For some mysterious reason, the committee who designed the 3-year cycle of Bible readings called the lectionary has us leap out of the Gospel of Mark and over to John’s Gospel for today. And it’s not like the story of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple isn’t in Mark. It’s in all 4 gospels in fact, but John’s is the only one who has it take place not during Holy Week, but here, at the beginning of his gospel, right after Jesus has performed his first “sign”–turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.

In the other three gospels, this radical act of civil disobedience is cause for the authorities to look for a way to arrest Jesus. Here, in John, they merely ask him by what authority he’s doing this–”What sign can you show us?” which is one of John’s themes– and then they engage Jesus in a conversation about destroying the Temple. “Destroy this temple,” Jesus challenges them, “and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for 46 years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But [John tells us] he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that he had said this.”

“He was speaking of the temple of his body.” So was this incident about selling things in the Temple, a rant against the whole sacrificial system entrenched in the Temple, or was it about the sacredness of Jesus’ body, and of all bodies? Yes. John bookends his gospel with memorable stories about Jesus’ body–here, “he was speaking about the temple of his body” and then at the end of the gospel, the beating, crucifixion, death, and raising of the body– in other words, as John says at the very beginning: the Word became flesh, the Incarnation–the “enfleshment” of the Holy, God’s Word becoming flesh.

It’s sometimes called “the scandal of the Incarnation”–that the Creator of the universe should choose to become enfleshed in our fragile, limited, vulnerable bodies. And we know that for too long, and still in too many places, “the body” has been demonized, seen as the cause for sin or separation from God. “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” the apostle Paul once wrote, but what he meant by “flesh” was not just his human body, but the tendency to want only to serve oneself, only to gratify one’s own desires. And, of course, for too long and in too many places, it has been women’s bodies in particular that were cause for sin, and so they have been objectified, commodified, exploited, disregarded, discarded.

But Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body. And Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?” The home of the Divine is not in bricks and mortar, but in living, human beings (and, I would add, in all God’s creatures). Jesus is clear that we are to offer our whole selves to God–”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”–and in this story right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he is also clear that human bodies live within structures and systems, some of which are unjust, that seek to put up obstacles between God and humanity. The Temple structure of sacrifices had become such an obstacle, and Jesus’ anger and muscular overthrowing of the moneychangers’ tables and driving out the animals was evidence of that whole-being offering to God. We experience anger, pain, fear, joy, all the emotions in our body, and acknowledging them and expressing them responsibly is healthy and healing. Beverly Harrison, in her essay “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” writes, “The important point is that where feeling is evaded, where anger is hidden or goes unattended, masking itself, then the power of love, the power to act, to deepen relation, atrophies and dies.” [cited by Debie Thomas, journeywithjesus, 2/25/18]

There is, though, a cost and risk to expressing our anger at injustice, at systems that deny people dignity and wholeness and sacred worth. “We must let go of the comfortable belief that our highest calling as Christians is to niceness,” one commentator writes [Thomas, op cit.] “Those who live by compassion are often canonized,” as John Dominic Crossan points out. “Those who live by justice are often crucified.” [cited by Thomas]

“Jesus was speaking about the Temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead (after being crucified) his disciples remembered that he had said this.”

Remember our intention for Lent? “I must let go of everything but God.” Let go of “stuff,” let go of expectations, let go our comfortable belief that our highest calling as Christians is to niceness, as we’ve just heard. And we must let go of any sense that our bodies are less than temples of the sacred, not to be worshiped themselves, certainly not to become objects of slavish devotion, but to be treated reverently and graciously. Too many of us have bought into our culture’s idolatry of bodies who look only a certain way, which is not the way our particular bodies look; and so we heap upon our bodies diatribes of “You’re too fat…too thin…too short…too tall…no six-pack abs, no buns of steel…not good enough.” Or, we bewail our inability to produce insulin, or to bend the way we used to, we speak of our bodies’ “betraying” us when we get sick, or old, or infirm.

But, we’re talking about the temple of the holy spirit here. I–we–must let go of everything but God. “Good is the flesh that the Word has become,” as Brian Wren writes in his hymn of that name.

…Good is the body for knowing the world,

sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,

feeling, perceiving, within and around,

good is the body, from cradle to grave,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Good is the body, from cradle to grave,

growing and ageing, arousing, impaired,

happy in clothing, or lovingly bared,

good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

God is the pleasure of God in our flesh,

longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell,

glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell,

good is the body, for good and for God,

Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

And if God is enfleshed in you, then God is also enfleshed in every other human body, which is also to be treated with respect, with reverence, liberated from structures of injustice and hatred. “He was speaking of the temple of his body” matters, as one commentator writes, because bodies in our midst continue to be shunned because of the gender they are supposed to be or dismissed because of the color of their skin or overlooked because they don’t conform to our ideas of what a body should look like or what it should be able to do; because bodies continue to be assaulted and abused and massacred. “He was speaking of the temple of his body” matters because at least a quarter of the families in Bennington depend on the Kitchen Cupboard to get nutritional food. We have enough hungry kids who qualify for free school lunches that we’ve just extended that to all our school children. The Free Clinic sees new patients every week. He was speaking of the temple of his body.

Your body is beloved, as are all bodies, and so we offer yoga and meditation classes here. Today we are offering the practice of anointing. As we celebrate the sacrament of communion in a few minutes, you are invited to move from the bread and cup to a place of anointing, either on your forehead or your hand, and to be reminded of the temple that is your body.

“This is my body too,” Jesus said of the bread. “This is my blood,” he said of the cup. Ministry is not metaphorical. It is physical, embodied. “Take and eat. Take and drink,” Jesus told his followers. We take the bread and wine which is his body and blood into our bodies and blood. And in a wonderful reversal of image, from taking him into our bodies, the 11th c. Symeon the New Theologian wrote,

…for if we genuinely love Him,

we wake up inside Christ’s body,

where all our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it,

is realized in joy as Him,

and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything

that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,

maimed, ugly, irreparably

damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,

and radiant in His light

he awakens as the Beloved

in every last part of our body.

He was speaking of the temple of his body. Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? You are temple, sanctuary, home for God in this world. Holy when you are born. Holy when you lay your body down at the hour of your death. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark

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