All four Gospels include an episode where Jesus goes to the Jerusalem Temple and throws out the traders and the money changers, complaining that they have made his Father's house into a den of thieves.
Jesus's cleansing of the Temple was not calculated to make him popular. Many commentators cite this action as the main reason why the Jewish religious authorities handed him over to be crucified.
So what, exactly, was Jesus trying to achieve? Surprisingly; the episode is not primarily about kicking out traders. Traidcraft stalls and the like in our churches are quite acceptable. Jesus's action was more fundamental than that: he was challenging the validity of the Temple itself.
A Temple about to be replaced
The Temple was first century Israel's most important building. It was key to the nation's identity as God's chosen people and the visible sign of God's presence. To challenge the Temple was the first century Israelite equivalent of flying an airplane into the embodiment of the American dream - the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.
In attacking the Temple, Jesus was symbolising its imminent destruction and within a few years the Romans flattened it. It has never been rebuilt. Jesus believed God was judging ancient Israel for its failure to obey God's call to be his people. Consequently, the Temple and all it stood for was to be removed and replaced.
The new Temple
After he had cleared the Israelite Temple, Jesus said: 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it up.' His hearers did not understand. The Temple in front of them had been 46 years under construction, how on
earth was Jesus to rebuild it in three days!? It was only looking back after Jesus's death and resurrection that his disciples realised that he'd been talking about himself. The Temple was to become redundant; its function taken over by the true bearer of God's presence and kingdom, Jesus himself.
The heart of Christianity
Our village churches are much loved and for good reason. Each in its own way is a delightful building that has been at the heart of our communities for many years. But we shouldn't put our ultimate trust in wonderful buildings or the worship services that happen inside them. The second verse of the old hymn, 'All my Hope on God is Founded', sums it up: 'Pride of man and earthly glory...tower and temple fall to dust, but God's power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tower.'
St Paul writes that the message he preached about Jesus's death on the cross was regarded as foolishness by many who heard it, but to those who responded it became 'Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.' Jesus didn't come to replace the Temple with another more impressive building, nor with great moral and ethical teaching, fine though his moral and ethical teaching was. Jesus came to replace the Temple with himself: Tam the way, the truth and the life,' he said.
I pray that you will come to our beautiful village churches this Easter time and that, as we hear once again the story of Good Friday and Easter, wc will each encounter the resurrected Christ for ourselves; 'the power of God and the wisdom of God,' the true heart of Christianity.