Invest in Christ

Sunday 7th May 2017
The Forth Sunday of Easter
Holy Trinity, Cuckfield
BCP Evensong
Ezra 3.1-13
Ephesians 2.11-22

The nearest contemporary equivalent we have to the Jerusalem Temple is the collection of sacred objects and buildings that constitute the heart of Mecca to which Muslims are enjoined, as one of the Pillars of their faith, to make Pilgrimage. Going to Canterbury for a bit of a look round and a cream tea just isn't in the same league; not even a trip to Rome scores anywhere near as high. For the Jews, the Temple was self defining, one might say ontological or constitutional. They could not imagine themselves without it; which explains the bitter years of exile and the joy in the Books of Nehemiah and Ezra concerning the re-constitution of The Temple at the end of that exile. There were some there - although there cannot have been many, given longevity in those days - who had seen the old house and now wept at the beginning of the new, their weeping drowned out by the exultant shouting of the new generation, born in exile but not sent into it.

Of this Temple, of Mecca, of the American Constitution, we might say that they are foundationally corporate, saying not only what marks out a people or a faith but also establishing themselves as part of the individual member's psychological DNA. We might want to say the same thing about ourselves as Christians, that Christ is part of our DNA in the way that Saint Paul urges in his Letter to the Ephesians when he takes the traditional idea of the physical, architectural temple and transforms it into the being of Christ. But I sometimes wonder.

My suspicion begins with what I call Churchology which has three interwoven elements: the love of beautiful architecture and stained glass; the love of beautiful language; and the love of beautiful music: and so if you can arrange a Choral Evensong with readings from the King James Bible to take place precisely when the setting sun is streaming through the West window of a Medieval country church; then, you've hit the Churchologist's jackpot. On that score, we're not doing all that badly here, are we?

But this is a snare because what we end up worshipping is not God but ourselves: our architects and glaziers, authors and composers; we might as well be in any other place of aesthetic coherence enjoying, for the sake of argument, Mahler's Eighth Symphony which has a perfectly respectable Christian text in Veni, Creator Spiritus! But while we may smile knowingly and say that such beauty is a means to a sacred end and not a piece of dangerous idolatry, we have to recognise that this potential idolatry goes right to the heart of the Anglican Establishment: if there is a clash between Christ's mission and the worship of heritage, you don't have any idea which will triumph in a Consistory Court.

Then there are the ritualists on the one hand and the Bible worshippers on the other. The ritualists quite properly argue that there should be an element of theatre in liturgy but, again, the damage is done when we cross the line from such being an end and not a means. Likewise, but much more seriously, a growing post Enlightenment obsession with taking the Bible literally is well enough if the literal meaning is a fundamental scholarly means to a proper Kingdom Building end. But Jesus did not die on the Cross and Rise again from the dead in order that we should read the Scriptures which, like all the other things we have mentioned, are simply means to an end; and the end is prosecuting Christ's mission on earth to spread the good news.

Now it might be pushing parallels too far to say that just as the sacrifice of himself by Jesus was necessary for our salvation, so self sacrifice on our part is necessary as part of our kingdom building; but let's take this as a starting point. The problem with the stained glass and the music and the ritual and even the Bible reading is that, taken for themselves, they simply bestow pleasure, a warm glow, perhaps a sense of well being and of doing the right thing. But surely we know, deep in our hearts if not from our experience, that it can't be that simple. Grandparents who give up some of their lump sum to finance the deposit on a house, the mother who goes without food so that her child can eat, the lover who throws himself in front of the beloved when the first shot is fired, all know that it isn't as easy as that.

When the Jews returned from exile, we learn from Ezra and Nehemiah that although they dug deep into their personal wealth to finance the craftsmen who would beautify the Temple, it was the common man who took his turn at the construction site, building the walls while always aware of the danger of attack from hostile forces. The resulting building, unlike the Temple of Solomon largely built by slaves, was a collective act of affirmation; it was a practical way of worshipping the one, true God.

Thus, if Christ is our Temple we must individually and collectively invest our lives in Christ; and that means tearing ourselves away from the power and beauty of Church to the terror and ugliness of the world in which we are, whether we like it or not, implicit: we consume the earth's goods disproportionately; we buy cheap goods produced by cheap labour; we say the crises we face are too big and we are too small. How can we stand up to the Government, the multinational corporations and the drug syndicates? Well, nobody has precisely said that we can, even if we learn the hard lesson of dropping tiny individual preferences in exchange for a broadly acceptable common good. But we can work in our own communities to advance the common good; and, of course, a General Election is the proper time to do our tiny bit.

And so here is a Trinitarian yardstick; vote for those who, no matter how imperfectly: nurture God's creation; prosecute Christ's social justice; live in the love and Grace of the Spirit; and who favour the communal life of the Trinity to the competitive life of the idolater.