make.


Instead, remember that John believes that God became flesh and blood and walked among us, because that has implications for worshipping communities, then and now.

 

It’s important, because up to that point, if you were seeking God, you went to the Temple. That was where God promised to be – there among the sheep and doves, the smoke and the sound of sung psalms, the priestly prayers and the mysterious holy of holies.


Now John is saying that Jesus’ body is the new holy place, God in the flesh!


During the season of Lent, we will watch as the water drips from Jesus’ hair and the sun bakes his skin; as he braids pieces of rope into a whip with strong hands and bends his knees to wash his disciples’ feet. We will watch him eat and drink and laugh with his friends and follow him to a garden where he sweats through a prayer while their tired bodies give in to sleep. We will see him surrounded and arrested, stand trial and suffer a beating. We will stand witness as he is nailed to a cross and dies gasping for breath. And then that bruised and broken body will be taken down, washed and wrapped, and placed in a tomb. On the third day that same body, raised from the dead, will appear – ”huggable, touchable, scarred,” and hungry.[1] God in the flesh.

 

Think about what John is saying – to a community that has seen their Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD … and to the faithful down through the years.


I recently read a piece by a preacher’s kid. She had grown up in a series of churches. Eventually she went away to college and drifted away. And then, while traveling in Europe, she wandered into Notre Dame Cathedral. She writes, “I tilted my face to the ceiling, took in arches and color, and … I knew myself to be in a holy space, one so many had labored to bring into being, one where God was wholly beyond my imagining. I was safe, resting in a place that felt familiar. Yet somehow — in the centuries-old pews, surrounded by both humanity and so much empty space, by echo and quiet — God was new … I wanted to know that God, that mysterious God who had always been so familiar before.”[2]


She gushes that she learned to pray at Notre Dame. So the fire broke her heart.


John is writing to people like her. He wants them to know that God is still present … through the body of Christ.

 

Think about what that means – God chose to localize love in a human body, a body like yours or mine:


A fluid frame that perceives the world with taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing.


A bundle of emotions that laughs and cries, that shakes with fear and stills with peace.


With history recorded in stretch marks and scarred skin.


A body that echoes your grandfather’s widow’s peak or your mom’s piano-player’s fingers,


the hairiness of your Neanderthal ancestors


or the left-handedness that plays hide and seek through the generations.


Since God is present in Jesus’ body … and we are made in the image of God … then God shines forth when you offer a cup of hot coffee to a guest or apply lotion to an elderly friend’s feet. Your body can give voice to God when you sing a lullaby or speak up for the silenced. It means God is not confined to some holy chamber; God is loose in the world!


Can you imagine that?


So while for the past 12 months our sanctuary has been closed, the body of Christ has been free to go where it is needed – making phone calls and sending notes, preparing sandwiches and gathering schools supplies, serving in hospitals and teaching over zoom.


And when people have been seeking God, they have found the holy – in the cookies you made with your own hands and left for a neighbor, the pictures you colored and shared, the prayers whispered and the bits of scripture passed out like life-preservers or flower seeds.


Our passage isn’t about a protest. It’s about God in the flesh … our flesh! Amen


[1] some of this language is inspired by Mary Hinkle Shore’s commentary on the text for workingpreacher.com, 3/4/18
[2] from “I learned to pray at Notre Dame Cathedral” by Bromleigh McCleneghan, in the Christian Century, 4/17/19
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