Ezra 3:1-13; Ephesians 2:11-22
4th Sunday of Easter Choral Evensong
St Barbara’s 07.05.17
Rev Tulo Raistrick
I had the great joy just after Easter of taking my parents and two brothers to Rome. My parents were wanting to go and were looking for a tour guide, so I volunteered. My brothers thought it sounded like a fun thing to do so came along as well, although one was quite adamant – he was not interested in seeing any crumbling ruins or buildings, he just wanted to drink Italian coffee!
Well, on the day we arrived I took them to the Pantheon, an extraordinary 2000 year old building in the heart of Rome, still totally intact with the largest concrete dome ever constructed towering over one’s head. My brother was totally overwhelmed – “the most amazing thing, beyond the natural world, he had ever seen”, he said. The coffees, after that, went forgotten.
Buildings can move us, inspire us, leave us in awe. Particularly those buildings that hold an emotional and spiritual significance too. Places connected to memories – the place where I got married, the place where I experienced the love of God for the first time, the place where I experience God’s peace.
That was certainly true for the people of Israel that we heard about in our first reading. The Temple in Jerusalem was the very symbol of their faith – the place where God dwelt with his people. It towered above the rest of the city. Psalms and hymns were written about it. Going to the Temple was the highpoint of the year. So when Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple destroyed by the Assyrian army in the 8th century BC it would have been a devastating blow. And here they are, returning to their city and temple, after years of exile, to rubble and ruin, to start the process of re-building.
Imagine being a Syrian refugee finally being able to return to one’s own hometown and finding the place in ruin. There will be both the joy of returning – home at last! – but also the sadness of all that used to be. No wonder when the people of Israel began to lay the foundation for the new temple there were shouts of joy and of grief, and they couldn’t be told apart. The Temple meant so much to them – the place where they met with God.
Fast-forward several hundred years and we find the apostle Paul talking about another temple. He is writing to a group of Jewish and Gentile Christians in the city of Ephesus, a city whose sky-line was dominated by the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In beauty and appearance it was seen to be even more impressive than any of the other wonders of the world, including the pyramids of Egypt and the hanging gardens of Babylon. This temple was hugely significant – the spiritual, economic and social epicentre of the city. People flocked to it from all over Turkey and Greece. Only the Jewish community did not recognise it – for they looked to their own Temple in Jerusalem.
But Paul gives a radical vision. Impressive though these buildings may appear, they would fall into decay and ruin. Indeed the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed within a decade of his letter, never to be rebuilt. But God was building a new Temple, a Temple that would last forever, a temple that would continue to grow and grow – a temple not of wood or brick or marble, but a temple made of His people.
No longer would people need to go to a building to meet with God. They would meet him in his people. He writes: “You are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” We are the new Temple – the place where people may marvel and be in awe at the presence of God, the place where people may find peace and hope.
I wonder, when we are together, do people experience the presence of God among us? Do people gain an experience of his love, his peace, when they are with us? Are our lives so filled with His Holy Spirit that in meeting with us they experience his presence?
They are challenging questions for all of us. How can we live such distinctive lives? I, for one, know that I fall short so frequently. The answer, Paul says, is not to be found in us, but in the one who holds the whole building together, the one who reconciles us to God and to one another – Jesus. As we focus on him, as we seek to follow him, as we pray and ask for his help, so we become together the people of God, filled with his Spirit, the temple meeting place where all may come to experience the love and wonder of God.
May we as a people come to live such lives of love for God and for one another that others may come to know and experience the love of God too.