Being led astray
Sunday per annum 33rd C
It was Herod the Great who had begun to renovate and expand the Jerusalem Temple in 19 BC. We know that the structure was immense and that some of the stones in it measured 12 metres in length. So the impression the building gave was of great solidity and permanence. Something which people would have appreciated especially given they were currently occupied by the Romans. It is not too different to people today visiting a Gothic cathedral or abbey, and remarking on its impressiveness. In the gospel, as the people were commenting on the Temple's immensity and impressiveness, Jesus responded by saying that this is all an illusion, for the day would come when it would be torn down.
A generation later our Lord's words would be proved true. In AD70 the Romans trampled the city of Jerusalem to dust, including the complete destruction of the Jewish Temple. No more could the practice of the Jewish religion be centred on the Temple.
Our Lord is clearly aware in this gospel passage that His disciples (including you and I) can be easily impressed and He warns us against being led astray. We can be led astray by the impressiveness of human achievement, like those who gazed in wonder at the Temple, or those who gaze in wonder at Gothic Cathedrals today. There is in principle nothing wrong with them, except that we must remember that they are actually pointing away from themselves. For they both were meant to lift us from Earth to Heaven. I think Gothic Cathedrals do this very well. But we must make the connection between this earthly building and the heavenly Jerusalem. This earthly building, however magnificent it is, points to something much more magnificent, unimaginably magnificent. So to just comment on the fine workmanship of the crafters of the building is really to lose the point.
When I studied theology in the city of Lincoln, one of our tutors would occasionally take us on tours of the Gothic Cathedral there. There were many tours available at the Cathedral but almost all of them spoke of the history of the building, and very little about what it pointed towards. Our tour however spoke exclusively of the symbolism of the way in which it was designed. So we were helped to see that in every detail there was something pointing us to the heavenly, to the truths of our faith. In fact the whole Cathedral was a Catechesis of our Faith.
Merely to see how wonderful the making of such a building is, is really to miss the point of that building. And that is what the people were doing near Jesus – missing the point.
But there is also something more that is in the mind of our Lord. Because for our Lord the time of the Temple is really over. The time for the Temple being the place of meeting between God and Man was over, because our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is the unique and perfect place of unity between God and Man.
In His very being is now the perfect place of worship. You see before the coming of Christ, before the Incarnation, there was constructed, under the direction of the LORD God, an earthly Temple which would point to the heavenly realities. It was the place ordained by God for His people to come to Him, to offer sacrifice and offer worship. It was incomplete and it was imperfect, but it served for the time until God Himself would come amongst His people. Then, people would no longer need to offer sacrifice for sin, for God would come amongst them and Himself forgive them their sins.
So our Lord sees this Temple building as no longer needed, no longer serving a purpose, and indeed clearly the people were not even properly understanding its purpose anyway! Later Our Lord would enter the Temple, drive out the money-changers, and predict the destruction of the Temple, and that He would rebuild it in three days. The three days of course was not to build a new structure out of stone, but the Resurrection of His own body, which is the New Temple. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the New Temple of God, because He is the perfect unity of God and Man, the One by whom we can all come to meet the LORD. The One by whom we can all make the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The One by whom we can all make worship in spirit and in truth.
This is what we all need to be focused upon. That is why in our earthly church buildings, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ should be the focus of those buildings. Everything should point towards Christ, and the sacrifice of Himself on the Cross. The greatness of Gothic design is that it does that, it points to Christ, it lifts our gaze to heaven. And in Gothic Cathedrals we should see Christ there at the heart (unless of course they have been vandalised by subsequent generations – which has happened in this country).
In Christ the King the design of almost everything is to point towards the sanctuary here, to first Christ on the cross dying for our salvation, sacrificing Himself so that uniting Himself to our suffering and death, we might be able to unite ourselves to His rising and new life in His Resurrection. And here in this Church, we see below the Crucifix, the Tabernacle of His Sacred Body. Here His Resurrection Life is poured out in Grace in the Sacrament of His Body. Here is the Altar of Christ, where His Sacrifice of Himself is re-presented day after day, so that members of Christ's Church may receive the Grace that Christ died on the Cross for. The people of God, receiving the Grace of Christ, can then go out into the world, in order to share the Good News of Salvation by their very lives. This earthly building is so constructed so the people of God can return regularly, because they need continually to repent of their sins, to restore themselves to the life of grace, and to receive the sacred body and precious blood once more, and then go out again.
The danger of being led astray is very real. We are so easily attracted by human achievement that we forget the awesome work of God. We neglect the wondrous truths of our faith, and instead seek after human wisdom. Or we go after signs and wonders, prophecies and predictions – again because they thrill us. But where we should really be focused is the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man; He alone is our salvation, and in Him alone should we trust.
IH 16th November 2013