Sunday Febraury 1, 2015 The Presentation of Christ in the Temple John 2:13-25 The Rev’d Jenny Wilson In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, ... Amen. There is a side chapel in the Minster in York which has a notice on its heavy wooden door saying, “This chapel is a place for prayer.” Morning Prayer is, I suspect, said in this chapel and the small weekday Eucharists are celebrated there. I’ve only been to York Minster a few times but each time I’ve sat in that chapel and looked at the cross on the small altar. The steps into this side chapel are worn, like the steps in many churches and cathedrals in England, those worn steps a sign that people have prayed in this places for hundreds and hundreds of years, and that we are welcome to join them in that place of prayer. I sat in that chapel and looked at the cross and thought of those I love, my family, my friends, the cathedral community in which I live and work, and that cathedral community’s choir. And as I sat, I heard that choir sing. They were rehearsing a carol for Evensong which was to take place shortly, the carol which I think of as the “Lady” carol. Its true name is “The Shepherd’s Carol” and its music is composed by Bob Chilcott. For me, it is one of the many lovely anthems that our choir sings. As I sat in that side chapel in York Minster, and I heard our choir sing the “Lady carol”, I wondered if this is what heaven would be like. A chapel with old worn steps, a place of prayer for many, many people and our beloved choir singing the Lady Carol. The shepherds are singing to Mary about their journey to visit her son. And there, at that stable, in that carol, they dedicate their lives to the baby they have come to worship. Our loves, our hopes, ourselves, these shepherds say, sing, we give to your son. This is what little side chapels with worn steps in great old English cathedrals, and churches old and modern, and our dearly loved Cathedral and, in fact, the Jerusalem temple in the time of Jesus, are for. The dedication of our loves, our hopes, ourselves to Mary, Lady’s, Son. The dedication of our hopes, our lives, ourselves, to that Son’s Father, God. And that is why Jesus raged when, as an adult, he entered the temple in Jerusalem and found it resembling a market place. The story is told in the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, the second reading we heard tonight: In the temple [Jesus] found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ (John 2:14-16) Jesus knew, deep in his heart, what prayer was. Prayer defined him. His close relationship with his Father, who he called “Abba”, was at the heart of who he was. It may well have been, though, that, as it is for us, even for Jesus, prayer was not an easy thing. This may have been part of the reason why he was so angry the day he entered the Jerusalem temple as an adult. Why it was so devastating for him that that place of prayer was desecrated. Because Jesus knew, that, as we find prayer a struggle, it is easy to distract us with the things of the market place. Prayer is not easy. Because prayer, I believe, is sitting with the truth of our lives. The Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, wrote about prayer in the following way. When we are feeling lonely – if we are brave enough to resist the urge to call someone up, or go shopping, or take a drug, or turn to music or TV or go to bed; if we are courageous enough to remain alone and instead of fleeing the pain, to go down into it, we will gradually notice another Presence there, silent, but benelovent and peaceful. Karl Rahner is talking about not running away from the truth. And he is right to say that this takes courage. Sitting with the truth, be it the pain about which Rahner writes, or the fact that we feel trapped in a situation, or some disappointment, or a vague sense that we lack gratitude, be the truth even joy, sitting with the truth takes courage and we would often do anything to avoid it. Rahner knows human nature well when he catalogues the things that we will turn to avoid sitting with the truth - if we are brave enough to resist the urge to call someone up, or go shopping, or take a drug, or turn to music or TV or go to bed; he says. If we are brave enough to pray. Prayer takes courage. Then Karl Rahner suggests that we will find something in that place we where we sit with the truth. He says, we will gradually notice another Presence there, silent, but benelovent and peaceful. The presence of God. A presence that is usually known gradually, silently. Christ’s longing for us is that we know that presence, his Father’s presence. He went up mountains to be with God. But he also knew the temple as the place of prayer and the study of the scriptures, the word of God. It was his longing as he walked into the Jerusalem temple that day, as told in the gospel of John, that God’s presence be known. That is why he raged at those who would offer a distraction from the difficult task of prayer. The difficult task of prayer in ordinary life. Like shepherds on hills. We stood on the hills, Lady, Our day’s work done, Watching the frosted meadows That winter had won. ... Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady, It seemed to us then Telling of God being born In the world of men. And so we have come, Lady, Our day’s work done, Our love, our hopes, ourselves, We give to your son. That is what the Jerusalem temple was for and why Jesus raged – for the hearing of God being born in our world, for the giving of our lives. This is what temples and churches and our beloved cathedral are for. The hearing of the rumour of God. The gradual noticing of that silent benevolent presence. And that we might pray, at the end of the day, And so we have come, Lady, Our day’s work done, Our love, our hopes, ourselves, We give to your son.
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