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The Still Point: A Time of Meditation and Reflection
The Third Sunday of Lent
… At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton
Peace on each one who comes in need;
Peace on each one who comes in joy.
Peace on each one who offers prayers;
Peace on each one who offers song.
Peace of the Maker, Peace of the Son,
Peace of the Spirit, the Triune One.
Lord, help us to see:
to see what is eternally good and true,
and having seen, to go on searching
until we come to the joys of heaven.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Gospel John 2:13-22
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Poem: “Where Will I Find You” by Yehudah Halevi
translated by Peter Cole
Where, Lord, will I find you:
your place is high and obscured.
And where won’t I find you:
your glory fills the world.
You dwell deep within
you’ve fixed the ends of creation.
You stand, a tower for the near,
refuge to those far off.
You’ve lain above the Ark, here,
yet live in the highest heavens.
Exalted among your hosts,
although beyond their hymns—
no heavenly sphere
could ever contain you,
let alone a chamber within.
In being borne above them
on an exalted throne,
you are closer to them
than their breath and skin.
Their mouths bear witness for them,
that you alone gave them form.
Your kingdom’s burden is theirs;
who wouldn’t fear you?
And who could fail
to search for you—
who sends down food when it is due?
I sought your nearness.
With all my heart I called you.
And in my going out to meet you,
I found you coming toward me,
as in the wonders of your might
and holy works I saw you.
Who would say he hasn’t seen
your glory as the heavens’
their awe of you
without a sound being heard?
But could the Lord, in truth,
dwell in men on earth?
How would men you made
from the dust and clay
fathom your presence there,
enthroned upon their praise?
The creatures hovering over
The world praise your wonders—
your throne borne high
above their heads,
as you bear all forever.
There are many lenses through which we can examine the gospel story often known as “the cleansing of the temple.” A psychological reading invites us to look at Jesus’ anger and reflect on his humanness. A social justice stance focuses on the stratification of a society in which even the means of access to the divine – animal sacrifice in the temple – shows one’s power and wealth, or poverty: the rich sacrifice valuable animals, and the poor, doves. Theologically speaking, the unique features of the story as it is told in John’s gospel offer important insights into its particular understanding of Jesus as the co-eternal, creating Word, and the cross as the revelation of his glory.
Another way to approach this story is to focus on its location. The setting in the temple is not incidental to the action; in fact, the temple is the story. The temple – already destroyed at the time this story was written – was the house of God, the place where God’s glory had come to dwell, transcendent and yet clearly established in time and space. Reverence for the temple was a focus of the prophets’ passion, and the vision of rebuilding the temple after its first destruction, and then its second, was a sign of the ushering in of the messianic age.
Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity are separate, but related, attempts to deal with the crises provoked by the destruction of the temple, and the death of Jesus. Where is God’s glory, if there is no temple? Where is God’s glory, if the co-eternal Word can die? Christians, particularly in those communities shaped by the witness of John, claimed God’s glory was manifest in the person of Jesus, and revealed in an ultimate way in his self-offering on the cross. The resurrection of the temple of Jesus’s body is a sign of the messianic age foretold by the prophets. God’s glory is now present forever among the people who proclaim Jesus as Lord.
The poem, by the medieval philosopher, physician, and poet Yehudah (Judah) Halevi – a Spanish Jew who ended his life in Jerusalem – responds to the question, “where is God’s glory to be found?” in a gracious, universal way that may seem very contemporary to us, and yet is shaped by the language of the psalms. A careful look may uncover echoes of the loss of the temple, as well as a reference to the Christian mystery of the incarnation. More important, the poem stands on its own as powerful expression of mystical union with the divine, a mysticism that transcends the divisions and differences of tradition among the seekers for God.
Questions for Reflection:
Where have you seen God’s glory most clearly?
Is there a place that is most important to you, if you want to feel close to God? Have you ever had to find a new place to come close to God?
What is the invitation for you in this story now? A call to self-examination? To examination of justice issues in your own religious tradition? A search for new ways of seeking union with the divine?
We bring before God someone whom we have met or remembered today
We bring to God someone who is hurting tonight and needs our prayer
We bring to God a troubled situation in our world
We bring to God, silently, someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust
We bring ourselves to God that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection
We offer our thanks to God for the blessings in our lives
We name before God those who have died.
Gracious God, you hear all our prayers: those we speak aloud, those we hold in our hearts, and those prayers for which we have no words. Hear the prayers of your people, and grant them as may be best for us, for the sake of your holy name. Amen.
Accept our thanks for all you have done, O God. Our hands were empty, and you filled them.
May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit be with us every step of the way, and be our guide as our road changes and turns, and the blessing of God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be among us now and remain with us forever. Amen.
Poem choice and reflections by Elizabeth Randall