Devotional March 7/2021 – Communion

I’m not entirely familiar with high end fashion. Sure, I know certain brand names and understand them to be out of my price range but for the most part I couldn’t recognize or discern a difference between a Klein or a Gucci. I could however, recognize the beige, black and red tartan looking pattern of Burberry. This luxury fashion company was started in 1856 and gained popularity for it’s trench coats during World War I. But in the 1970s English gangs began to use a very similar patter of beige, black and red for their own gang wear and quickly the Burberry brand began to gain a bad reputation. People were in fact banned from wearing it in pubs in parts of England.  The company hired a re-brander and although the pattern wasn’t changed, the reputation did. Through new leadership, overhauling the products to even include swimwear, and perhaps most importantly through celebrity endorsements the brand was lifted back up to luxury class. It is one of the most famous re-branding success stories within the world of business, certainly within the world of fashion. The thing with re-branding is that it takes courage, change and there’s a good chance you will alienate a few people along the way. Our friend Jason Byassee says, people don’t fear change they fear loss. You see we don’t mind change if it benefits us, but if we feel like through the process of change we’re going to loose something, then we tend to resist it. Both re-branding and change are a big part of what is happening in our Gospel reading this morning.

The story of Jesus cleansing the Temple is somewhat unique in that it is found in all four gospels. We tend to call that “multiple attestations”. What that means is that because it appears in all four Gospels, then it likely happened much in the way it is described. The one major difference between John’s version and the synoptic Gospel versions is that John places it near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. I think that this variation reflects more about the Gospel writer than the story. By the time the author wrote the Gospel the believers in Jesus, yet to be named Christians, had been cut off from the synagogue. They have begun to understand themselves as different from the Jewish community. They are beginning to realize a major change in their life as a community. We might call that re-branding.  Within this change they are challenged to find their identity and define themselves in a different way.

Jesus also makes a pretty heavy statement, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!” Understandably most listeners hear this comment and believe Jesus is referring to Herod’s Temple. They are incredulous that a building constructed over a period of forty-six years could be rebuilt in three days. It is a ridiculous notion. Jesus does not correct their misconception, but an aside in the text alerts us as readers that Jesus is alluding not to Herod’s temple but rather his body. That it is his body that will be destroyed in the crucifixion and will be built up in three days by the resurrection. The temple, the building itself,  symbolized the location and presence of God for the Jewish people. Jesus is essentially saying to the Jewish leaders that he is the presence of God. Where one looks for God, expects to find God, imagines God to be, are all at stake for this Gospel. Given that the actual temple in Jerusalem had been lying in ruins for about twenty years before the Gospel of John was written, this passage would have been especially poignant for its original audience. Imagine both how difficult and drastic that change must have been for them.

The marketplace in the Temple is also a reminder of how easy it is for a sacred ritual to take on a life of its own. We have all said at some point in our church life, “This is the way we must do it because this is the way we have always done it.” By Jesus’ day many rituals had grown to the point that there was more attention paid to precision than intention. Within the temple itself there was more attention paid to the procuring of money and animals than there was to the meaning of the sacrifices themselves. This story is a reminder that it is very easy for the trappings of success by secular standards, to spill into our Christian communities. Our idea of sacred space has drastically changed over this year. I definitely could not have ever imagined that we could feel like church without actually being IN a church- and there have been huge learning curves along the way but we’re doing it. We have re-branded how we do church. It certainly feels like the way we were doing things has been upended.  The sacrament of communion is one of our rituals. There are things that are normally said and done as part of this sacred meal. But we are learning that it is not the ritual but the intent of the practice that matters .

I hate to say it, but it means change is inevitable. It was change that put Jesus on the cross, it was the love on that cross that changed everything. Change is hard, we have lived and are living that right now. But I think God is pushing us to re-brand together, we can work at recognizing what pieces of our heritage and identity are timeless and what changes will make us a vibrant community in the future. Thanks to God’s everlasting faithfulness we’re not alone in these changes. In Jesus, God is right here, among and ever present with us even as we celebrate this sacrament from the comfort of our own homes. Amen