In the name of God: who made us who we are, who meets us where we are, and who inspires us to be all that we are. Amen.
One of my favorite kinds of comedy is double-entendre. Where one thing ends up meaning – or could end up meaning – something else entirely. I appreciate that it takes a measure of wit – and that it’s not always immediately apparent. This past fall, when Michael was directing a production of Cabaret, a group of us were helping the Emcee think through some of her improvisational sections where the show’s creators left it up to the actor to find humor to fit the situation. She was introducing the members of the band, and each person needed some double-entendre that would share a bit about their character, but also push the limits of appropriateness. Double-entendre works well that way. You can get away with a lot, when your meaning is open to interpretation.
But it was also a favored way of communicating where I come from in the South. With skillful application of double-entendre, one could politely (or at least seemingly politely) speak some uncomfortable truth without being overtly rude. We’ve all probably heard the idea that if you can’t say something nice, you just shouldn’t say anything at all. Well, this kind of double-entendre as it’s so often used in the South, is a kind of loop hole to that rule…
I remember standing with my father in the back of the church each Sunday as he greeted the congregation. My dad was always a bit of a radical preacher. He was much more progressive than his Louisiana surroundings could comfortably accommodate. So the parish never really knew what was going to come up from Sunday to Sunday.
Sometimes, when his ideas pushed the boundaries of his congregation’s comfort, you could see the conversation shift in the receiving line after church. I remember one time in particular, when a lady in the congregation who was clearly uncomfortable came up to greet him. She enthusiastically grabbed his hand and looked him straight in the eye and said, “Oh, Rev. Richardson, you are going to be such a good preacher someday!”
Of course, by this time, Dad had probably been ordained for around 15 years, and had been preaching a lot longer than that. But she thought he had potential to figure it out someday.
If you can’t say anything nice… What we say isn’t always the clearest indicator of what we really mean.
We hear a similar kind of truth from Jesus today, though admittedly, a bit less biting. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Of course, the temple he’d meant was not the temple that those who questioned him had in mind. It wasn’t the one made of stone and mortar. It wasn’t even really the one made of flesh, though our tradition tells us that it would be raised, too. In reality, the real temple was the one made of spirit and truth. The one that would turn this man into the Christ who would (and who still does) live on.
One of the things that I love about this story is this idea that the disciples remembered it after the fact. The gospel writer tells us that after the Resurrection, his disciples remembered this story. They remembered that weird thing he’d said, and only then could they really begin to wrap their minds around it.
We, of course, come at the story from 21 centuries of hindsight. We don’t have the luxury of having been witnesses to the Resurrection, or of knowing first hand all that happened. We can’t just remember Jesus saying it, and have that sudden realization of what he’d actually meant.
But the beauty of the double entendre is that it gives us the space to find new meaning in it, even now. Jesus spoke in ways that left a lot open to interpretation, and we are still being called and challenged to do that interpreting. We’re called to wonder what he meant then, but even more so, we’re called to wonder and to discover what it means, even now.
During the season of Lent, part of the space that’s made for us is to study and to practice repentance. We begin the church year by hearing John the Baptist cry out in the wilderness the calling for us to repent to make way for the Lord. Now, as we make way for the risen Christ, once again, we’re called to repent. To turn around from the ways that would separate us from the love of God.
A concern that thoughtful Christians face in the stories of Lent, and particularly as they’re told in the Gospel of John, is about how we can hear these stories, with their condemnations of our Jewish ancestors, without fomenting bigotry and hatred today. But the easiest way around this, is to imagine ourselves in the story in the role of the “bad guys” – the Pharisees, the Jews, Pontious Pilate, Herrod… The repentance that we’re called to is all about the ways that we inhabit those roles in the story – the ways that we question Christ, and doubt Christ, and yes, even the ways that we crucify Christ in our daily lives.
Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
How do we destroy that temple? How do we fail to see Christ in the world around us? How do we fail to be Christ in the world around us? There are times, when we leave the safe confines of these walls and this community, when we leave our better selves behind. There are times when the practices of the faith fail to accompany us in our daily lives and errands, and annoyances and frustrations.
There are times when we destroy the temple, rather than building it up.
But the good news is that Christ will build it up. Even when we fall short, Christ is still laboring to build the temple of God in the world – through the power of the Spirit, but also through the commitment and actions of others among us. None of us is perfect. None of us can accomplish the will of God and Christ alone. We all fall short. But the community of Christians continues as the hands and feet of Christ in the world. When one of us knocks the stones down, others of us are still working at putting them back up.
That’s how community works. We hold each other up. We back each other up. And we account for each other when some of us fall short and fail to reach our callings. Because we all know we’ll be there sooner or later. Sooner or later, we’ll all need the community to support us and to account for our own failings.
The Temple in Jerusalem was passing. Despite is massive size – despite the huge, seemingly immovable stones, even it fell to the ground. The same is true of this temple here, and all of the other holy places that we set aside. They’re all just things. But the temple of Christ, as it was raised in the Resurrection, and as it keeps being raised by the hands and feet of Christ in the world today – that’s what really endures. The stones that we lay to build the temple of Christ last longer than any other stones. Even longer than the stones on which those commandments were written.
It was raised in three days, but it’s still being raised today. Even when we raze it to the ground, Christ is raising it to the heavens. We have to keep working. We have to keep working together. We have to keep holding one another accountable, and holding one another up. That’s the job of this community and the calling of Christ, whom we serve.
Thanks be to God. Amen.