Alone Together: Lent 3

Posted Fri, 03/05/2021 - 09:50 by Katharine

In the third blog of the series for Lent 3 Chair of Birmingham CCJ Dr Ann Conway-Jones reflects on the role of the temple at a time when we cannot physically share in communal worship.

You can watch the video blog on YouTube or read the reflection below:

'Where two or three are gathered in my name'

One of the things that has sustained me over the past year has been Birmingham Progressive Synagogue’s Zoom learning circle, exploring ‘what we don’t read’. I have felt humbled and privileged to be the one Christian among a group of Jews struggling with difficult texts – texts which seemingly promote violence or other unethical behaviour. 

The Gospel reading in Christian lectionaries this Sunday – John’s version of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple – is also, I would suggest, a difficult text, although few Christians regard it as such – inured to simplistic assumptions about the temple being corrupt. We fail to see the Jerusalem temple as a place of holiness – the symbolic location of God’s presence on earth – and one of the wonders of the ancient world. We overlook the celebratory atmosphere of the pilgrimage festivals – perhaps a once in a lifetime experience for some diaspora Jews. 

Now is not the time to debate the purpose of Jesus’ action. I will simply mention one possibility – a dramatic prophetic sign heralding the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom. By the time the Gospels were written, that kingdom had not arrived, and the temple had been destroyed by the Romans. Our recent experiences of the loss of communal worship may give us just an inkling of what this represented. The Gospel writers responded by creating symbolic links between Jesus and the temple. John reports Jesus saying, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’. Then adds the explanatory comment – ‘he was speaking of the temple of his body’. Both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism found new ways to conceptualise the presence of God. And both emphasised the importance of the community getting together. 

There are very similar sayings in Matthew 18:20 and Mishnah Avot 3:2. The Jewish version reads, ‘Two who are sitting together and there are words of Torah between them, the Divine Presence (Shekinah) rests with them’. May you, like me, find such places of study and dialogue.