Sunday, November 18, 2018

Once and for All

Preached for Proper 28, Year B. The lessons read were Daniel 12:1-3, Hebrews 10:11-25, and Mark 13:1-8.

“Such large stone, and such large buildings!” If you go to Jerusalem today, you can still see many of the stones, and they are indeed big: those at the Western Wall are about four feet high and six wide, and some are quite a lot bigger. Those stones were put there as part of Herod's project to enlarge the Temple Mount precinct, which began around 20 BC and continued almost up to the the destruction of the city in the year 70. Of course, the great buildings are gone, razed by Titus's legions. The timeframe of this leads to some curious conclusions: given that Jesus was probably born in 5 BC (the year before Herod's death), it would seem that his mother Mary was born about the time that the temple reconstruction commenced, and that Zachariah, John the Baptist's father, had already taken up his duties in the temple at the time.

The enlarged temple was not the only product of Herod's pride. On the southern side of the temple platform, he had a huge stoa built, where the Sanhedrin met and where the money changing we hear of was conducted. Josephus, the historian of the final Jewish revolt, acclaimed it as deserving “to be mentioned better than any other under the sun.” It also is utterly gone, burned in the revolts and eventually replaced by the Al-Aqsa Mosque hundreds of years later. The second temple itself, erected in the reign of Darius I, stood for five hundred years before Herod's work, and almost another century before its obliteration by the Romans. But it is all gone. If the the retaining walls remain, nothing that once stood upon them is left: not one stone is left here upon another; all were thrown down. In those days, the massive splendor of those walls, the golden stone shining in the middle eastern sun, surely seemed, if not eternal, certainly destined to stand for ages to come, but as Jesus foretold, they had less than forty years left.

The temple destroyed, the focus of Jewish worship shifted, perforce, to the synagogues. But these are houses of prayer, not places of sacrifice. Even in modern Jerusalem, there are no more sacrifices. And for us, the members of the church, the sacrifices we make are transformed. The priests made offerings for sin, so that the height of the sacrificial year was that made on Yom Kippur, when a bull, two rams, and two goats were sacrificed in atonement, both for the high priest's own sins and for those of the people. We make offerings for remembrance: the eucharistic sacrifice we do for the remembrance of he who is our salvation. So why the change? Well, the Jews do not sacrifice because there is no place for them to do so, for their temple is no more. But we are Christ's temple on earth, as Paul states over and over, we in our own bodies comprise the body of Christ and temple of our God, with Jesus simultaneously the head of this body and the foundation of this temple. And it is no longer a place where the blood of animals is shed in our place, for the blood of our savior which was shed on Calvary is enough for eternity. Jesus was and is the perfected sacrifice, the perfect God and perfect Humanity which atones once and for all. We are reunited with God through Christ, and so the curtain in the temple was torn at the culmination of the passion; and thus our sacrifices are of remembrance and thanksgiving, and not for our own atonement. “It is finished,” Jesus said on the cross; redemption is won, and is eternal.

Therefore, at the Eucharist, we proclaim the Mystery of Faith, and note well the tense of each verb: “Christ has died,” for his sacrifice for us is done, over, complete, a matter of history; “Christ is risen,” for the new life is now and redemption is present, not in some future, but here and now; “Christ will come again,” for the final union of heaven and earth and the death of the old is not yet accomplished, but we are promised it, and one day the harvest will be completed and the old life will end forever.

Of course the disciples wanted to know when this would be accomplished; who would not? And Jesus gave them an answer, which has turned out over the many centuries to be completely useless thus far. For he gave another answer, than no person would know the date—not even the Son of God Himself. Thus we have seen wars and famine and murder and violence and apostasy and plainly false religion, over and over, and yet, Jesus has not returned. Perhaps when the time comes, the signs will be more clear, but the point, after all, is the readiness. The day will come like a thief in the night, and shall we find ourselves fit to face our God?

For we will face him: that we are also promised. We will all be called to judgement, against which our only advocate, our only savior, will place his sacrifice, that we, in faith, may claim it and live. And so living, the new Jerusalem, we are told, will have no temple. We, the temple of the body of Christ, shall no longer need a place to represent the dwelling of God, for all that exists will be that dwelling, where sin and alienation and sorrow and loss will find no more a place to live.

So, my brothers and sisters, gathered together in this place, remember that one sacrifice, and have faith; you are saved. And remember that faith to others, that they too may come, and be baptized, and join in the temple of Jesus the Christ, through whose one sacrifice is all redemption.

No comments: