‘George Herbert (1593-1633) at Bemerton’ (William Dyce, 1860)
Sunday 30 April 2017,
The Third Sunday of Easter,
Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton,
7.30 p.m., Evening Prayer:
May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The readings for this evening are a reminder of where we should find the true Temple, the Temple of our hearts.
In the first reading (Haggai 1: 13 to 2: 9), the people are called to work on rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Perhaps they are thinking it is going to be a place for themselves, an exclusive place for themselves alone.
But any hint of a seeking an exclusive, elitist place apart in the Temple is challenged with the arrival of the Prophet Haggai, who tells them that the true Temple is a place that will be open to the heavens and the earth, and it will only be truly a place of worship when it is a place where all the nations can offer their gifts to God: ‘the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.’
This future Temple, open to all nations, will be far greater than any past or present Temple.
In one of the New Testament readings available this evening (I Corinthians 3: 10-17), the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, talking about how we should carefully lay the foundations for any building project. He uses this image to talk about how we should prepare our hearts as a true Temple for God.
And then he tells them: ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? … God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.’
Instead, we have heard the Gospel reading (John 2: 13-22) for a second service today, and which has been specially selected in the lectionary for these weeks in the Easter season. In this reading, Christ alludes to his own resurrection, and talks about the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Temple of his Body.
As the Church, we are the body of Christ, and so the Church, embracing every member of the Church, builds up into the true Temple, into which all are invited and all are welcome.
Our office hymn for Evening Prayer this evening, ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’ (Church Hymnal, 358), is part of his collection of poems, ‘The Temple,’ by the great English priest-poet George Herbert (1593-1633), edited by his friend Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding and published immediately after his death.
In this hymn, we are challenged to see ourselves, in body, heart and soul, as the Temple of God in which true worship is found. That true worship is found in love that never ceases (verse 1), in prayer throughout the week that never ceases (verse 2), and in praise that includes our Sunday worship, but is not just Sunday praise and never ceases (verse 3).
George Herbert died on 1 March 1633, but he is commemorated in the Church of England in the Calendar in Common Worship on 27 February. The Collect of that day in Common Worship prays:
King of glory, king of peace,
who called your servant George Herbert
from the pursuit of worldly honours
to be a priest in the temple of his God and king:
grant us also the grace to offer ourselves
with singleness of heart in humble obedience to your service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
And so may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Evening Prayer in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, on Sunday 30 April 2017.