Cleansing the Temple

Community Organising, Prayer, The Centre for Theology & Community l

On Tuesday of Holy Week, our Director Angus Ritchie reflects on a pivotal event which we often overlook…

The Cleansing of the Temple is a pivotal event in all four Gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke it occurs in the days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday), whereas in John it is placed very near the beginning of his public ministry.

It’s strange, then, that we make so little of it in our Holy Week devotions. We neither re-enact the cleansing of the Temple (as we re-enact the Palm Sunday procession, and the footwashing and the institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday) nor do we reflect on it in the Gospel readings set for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of Holy Week.

This tendency to overlook the cleansing of the Temple is reflected in the artwork in our churches. There are very few stained glass windows depicting this crucial event.

All of this matters. When we overlook the cleansing of the temple, we underplay the role of anger, tension and confrontation in Jesus’ ministry – and especially in his journey to the cross.

We need to hear Jesus’ challenge to us in Holy Week – the ways he calls us to a conversion which is both individual and corporate.

The priest-poet Malcolm Guite has written a poem on the cleansing of the Temple, which is a powerful reflection on its call to personal conversion:

Come to your Temple here with liberation
And overturn these tables of exchange
Restore in me my lost imagination
Begin in me for good, the pure change…

Break down in me the barricades of death
And tear the veil in two with your last breath.

The cleansing of the Temple was a very public act. It was a declaration of the Lordship of Jesus, and challenge to the exploitation of the poor and the abuse of power. How might we reflect is call to corporate conversion in our observance of Holy Week? We took one small step towards this in our Palm Sunday procession here in Shadwell (pictured) – pausing to pray over a piece of land which where we are organising with our neighbours to secure a Community Land Trust. Perhaps there is a question in here for churches involved in community organising – for Holy Week 2018. What might we do together to ensure that this vital part of the story is given its due prominence?

One Response to Cleansing the Temple

  1. One year I did enact the cleansing. It was an All-Age Palm Sunday act of worship in which following the procession from the church school, we acted out the passion story up to the Last Supper. A low table with a large amount of coins was placed by the entrance to the Lady Chapel, and as I told the story of Jesus in the temple I walked over to it, and without any warning threw the table over! The noise was loud, the effect was electric and the following silence palpable. No one forgot that Palm Sunday! Oh, and I did explain why Jesus did it…

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