<span style="font-size: 1rem;">The story of Jesus causing mayhem in the Temple is familiar. It appears in all the gospels though in slightly different ways. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) it appears after “Palm Sunday.” In that telling, Jesus is angry, not with the ritual of sacrifice but because the poor are being fleeced. Jesus’ action is the final straw that pushes the leaders of Jews over the top and leads them to want to get rid of Jesus. In today’s Gospel of John, the story appears right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and makes an entirely different point. Jesus says that this sacrificial system, this physical temple building, is no longer necessary because his body replaces all that. If we follow the logic of what Jesus is saying here, we do not need a church building. All we need to do is listen to what Jesus says (and, in this passage as elsewhere in John) Jesus says lots.</span>
Dig a bit further into the passage, however, and we find surprising things about references to the Temple. Instead of just using one word to describe that focal point for the Jewish faith, John uses lots of different words, all of which offer different insights into the function of the Temple then and the function of Church buildings now.
One word means the place of sacrifice. It is Hieron from which we get the word Hierarchy. Religion is connected to power and money. The same building becomes “My Father’s House.” Imagine for a moment, instead of saying “I am going to Church” saying “I am going to my Father’s house.” That feels quite different and yet, given what Jesus says, quite appropriate. Then there’s the word that references, not to the whole temple precinct (the church and churchyard if you like) but to the place where the business was done, the sanctuary. And finally, Jesus links Temple to his body. Jesus’ body becomes the place way by which and through which we encounter God.
All of which should remind us that when we use the word “Church,” we also are juggling people and building, ministry and mission.