Chapter 7 Gospel of John
Have you ever visited St. Helen’s Church when no one else was there? Perhaps you quietly slipped in the back door and found your way to a pew, tiptoeing so as not to disturb anyone, even though you see no one else in the Church at this hour. As you begin to pray, you can sense in the falling dust motes and warm colored light streaming through the windows around you, the sights and sounds and smells of the many liturgies which have been celebrated in this sacred space. These sense impressions, you think to yourself, are a reminder of the Presence of God. Just a little beyond you, resting in the Tabernacle, is our Risen Lord. You realize, almost as though it is a surprise, that He has been waiting patiently for you, loving you, calling to you, although you don’t remember hearing His Voice. But you are here, in His Presence now, feeling His Peace and His Love. And you rejoice in the amazing blessing which has been given to you.
I wondered this week if the ancient Jews had these same feelings. Not on the days of the community celebrations when throngs of worshipers filled the Temple, but on those quiet days, perhaps even late in the evening, when someone visited the Temple alone, thinking of their God present with His people in the Holy of Holies just beyond the thick curtain. How then, we might ponder, did the ancient Jews miss that moment when their loving God was visibly present with them? Do we miss our God here with us when we come to Mass and absentmindedly find our way to a seat, greeting others along our way? Do we often forget that our Risen Lord is present at that very moment in the sacred space of our Church?
There was a movie some years ago entitled “Jesus of Nazareth”. In one of the scenes soon after the beginning of the film, we see the young couple, Joseph and Mary with the infant Jesus in Mary’s arms, approach the Temple. It is a special, sacred day for this small family, for on this day they will present their infant son to God, as is prescribed in the Law. They are approached by a wizened old man whose name is Simeon. We read in Luke, Chapter 2, verses 25 – 35: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him …… Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying, “Lord, now let your servant go in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”… then Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and said to his mother Mary: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed….”
In chapter 7 of the Gospel of John we begin to see the opposition to Jesus growing, the dissension that Jesus has brought, fulfilling Simeon’s prophesy of so many years ago. There are some, present in the Temple during this great feast of Booths, who wonder if Jesus is the prophet who will come in the last days, or if he is the Messiah long promised. Some say that Jesus is possessed by demons; others say that Jesus’ teaching is too hard, that He is asking the people to do things forbidden under the Law. The people argue about where Jesus was born, or if prophets can come from Galilee. Many present know his parents – Joseph and Mary, while the Messiah is meant to have unknown parentage. The authorities of the Temple complain that Jesus heals on the Sabbath. They contend that Jesus makes Himself equal to God by calling God “His Father”. They wonder where He has gotten His knowledge, as He does not quote learned Rabbis of the past. So the Jerusalem Temple, a place once thought to be a holy and sacred space, has become a place of arguments and contention, just as old Simeon prophesied. Even among the leading scholars of the Temple are some who are coming to believe that this Jesus of Nazareth is the very One they have been waiting for, but their questions and comments are silenced by those scholars who disagree with them.
Unlike the ancient Jews, we do not have to question who Jesus is or where He was born, for we know those answers. The loving Lord of creation has come as He promised, and He is here, resting in the Tabernacle, waiting for us, to give us His very Self. While studying this lesson I have come to see myself a little differently, perhaps a little too argumentative, almost like the ancient Jews. So this week I resolve, when I attend Mass, to clear my mind of complaints about the music, or the children crying in the pews, or the lady seated next to me with strong perfume, or the people who leave early. I resolve only to rejoice in my Lord, who is present here with us. And I will remember and hold close to my heart that this space of worship is a sacred space, reserved for sacred and loving thoughts, and not a place of contention. For the Christ, the Holy One of God, has come and has brought salvation with Him. And He is loving me into life.