Over the centuries people have built wonderful buildings to worship God in. The Temple in Jerusalem was one of these and was very important to the Jews. Christians too have cathedrals which soar upwards and speak of the glory of God. It’s very easy to focus on the buildings, to depend on them for our security in our faith, but the security we need is found in Jesus. Depending on him allows us to cope when all around us is disturbed. It gives us a still centre, unaffected by circumstances.
The readings for the Pacific Rim service at 10pm SLT on Saturday were Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25, Mark 13:1-8. The reflection follows.
In the summer time I had a wonderful opportunity: I finally met my mentor who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He was the very first person I chatted to in an online church and he walked alongside me through a particularly difficult part of my life and out the other side of it. I imagine, had he not done all that he did, I would not now be involved with the Anglicans of Second Life. In fact, I think it’s fairly likely that I would not be a Christian.
As you can imagine, meeting Peter meant a great deal to me. He wasn’t able to be in England for long but we did manage to fit in a day in York before he headed back to London and then on home. It’s easy for those of us who live in Britain to begin to take for granted how many ancient buildings there are around us. A friend from the US who came to work in Lincoln commented on just how many old churches he came across, seemingly all over the place. I suppose they are everywhere. Near enough every village has a church and some are very ancient indeed. The church in my home village is a medieval one, one of the few cruciform churches in Yorkshire.
When Peter came to England, one thing he wanted to do was to visit somewhere very old as old buildings like ours are simply not available in Australia, hence the decision to go to York. I grew up only about 30 kilometres from the city but it has never lost its fascination for me. If you are not familiar with it, do take a look on the internet and explore it. There are many old churches, other very old buildings, the ruins of an abbey that came to the attention of Henry VIII and came off worse, Roman remains of various kinds, Viking remains, and walls all around the city with ancient gateways still in existence. There is also a very old street called The Shambles which is narrow and cobbled with shops which reach towards one another on the top storey.
We took Peter to see the abbey ruins and made sure we got our photo taken to prove it. He saw Roman mosaics in the museum there. He actually touched the stones of a Roman tower. Finding something Roman to get in touch with was one of his great wishes. The greatest wish was to visit York Minster. The Minster is the Cathedral of York and has a wonderful website where you can take a virtual tour. http://www.yorkminster.org/visiting/virtual-tour/ Just walking into that ancient soaring space which was built between 1220 and 1472 on a site that has been used for Christian worship for many years before that, brought tears to Peter’s eyes. He could hardly believe that he was there and when he found he could attend a communion service there, it was the most wonderful bonus for him.
For as long as I can remember York Minster has been having work done on it to preserve it. Some craftsmen have spent their whole lives working on that one wonderful building. Currently £10 million is being spent on the East window among other work. In the past so much of the stonework has been replaced because the limestone had been eroded by the weather. The whole building has been supported underneath also. It has cost millions and millions, with fund raising being a constant activity. Not to do that is unthinkable. There is no way to contemplate allowing that building to disintegrate and disappear.
Thinking about this certainly helps me to understand how the disciples and others felt about the Temple in Jerusalem. Much like our great cathedrals in Britain, the Temple had a long history and had been built and rebuilt over that time. Solomon’s temple was built over seven years beginning in 950BC. It was destroyed by the Babylonians in the 7th century BC. It was built again in the 6th century and then expanded over 46 years by Herod the Great. This great building was where God lived on earth. When the Temple was first consecrated God’s glory filled it, confirming his presence there. The Temple had been worshipped in by thousands and thousands of people over hundreds of years.
Jesus told his disciples that one day not one stone of that wonderful building would stand on another and in fact that happened in 70 AD. That must have seemed unthinkable to them. God needed his place to be on earth. The only reason he wouldn’t need that would surely be because something quite amazing had happened, that the kingdom of God had finally come. And so the disciples asked about how they would know this incredible event would take place. This was very, very important to them. It was a time that the nation of Israel was looking forward to, the Day of the Lord.
Jesus as usual redirects his questioners. He wants the disciples to avoid getting too tied up with signs which might in fact mislead them. There will be signs that some will interpret as signs of God’s coming. There will be some who declare that they are the returning Christ. There will be horrible things which happen like wars, earthquakes and famines. Jesus tells his disciples not to concentrate on those events and allow themselves to be alarmed. They need to move their attention elsewhere; their dependence is not to be on having everything around them going well, or even on the Temple remaining standing.
In fact as Hebrews tells us that it is the blood of Jesus on which we are to depend. It allows us to enter the sanctuary. This is not like the sanctuary built with hands in the form of the Temple or our great Cathedrals or our humble churches and chapels. They could be destroyed at any time and if we depended on them we would be lost. We need to be in a position where all the churches and temples in the world could be destroyed and we would continue in our faith, unmoved by external circumstances.
We now have a new set up that doesn’t depend on the outward signs and buildings. We enter a sanctuary not made with hands through the blood of Jesus, the new and living way. We don’t need sacrifices of animals with blood sprinkled around. We have Jesus as our priest and through him we have been made pure. We have hope that is independent of all rituals and buildings and human priests. We ourselves are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the guarantee of eternal life for each of us. No one can accuse us now and take the hope away from us.
We know that life will throw things at us which are distressing. We live in a fallen world. However, if we have that inner assurance then we will have a secure centre that will be unmoved by circumstances. A far better use of our time than looking for signs of the end of the world, is the encouraging of each other. As Paul says:
‘Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor