"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Friday, April 8, 2011

Penitential Themes

I found myself yesterday mentally hearkening back to a conversation from a few weeks ago on the appointed Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent. In the Anglican tradition, the account of Palm Sunday is read. On first reading, and for me, many subsequent readings over the years, it's confusing. It's Advent! Not Holy Week. What's going on here?

Well, aside from the fact that the Palm Sunday reading is the Triumphal entry of Christ-associated with the resurrection of his dear friend Lazarus, (which lines up well with the themes of Christ returning in glory to raise the dead for judgement), there is another important reason for reading this Gospel. Its ending tells the story of Christ casting out the money-changers from the Temple, saying "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves." (Lk. 19:46) This matches the collect for the day which reads in part,

"Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility."

You see the season of Advent is much like the our current liturgical season, Lent. They are both penitential times of the year. It is a time for reflection on where we stand in relationship to Christ. What is getting in our way of full communion with the Lord?

The temple was to be the place where people could come and meet God. His presence abided there. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church that their bodies were now also Temples, temples of the Holy Spirit. Thus, if Jesus on his first triumphal entry in Jerusalem saw fit to clean out the garbage from his holy Temple, so too should we. In preparation for his second coming during Advent, and in this holy season of Lent as we prepare to remember and celebrate the week that changed the world, we have to cast out the money changers that are in our souls. Whatever sin, whatever obstacle may be, by God's grace it must be removed in order for our joy to be full in the coming weeks.

Lsatly, we can be confident in this grace being available to us. Christ needed to sanctify his Temple, he calls us to be Temples, but he also likened himself to one. "Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days." (Jn. 2:19) The Jews laughed him to scorn for such a ridiculous statement. They inquired jestingly and mockingly if Jesus knew how long it had taken to build the temple he saw before him. The point is, that as the temple of the Hebrews had been ravaged by the sins of the money changers, so too would Christ's body. Scourged and crucified the wounds of his body, the temple, make it possible for us to keep temples undefiled by sin.

So while I know this is a reflection based on an Advent reading, I think you can see that both Advent and Lent share common themes of repentance enabled by God's grace in Christ.

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