Holy Week: COVID Monday Meditation – Cleansing Our Temple – Brad Jersak
Grant, we beseech you, almighty God, that we, who are in so many occasions of adversity, by reason of our frailty are found wanting, may yet, through the passion and intercession of your only begotten Son, be continually refreshed; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen. - Methodist prayer for Holy Monday
On the western banks of the great river of Christian faith, we remember Holy Week or Passion Week, the final days of Christ’s journey to the Cross and Resurrection. This Holy Week is like none we’ve ever seen. Some of us grieve the loss of gathering for daily re-enactments of the climax of the gospel. For others, the quarantine is an opportunity to adopt this ancient rhythm of meditation for the first time. Shall we walk together for a few days, fellow travellers? Shall we head up to Jerusalem arm-in-arm for the Pascha feast of our Lord?
“Holy Monday” is set aside to commemorate the dramatic incident usually dubbed “the cleansing of the Temple.” Elsewhere, I’ve challenged the wreckless caricature of those events as a justification for violence. That’s not what was happening.
But today, on this COVID Monday, let’s address more pressing matters. When I was a boy, my little Granny Ditchfield recalled for me the sorrows of “the dirty thirties,” half a century after the fact. My children will likewise retell these days to their grandchildren, unless future plagues eclipse our current trial. These are earnest times.
For my part, Passion Week 2020 includes the trauma of losing Eden’s beloved mother while under quarantine. Eleanor Wiebe was (and is) a beloved daughter of our Lord. She deserved better but the cruel requirements of enforced isolation came like a thief. For her faithful husband Jake of nearly 62 years, the last-hour goodbyes through sterile masks and gloves were excruciating but necessary for his own safety and the vulnerable people in his complex. The cleansing seemed harsh but was directed at protecting and saving lives.
“CLEANSING” OUR TEMPLE
The biblical texts describing the “cleansing of the Temple” are found in Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45–48 and John 2:13–16. Jesus certainly cleared out the Temple. But in what sense did he cleanse it? He drove out the livestock, demanded the birdcages be removed and upset the money-tables. In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ acts are accompanied by an indictment of the sanctuary’s misuse and a prophetic warning of its destruction.
So, what is being cleansed? Certainly hypocrisy, corruption and exploitation in the name of worship. And there’s the monopoly by the religious elite who’ve occupied space reserved by God for “the nations.” The radical inclusion prophesied in Isaiah 56 is still forbidden by the in-crowd. The Temple no longer served as God’s house. It needed to be thoroughly cleansed. The cleansing seemed harsh but was directed at protecting and saving lives.
What a mistake it would be to ignore how this story addresses the Christian temple today. What is the Christian temple? First, WE are the temple (collectively – 1 Cor. 3:16-17, 9-11, Eph. 2:19-22, 1 Pet. 2:5, 4:17) And second, YOU are his temple (individually – 1 Cor. 6:16-20).
This COVID Monday, in this time of relentless hand-washing and vigilant physical disinfecting, dare we invite Christ into OUR temple for a deeper cleansing than we have previously? Wait. No. I should have said HIS temple. If Christ seems like an intruder in his own House, we’ve seriously mistaken who is in charge. The stewards have dethroned the King. There’s a parable or two about that. And they don’t end well.
But let’s just suppose Jesus arrived again today and began weaving a whip. What are the beasts in the courts he’d drive out? What are the tables he’d overturn? What are the cages he’d remove? In that sense, salvation history becomes a living parable for the people of God today. The current crisis has become an important occasion for fellowships and ministries to do some introspective housecleaning. Where have we become self-serving? What have we sought to monopolize? Who have we excluded from our precincts? What comprises clutter in our courts? What has our hoarding displaced?
The word of the Lord through the apostle Peter: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God and it begins with us first” (1 Peter 4:17). Peter understands that God does not cause or send these trials but that intrinsic to every fiery trial is an opportunity for cleansing. The cleansing may seem harsh but it’s directed at protecting and saving lives.
CLEANSING MY TEMPLE
Closer to home, I am the Temple. My heart, my mind, my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. On this COVID Monday of Holy Week 2020, dare we pray the prayer of David from Psalm 119?
- Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
The questions I ask myself here relate to the ways I hide from Christ, the shameful closets I reserve for myself, my areas of resistance to his love. Unless Christ is allowed in for a cleansing that heals and frees me, I will resort to life-draining, death-dealing alternatives. I’ll try coping mechanisms from repression to moralism to projection to self-medicating.
But it’s for freedom that Christ set us free! Dare we welcome the Lord into his own Temple? Dare we submit to his cleansing and allow him to renovate our lives into something more beautiful and healthy and welcoming? COVID Monday is a bit scary, but let’s trust that Jesus is good and his purposes are kind. The cleansing may seem harsh but it’s directed at protecting and saving lives.