It was a long time ago now… an Easter morning, in fact, and my mother and I were heading out to church.
We were visiting my sister and she had thought about joining us, but it was a particularly heartbreaking time in her life and she decided at the last minute that she simply wasn’t up to it.
So there we were all dressed up in our Easter Sunday best and trying to decide where to go to join our “Alleluia’s” with others of God’s people. We finally settled on a large Lutheran church nearby. I looked up the worship time and off we headed with what we thought was plenty of time to spare.
Only the worship time was different than what we found in the yellow pages. (Yes, this was before the internet was the first place to go for such information.) We knew it almost immediately as we pulled into a full parking lot. Somehow, though, I still managed to find a parking place and went in to see just how late we were. As I walked in an usher rushed to meet me at the door and told me there was simply no room. It was as though the ‘closed’ sign had been put up and there was no getting around it. I could see in that moment that there was no negotiating with him so I went back to the car and we went about the task of trying to find somewhere else to hear the Good News that Easter morning.
I had never actually been turned away from worship before. It was, of course, especially painful then as our hearts were already breaking. No, normally you won’t be met by an usher at the door telling you there is no more room. Indeed, the barriers are typically more subtle than that, but all too often I’m afraid they are still there. And they can be especially difficult for the most vulnerable among us to get around.
It doesn’t appear that the barriers Jesus was driving out of the temple that day were all that subtle either. No indeed, those things that were keeping people from encountering the ‘holy’ could hardly be missed — and yet perhaps they were hardly noticed by those who had been frequenting that holy place month after month, year after year. So perhaps Jesus’ violent outburst was necessary to get the attention of the ‘faithful.’ To be sure, he clearly demonstrates his distress at the money changers and those selling livestock for sacrifice in that holy place.
Now, of course, you and I can’t get behind his words to see precisely what he meant. Even so, it appears that this holy place had become, for many, merely a place for business transactions. Some believe that the surcharge for exchanging money into currency which was suitable for temple offerings was so exorbitant that many were not able to afford to encounter God in that place. For those who were in a more financially secure place — or those who had frequented that place regularly — perhaps the practice was no more than a minor nuisance or they had become so accustomed to how things were they didn’t even see it anymore. Perhaps for some it was no barrier at all. But Jesus saw it for what it was and no doubt, Jesus saw it for how it impacted those most vulnerable and so today we encounter him with a whip made of cords in his hands — seeking to make right what had become so terribly wrong. Doing what had to be done to make it possible again for all the people God so loves to encounter the Holy One there.
No indeed, there doesn’t have to be an usher at the door telling you there is no room for you. The barriers are often much more subtle than that. There are all kinds of things that can get in the way of the poor, the broken-hearted, the suffering making their way through the door. And perhaps those of us who have been around a while simply don’t see it any more.
I have never forgotten that Easter Sunday morning when we got turned away at the door. I remember it every time I gather with others for worship and I find myself recalling that some of us come with broken hearts today and I find myself hoping that we’ve made it easy for them to find their way among us. That we are not throwing up barriers to their encountering the ‘Holy One.’
- Have you ever been turned away from worship? Have you ever experienced barriers to encountering the ‘Holy One’ in a place where you expected welcome? If so, how has that shaped your own ministry of hospitality?
- You and I have to travel across time and space and culture and custom to seek to make sense of this story for us today. Last I checked we don’t have money changers or livestock for sale in the narthex. That being the case, what might be some of the ‘barriers’ which keep people from encountering the ‘Holy One’ at your place of worship this week?
- Who are the especially poor, the broken-hearted, the vulnerable for whom those barriers might be even more difficult to get past? What is your congregation called to do to break down those barriers?
- Sometimes it’s hard for those of us who have been part of a worshiping community for some time to see how we do things with fresh eyes. Who might you ask to give you an honest assessment of how things are? Perhaps your newest members might have some perspective. Or (and this is something I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t yet) you might try tracking down those who came once or twice and never came back. I would guess they might just have something to teach us all.