The Collect for today – the prayer with which we began this morning’s liturgy – makes a reference, as a metaphor, to the Temple in Jerusalem. And it’s a shocking metaphor. It should be shocking. The prayer is “that we be made a holy temple.” That’s a reference to the Temple, no longer in Jerusalem. The Temple – its foundation and cornerstone – is being re-created and joined together within you: within your person, within your soul and body. You embody the Temple. Now that’s a stretch of the imagination.
In Jesus’ day, Jerusalem was a city built on a hill, as we read in the Psalms.[i] Within the walls of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount sat on the highest place: a huge structure of massive stonework – nearly 500,000 square feet in area[ii] – with crenelated walls, stunning archways and gates, and architectural demarcations to keep everyone in the place to which they belonged. Inside the great encompassing outer wall was the Court of the Gentiles, and then, further within, were walled sanctuaries of increasing separation. At the very center was the Tabernacle, the innermost sanctuary being the Holy of Holies. Within the Holy of Holies sat the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Only the Chief Priest would access this most inner sanctuary.
So the Temple is a massive place, lifted high and holy. The Temple had breathtaking architectural splendor using the artistry of everything from massive stone columns and buttresses to the adornment of gold and great candelabras. The Temple was the focal point for what was most important in life: for offering to God praise and petition, for offering thanksgiving and remorse, for the dedication of newborns, for the healing of the sick, and for the consolation of those who suffer and grieve. The Temple was a place intimately familiar to Jesus and his parents. Forty days after Jesus’ birth, he was brought to the Temple by Mary and Joseph, who dedicated their firstborn son, Jesus, to God, an act that was required by the law.[iii] Observance of the law and attendance to Temple duties were very important to Jesus. By the time Jesus begins his public ministry, he is thoroughly rooted and grounded in the tradition of his Jewish ancestors and in Temple practice. Shockingly, Jesus predicts the unimaginable: that this awesome and holy edifice will come down. And it happens. Within about 40 years of Jesus’ death, in year 70 the Temple is completely destroyed by the occupying Roman armies.[iv]
Which brings us back to the phrase in our opening Collect: “that we be made a holy temple.” So what would that Temple look like? It would look like you: that you “house” God; that you “incarnate” God. That God lives within you. We’re no longer talking about a walled city on a hill, with partitioned precincts, and with demarcations and sanctuaries for the most holy people. We’re talking about you and me: we being God’s Temple. Saint Paul, who, in his earlier days had worshiped in the Temple in the Jerusalem, came to see the temple, not as something to be rebuilt in Jerusalem but rather something to be reborn within us. “Your body,” he writes, “is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”[v] So how do you practice that embodiment?
- At the most basic level, revere your body. Your body is the edifice in which you have have entered life, in which you have been shaped and formed in life, in which you practice life, in which you will part from this life. Treat your body kindly, attentively, respectfully, peacefully, gently, gratefully, lovingly, in a holy way. You are precious in God’s eyes, and God embodies you. You are God’s temple.
- Temple that you are, is there some clutter within the walls of your life that needs to be cleared away or cleaned up: someone you need to forgive; a resentment you need to release; a vindictiveness you need to truce; an intruding practice you need to surrender? You’re God’s temple and – once more teasing out the metaphor of the temple in Jerusalem – the temple required constant attention to recreate order after the traffic and commerce of life. Is there something that needs to be cleared away or cleaned up in your life? You are a holy temple to God. Reverence the temple; maintain the temple. If you need help with your maintenance, get help. You’re worth it!
- Saint Paul writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”[vi] Listen to your life. Be silent. Be silent at some point at least once every day. Enter the inner sanctuary of silence within your soul and listen to God. Be attentive to the Spirit of God who dwells within you and who will speak to you. God will speak to you if you will listen to the Spirit who speaks within you, sometimes even too deep for words.[vii] Listen to the Spirit’s guidance for your life.
- Saint Paul pushes the temple metaphor. If the Temple in Jerusalem was a place of sacrifice, and you are now the temple, then act in keeping with a temple. Saint Paul says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”[viii] Remember, a sacrifice is an offering of the best for the seeking of the most. So we offer our lives – all that we are and all that we have – back to God for God to consecrate. Live your life as a “sacrifice of thanksgiving,” offering back to God all that you are and all that you hold for God to consecrate.[ix] The prayer of consecration invites God to be really present in your life and labor. God is operating in your life; co-operate with God in the offering of your life and labor to God. Offer your life as a “sacrifice of thanksgiving,” and you will be real.
- And finally, I want to tease out the metaphor of the “Holy of Holies” in the temple in Jerusalem. What is the Holy of Holies for you? If you are a temple of God – you are! – what, for you, is the Holy of Holies? Here’s what I think it is. It’s what you know for sure. It’s your secret treasure. It’s how you’ve survived. It’s something you learned, maybe way back to your childhood, how you discovered you could survive. God gave you a word; God gave you an experience; God gave you a person; God gave you a revelation assuring you, somehow, that you would survive, that you could survive, perhaps in the face of enormous challenge or suffering. There is something you know. It may not even be something you can speak about; however there is something you know in the inner sanctuary of your soul that is the secret for your surviving and thriving. That is your Holy of Holies. And, unlike the Temple in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies within your soul will never be destroyed. Remember that. It’s very important to remember that: how God was really present in your life; how God is really present in your life. Abide in that revelation in the inner sanctuary within your soul. It’s your secret to life. It’s your Holy of Holies. And that will never be destroyed.
Live your life from inside out, from the inner temple of your nature, and you will discover a profound meaning for your life, an inner harmony, and what Saint Paul called a “peace that surpasses all understanding.”[x] Nearly a century ago Thomas Kelly, the Quaker mystic, wrote that “deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center… Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is triumphant. It is radiant.”[xi]
You embody God’s temple. You do.
[i] For example, Psalm 2:6; 3:4; 15:1; 24:3; 43:3; 48:1-2; 99:9; 125:2; 133:4.
[ii] King Herod created a platform, the “Temple Mount,” which was 480 m long and 280 m wide, or 144,000 sq. m in area (472,441 sq. ft.).
[iii] Exodus 13:2, 12-16.
[iv] Luke 21:5-9.
[v] 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
[vi] 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
[vii] A riff on Romans 8:26-28: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
[viii] Romans 12:1.
[ix] Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God. (Psalm 50:14, 23)
[x] Philippians 4:7.
[xi] Thomas R. Kelly (1893-1941), the Quaker mystic, writes in A Testament of Devotion: “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home into Itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life… It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new in overcoming. We need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done, we lie down quietly and in peace, for all is well.”