Thought for the Day - Rhidian Brook
Whenever I enter a cathedral I usually have two antithetical reactions in quick succession: firstly Wow! And - not long after that - Why? The Wow is at the grandeur, the artistry, the faith, the sheer will that raises those vaults to the heavens and spreads the transepts wide in praise. Who wouldn’t be moved by the roof at Ely, the perfection of Salisbury, the bare purity of Vezelay?
The Why that surfaces after the wow is that we still put so much time, energy and resource into constructing and refurbishing temples to the worship of a God who, arguably, encouraged us to leave the building a long time ago. I experienced this feeling on Sunday whilst listening to a friend singing at Guildford Cathedral – the most recently built great church in England. It was beautiful – both the singing and the space – but as I looked around at the congregation of maybe twenty people I kept thinking do we really need all this to worship God?
Whilst I acknowledge the heritage of the great sacred spaces, their symbolic and practical importance in the life a community, there has to be a back up plan. What happens if you have no building (because you’re poor), or can’t get to the building (because you’re sick), or the building’s been burned to the ground (because your country is at war), or the Government won’t let you go to a building (because they suppress your faith)? Would these things stop you from worshipping God?
Since the protests at St Paul’s the most quoted scripture of the last two weeks has been Jesus’s swipe at the temple peddlers and his exposing of religion’s entanglement with mammon. But, for me, the real dynamite in these sequences is his redefinition of what a temple or church should be made from: not with marble, or sandstone, or fund- raising events, but with his body and the living stones of his followers. This new temple would be built using people instead of bricks. It’s such a radical reformation of religion that it’s tempting to dismiss it as metaphor and spiritualise it away. Two thousand years on it feels that this extraordinary, new building project is still clad in scaffolding.
Far away from temples, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman and asked her for a drink. Realising that he was a Jewish prophet of some kind and trying to make polite conversation she mentions that their ancestors once worshipped on mountains but that Jerusalem was now the place to go. His answer, for me, is one of the most freeing and helpful instructions in all of scripture: ‘A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem…but in spirit and in truth.’ True worship, he suggests, isn’t dependent on temples or the rituals we perform inside them. Who you worship will always be more important than where.