Cleansing of Religious Spaces
During the season of the pandemic, we have learned a lot about cleaning.
We have learned to sanitize and disinfect every possible space and surface every day to keep from spreading this terrible virus. We get out of the car to put in fuel, and we grab a wipe to clean the pump handle and buttons that must be pushed. We wash our hands frequently, and I have a smart watch that has gotten a little pushy suggesting I wash as soon as I arrive back at my house and then scolding me if I don’t make the timer go all 20 seconds from when the hand washing has started.
At the church, we have made a concerted effort to make sure the space is clean. We will continue to focus on disinfecting even as we begin to make our plans for some sort of return to in-person worship following our restoration and renovations (hopefully by early summer).
As I considered the various ways we talk about cleaning our own sacred space, I am reminded of another cleansing of a sacred space. What is known as the “Cleansing of the Temple.”
While the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus begins his ministry with this act, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us that the first thing Jesus does upon the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is to go into the temple and turn over the tables of the moneychangers responsible for exchanging Greek and Roman money for Jewish or Tyrian shekels, which were required to pay the temple tax. The percentage the money changers added would qualify as usury and the money they collected for animals for sacrifice would qualify as price gouging.
The religious leaders had made the temple “a den of thieves.”
And Jesus disrupts the flow of business and speaks about care of the poor. He makes a clear statement about adding a tax that becomes onerous for the poor and deprives them of something that should be freely accessible. In this case, access to the temple and to God is something that should never be taxed.
As we move through this Holy Week with our Lenten theme of brokenness, I think we have to ask the questions about love, justice, and access to God. When we talk about atonement as we often have, we simply make Jesus the scapegoat (see Richard Rohr’s meditation on this for more information). When Jesus becomes the scapegoat, then we can settle into our easy religious and spiritual routine that is disconnected from any real transformation of ourselves or the world in which we live.
If the pandemic has done one thing for me, it has come into my comfortable religious routine and kicked over the tables. Long gone is the easy (knowable) Sunday morning routine. Long gone is my taking for granted that I will see everyone worshiping with us that day, as we have people who can anonymously worship with us each week. Even my weekday routines have been upended.
More importantly, long gone are the blinders that helped keep me shielded from overt prejudice and racism and harm done to our siblings, whether based on the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, or who they love. Long gone is the capacity just to make excuses about how we are not racist without being anti-racist.
What Jesus does in this week called holy is remind us just how broken our systems are, and he comes as the broken messiah, not to take away our responsibility, but to teach us how to see sin honestly … repent of it earnestly … and move in a new direction faithfully.
By the time we have put Jesus on trial, we may come to see that we are the ones who have been tried and found wanting. By the time Jesus is put to death, we will have discovered that churches devoid of inclusive love and justice themselves are dying.
But the good news about cleansing is the notion of grace itself. We will be given the opportunity to find hope after despair … wholeness after brokenness … life after death.
Today, however, we might just have to endure a hard scrubbing.
Cleanse us, Lord, that we might discover the joy of the new life you bring. Amen.