“Your body is a temple of God”–part two

Last month I wrote this post to demonstrate that, when the apostle Paul wrote that “your body is a temple of God,” he was referring to the entire Church and not to individual Christians. The “you” of “your body” is plural, but he speaks of one temple, not many temples. But what does it mean to call the Church a temple of God?

People of many different religions have built temples. Ancient Sumer had temples; ancient Egypt had temples. These temples were built for gods so that believers in those gods would have a place to contact their gods. Temples were built, not because gods needed homes, but because people needed connections with the gods they trusted and worshipped.

When God spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the design for a tent which would be a moving temple. This tent (often called the Tabernacle) was to be in the center of the campground when Israel was at rest. The Tabernacle represented God’s presence among his people. Animals were sacrificed in the Tabernacle as part of Israel’s connection with God. The lives and blood of the animals were given to God, pictures of the sacrifice God’s Son would make on the cross to remove the sins of the world. Even the tent was a picture of Jesus. When John wrote “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), the verb translated by “made his dwelling” refers to the pitching of a tent.

King David wanted to build a temple for God in Jerusalem. Through the prophet Nathan, God declined David’s offer. He said that instead of letting David build a house for God, God would build a house for David. That house would be a son (or descendant) of David who would rule an eternal kingdom. David may have thought that the promised Son of David was his son Solomon, but Solomon did not match the terms of the Promised Son. Solomon began to rule before David died, but the Promised Son was to come after David died. Solomon sinned and was forgiven for his sins, but the Promised Son bore the burden of the world’s sins and atoned for those sins. Solomon ruled for forty years and then died, but the Promised Son was to rule forever. Solomon was an adopted son of God, as all believers are, but Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God.

David purchased land, gathered materials, and hired workmen to build the temple God had told him not to build. Solomon oversaw the construction of that temple, and God accepted his gift. The temple followed the pattern of the Tabernacle that God had designed. Sacrifices continued to be offered in the temple, drawing the power to forgive sins from the future sacrifice of the Promised Son. Yet God’s people strayed away from the Lord; even Solomon built temples for other gods, the gods worshipped by his wives. The unfaithfulness of God’s people made a mockery of the sacrifices to atone for sin. Therefore, God raised the Babylonian army and allowed it to sack Jerusalem and destroy the temple.

Under the Persian government, God’s people were allowed to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. Some of those who saw the new temple wept because they remembered the splendor of Solomon’s temple. Through the prophet Haggai, God promised that the second temple would be more glorious than the first temple, because God himself would visit that temple. This promise was fulfilled when Jesus entered the temple–first as a baby, forty days old; then as a boy, twelve years old; then as a man in his thirties. Jesus taught in the temple. He even cleared the temple of merchants who were defiling the temple. When asked by what authority he cleared the temple, he responded, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19)–“But the Temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:21). The Word made flesh was a temple, because it was the way God chose to be present among his people.

The tabernacle was a picture of the Word made flesh, promising the presence of God among his people. Solomon’s temple and the second temple were also pictures of Jesus, the presence of God among his people. God had the Babylonians destroy the first temple, and he had the Romans destroy the second temple, as pictures of his Son suffering and dying on the cross to atone for the world’s sins. Now that Jesus has fulfilled the promise to pay for the sins of the world, temples and animal sacrifices are no longer needed.

The body of Jesus, which is the true temple of God, rose from the dead. Forty days later that body ascended into heaven to fill the universe. Jesus, “seated at the right hand of the Father,” is present everywhere. Yet he is present in a special way whenever his people gather in his name. “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Since the Church is the body of Christ, it also is God’s Temple. The Church is the place where God’s people know that they are in the presence of God.

As God’s people, we need to be connected to God. God is everywhere, but as sinners in a sinful world we cannot always sense his presence. Therefore, Jesus promises to be present “where two or three gather in” his name (Matthew 18:20). One Christian alone is not a temple. Christians gathered to hear the Word of God and to receive his blessings are a temple. God reaches out to sinners from the Church. God cares for his people in the Church. The Good Shepherd provides for his flock in the Church. We are the body of Christ, diverse in many ways, yet functioning together to accomplish the will of our Head. As the body of Christ, we are his temple. We are the only temple God wants or needs in the world today. J.

Why do they call it “rush hour” when no one can possibly rush?

Heavy traffic never results in enjoyable driving. These observations on driving in heavy traffic are based both on actual laws and on common sense. They might be better expressed in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, but for now, I am using this forum to teach drivers what they should already know.

  • Unless you are a Shriner driving a midget car in a parade, you do not need to change lanes two or three times every block. You and I will be stopped by the same traffic light. The only difference is that the other drivers will not be saying bad things about me.
  • You have a turn signal on your steering column for a reason—use it! Driving in heavy traffic is no occasion to submit to your whim to be mysterious and unpredictable. Don’t start the signal as you begin the turn. The point is to give advance warning to other drivers what you intend to do.
  • When the traffic is heavy on the expressway, employ the zipper merge. When cars are crawling well below the speed limit and traffic is entering from a ramp, or when two lanes combine into one, drivers should stay in their lane until the point of the merge, and then they should take turns—one from the right, then one from the left, and so on. This is the most efficient way to use the pavement and to get every driver where he or she wants to be.
  • When leaving the expressway and entering city traffic, do not try to zipper merge. That Yield sign is there for you. A traffic light will give you a chance to join the traffic, usually in less than a moment. Don’t try to push your way into traffic ahead of your turn. (The sixth point is related to this point.)
  • Do not enter an intersection controlled by a traffic light if you will not be able to exit the intersection before the light turns red. Claiming your spot in the intersection while the light changes is both rude and illegal. Wait your turn.
  • Right-turn-on-red should not be claimed in heavy traffic. You may turn right at a red light only if there is no nearby traffic facing the green light. When a driver obeys the fifth point, above, that is not an invitation for you to get in front of that driver. A friendly smile and wave does not make it alright.
  • When you leave home, make sure that you have enough gasoline in your tank to reach your destination. You do not want to run out of gas on a bridge over the river, making the bridge even more of a bottleneck that it was already. You do not want to have your car sitting, stalled on the bridge, protected by a police car with flashing lights, while some kind motorist gets you to a gas station to buy an emergency gallon of gas in a red gas can. You especially do not want this to happen to you if your license plate proudly identifies you as GERALD.

Let’s be careful out there. J.

One character in search of a plot

The painting that changed Carl’s life was not even an original piece of art. It was a reproduction or imitation of a certain artist’s work. This painting hung on the wall outside the hospital’s family waiting room. During the week that followed his grandfather’s stroke, Carl walked past the painting several times a day. Its eyes followed him, challenged him, and invited his curiosity. For the rest of his life, Carl never forgot that face.

The artist in question was born in Hungary. He learned to paint in France, but then lived and worked in Sweden. His favorite and most popular subject was a gypsy girl he had known in France. Her image adorned homes and businesses all over Sweden and northern Germany, as well as in Carl’s home state of Wisconsin. Wearing a peasant smock and a colorful skirt, the gypsy girl sat in front of a background of swirling colors. Her black hair cascaded over her shoulders; her gaze always addressed the viewer. Lutherans in Europe and in North America could not even hear the word “gypsy” without thinking of these paintings.

Her image undoubtedly influenced Hollywood’s several portrayals of Esmeralda in productions of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. People who have grown up seeing her portrait remember her while listening to Bizet’s opera Carmen. Even Stanley Kubrick knew her face: in A Clockwork Orange, when Alex—the main character—has been released from prison and returns to his parents’ apartment, several paintings resembling her appearance hang on the living room walls. [Edit: Those paintings are actually by J H Lynch, a slightly later artist who also painted young women with long dark hair. I suspect that Lynch was influenced by the earlier artist’s work, as the main difference between their paintings is that Lynch has natural backgrounds. The painting Carl saw at the hospital may or may not have been by Lynch.]

Influenced by this painting, Carl preferred Jacqueline Smith to Farrah Fawcett in the caste of Charlie’s Angels. When television stations showed movie musicals, Carl favored Natalie Wood’s Maria over Julie Andrews’ Maria or Judy Garland’s Dorothy. Years later, when the musical Les Miserables was made into a movie, Carl was puzzled by Marius’ pursuit of Cosette while he remained blind to the affection and the beauty of Eponine. Many of the cheerleaders and popular girls in his high school were blonde, but Carl’s eyes were always captured by the dark-haired girls. A case in point was the girl who sat in front of him in his algebra class. Too shy to ask for a date, Carl sent her a carnation on Valentine’s Day. He was crushed to learn of her disappointment that the flower came from him and not from the boy she secretly admired.

In college Carl summoned the courage to invite young women on dates. He dated more than a dozen students during those four years, but he was most drawn to the most exotic ladies on campus. One was from Venezuela, and the other was from Korea. Both of them were more interested in receiving an education than in romance. At graduation, Carl remained unattached.

Now it is time for Carl to meet the young lady who looks just like the gypsy in the painting. But what shall be the barrier between them? Will Carl’s shyness return? Will the difference in their ages be too great? Is she already married? Let’s bring this tale into the twenty-first century: is she married, but to another woman?

I am open to suggestions. J.

Candlemas

Most people, whether believers or unbelievers, are familiar with the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Far fewer are aware of the minor festivals of the Christian calendar, such as Candlemas, which is observed every year on the second day of February.

As Christians in the Roman Empire chose to celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus (that is to say, his birthday) at the same time that Romans and Celts and Germans were celebrating various Yuletide observances, so Christians also chose to celebrate the Presentation of Jesus at the same time that Celts were observing a holiday they called Imbolc. This holiday falls halfway between the winter solstice near the end of December and the spring equinox near the end of March. In Ireland, some of the old customs of Imbolc have been blended into St. Brigid’s Day on February 1, but for most other European Christians and their descendants around the world, Candlemas has received the attention formerly given to Imbolc.

The second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke describes the birth and childhood of Jesus. The familiar account of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, including the announcement by the angel to shepherds and their visit, comes from Luke. Luke also wrote that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day from his birth and was presented to God on the fortieth day from his birth. Celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 puts the anniversary of his circumcision on January 1 and his presentation on February 2.

What is the significance of the presentation of Jesus? Once again, as at his circumcision, Jesus was fulfilling the Law for the benefit of all his people. The Law of God, given through Moses, required every firstborn son to be offered to God and purchased from God with a sacrifice. This presentation and purchase of the firstborn son reminded God’s people of the tenth plague upon Egypt, when God’s angel killed the firstborn son of every family in Egypt except for those who obeyed God, marking their houses with the blood of a lamb. The details of the plague, the Passover, and the remembrance are filled with images of Jesus and his sacrifice—the death of a firstborn son picturing the death on the cross of God’s only-begotten Son, the substitution of a lamb for some sons (and the use of the lamb’s blood to identify those who were protected) showing Jesus as the Lamb of God taking the place of sinners, and the purchase of the firstborn son in following generations showing the price Jesus paid on the cross to cover the debt of sinners. Because Jesus, on the fortieth day from his birth, was already obeying the commands of God, Christians are credited with his righteousness. We are free to approach the throne of God and even to call him our Father. Jesus took our place in this sinful world so we can take his place in God’s Kingdom.

Bonfires were lit in Europe on Imbolc night as part of the celebration of the holiday. Christian churches chose to replace the bonfires with many candles, filling the church with light to remember Jesus, the Light of the world. From that custom comes the name, Candlemas. I first encountered that name in the stories of King Arthur, for he and his knights would gather on Candlemas, as they did on Christmas and Easter, to celebrate and to await the beginning of new adventures. The king would not allow his court to eat the feast until some odd event had taken place, sending at least one knight off on a mission to rescue some victim or defeat some enemy.

Before the establishment of the National Weather Service or the invention of Doppler Radar, European Christians often trusted traditions about the holidays to make long-term forecasts of the coming weather. St. Swithin’s Day (July 15) in the British Isles was thought to set the pattern for the next forty days—either it would remain dry for forty days or it would rain for forty days, depending upon whether or not it rained that day. In Hungary the weather on St. Martin’s Day (November 11) predicted the kind of winter that was coming: “If St. Martin arrives on a white horse, it will be a mild winter—if he arrives on a brown horse, it will be a cold and snowy winter.” In other words, snow on November 11 promised a mild winter. So also, the weather on Candlemas was thought to predict the next forty days of weather: a clear and sunny Candlemas meant winter was only half over, but a cloud-filled sky on Candlemas morning meant that winter was over and spring was about to begin.

In Germany bears often took a break from hibernation around the beginning of February to check out conditions and get a bite to eat. The weather tradition for Candlemas became associated with the emergence of the bear and the question of whether or not it cast a shadow. German settlers in North America adapted the tradition to local wildlife, and thus began the tradition of Groundhog Day.

Ironically, more Americans are aware of Groundhog Day than of Candlemas. The fame of Groundhog Day increased in 1993 with the release of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. The movie has little connection to Christian beliefs. It is more suited to explaining the idea of samsara, found in Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Samsara is the cycle of lifetimes in which one’s atman (roughly analogous to spirit or soul, but not exactly the same thing) keeps returning to this world until it has learned all it needs to know and is fully enlightened.

On Groundhog Day I check for shadows as I bring in the morning paper. This year, I will also remember to light a candle or two and celebrate the feast of Candlemas. J.

Reprinted from a year ago.

A father’s worries (snow day edition)

I do not blog about the members of my family. I respect their privacy, and I figure that they can tell their own stories on social media if they wish. My readers miss some good stories because of this policy, but certain principles need to be held consistently.

Of course there are exceptions.

This account is mostly about me and the way I felt, but there is no way to tell the story without including members of my family.

One day last month, schools and other institutions were closed due to winter weather. Other businesses, including the shopping mall, chose to remain open. I have daughters who work for a fast-food restaurant inside a shopping mall. Their manager figured that the mall would be busier than usual, the schools being closed and all. He texted those who were scheduled to work and asked them to try to come to work. He also called for additional workers, for whoever was available.

Some of our neighbors had already left their homes by car and didn’t seem to have trouble with the local street, so my daughters figured they could get to work safely. They set off by car. I was home—the place where I work was closed for the day. I had no plan to try to travel anywhere.

Then the phone rang.

My daughter the passenger called to tell me that they had slid to the edge of the street and couldn’t get the car moving again. They were well past half-way to the mall, but they were in a low spot between two hills, and two other cars were also stuck in the same area.

While we were talking, I heard my daughter the driver scream, and my daughter the passenger said urgently, “oh no, oh no.” Yet another car had met the same slick spot on the road and was sliding directly toward them. A collision was narrowly avoided, thanks to God’s grace and the skill of the other driver. Imagine my helpless anguish, though, being home on the phone and listening to my daughters in danger, unable to help them in any way.

We stayed on the phone for twenty minutes, and two more cars slid on the same spot straight toward my daughters in their car, and all I could do was listen to their shouts and screams.

Other cars managed to navigate the road. Those drivers chose not to stop to help, and I cannot blame them. Anyone who stopped between the hills was going to be stuck there. I asked my daughters to get out of the car and stand a safe distance away. They finally took my suggestion.

At one point a pickup truck belonging to the city did stop. The driver spoke with my daughters and the other people who were stuck. He said that the sand truck had stopped sanding right at that spot, which is why it was so slippery. He had called for barricades to close the road, and the sand truck would be back as quickly as possible.

From this point, the story is a happy one. My daughters continued to stay in touch by phone, off and on, while they waited for the sand truck. An older couple saw them standing by the car in front of their house and invited them indoors for tea and cookies. When the sand truck had arrived and applied its sand, the gentleman asked them if they would like his help to get the car unstuck. They thought he was offering to push. Instead, he took the keys, got behind the wheel, and maneuvered the car onto a drivable stretch of the street. He got out of the car, they got in, and they headed toward home.

The main streets were good, but they feared the side streets of the neighborhood. Therefore, they stopped at a grocery store, bought hats and mittens and hot beverages, and walked the last mile home. In the afternoon, when the streets were in better condition, I drove my daughter to the store to regain her car.

People say that as children grow, their parents’ worries become larger rather than smaller. I have to say that in my family, that adage appears to be true. J.