Our opening collect for this Sunday, after articulating our lack of “power in ourselves to help ourselves,” asks God to “keep us” in both our bodies and our souls from those things that would assault and hurt us. Some of these things are in the world, external to us, and some of them are within us. The Psalmist writes: “Who can tell how often he offends? Cleanse me from my secret faults.”
Our lesson from Exodus is the Decalogue, more popularly known as the Ten Commandments. We repeated these together, in petition form, on the first Sunday in Lent, remembering that traditionally in the church this has been seen as something we need to read and remind ourselves of regularly. The Decalogue may well have functioned as a kind of creed for the Israelites, as it eventually became in Judaism and Christianity. It is a core of ten rules for living in covenant with God, rules given to protect us from ourselves and to keep us healthy and in right relationship with God, creation, community, family, and self. We like to give some of them more attention than others, but all are equally binding, falling under the overarching command to acknowledge and obey God’s authority.
Even with the benefit of the law, the Psalmist reminds us, sins and mistakes cannot be completely known or avoided. Therefore, we stand in need always of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and guidance. Paul likewise addresses the limits of our best wisdom when approaching God. Because of those limitations, we have been given Jesus Christ, the power and wisdom of God for us, through whose crucifixion we are “saved,” kept by and in God.
Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, overturning the tables of the moneychangers and driving out the vendors of sacrificial animals, is found at the end of Jesus’ ministry in the other gospels. John uses it to introduce Jesus’ confrontation with the authorities and the established religious practice. When those present ask for a sign to support his action, Jesus offers the temple itself, to be torn down and raised up three days later. Only much later do the disciples realize that he was speaking of his own body. We should remember that the ones driven from the temple understood themselves to be following the right and prescribed order. They did not know their own mistakes, and yet Jesus had come to bring the kingdom to them.
This Sunday will make the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the failed civil rights march that ended in violence in Selma. As part of the “Let Freedom Ring” initiative led by our county commissioner Mercuria Ludgood, we will join other Mobile churches in tolling our bell at 11:00 a.m. this Sunday. The sound of church bells throughout Mobile is intended to be a sign of our standing together—remembering that violence and suffering are all around us in our world, near and far, and even within us, and above all remembering our baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbor and to respect the dignity of every human being, striving for justice and peace among all people.
As we consider the third of our Lenten questions for the end of life—what are your goals and priorities—those promises rise above them all.