By Rev Elliot

I am writing this having just come back from a holiday with my wife’s family. My in-laws somehow managed to gather all five of their children, as well as spouses and one grandchild, in one place for a whole week – a feat which had not been achieved since a family wedding over a year ago! Even more impressive was that we found somewhere to house all of us; a gargantuan modern structure nestled among a network of lakes in the Cotswolds It was, in many ways, an idyllic place; well equipped, surrounded by nature and only a stone’s throw from the Thames path.

However, what struck me most on arrival was the gates. Not only was the area where we were staying cut off from the outside world but, once inside, we encountered several more barriers restricting access to other areas, including the “village” that contained our house. It was only after a few days, when I ventured out for a long hike, that I suddenly realised how trapped I had felt behind these gates and fences that maintained the exclusivity of our temporary home. Without them I felt lighter, freer, and more like myself.

This got me thinking about the Jerusalem temple where ancient Israel gathered to worship. It too maintained a degree of exclusivity, being made up of concentric layers of increasingly restricted access. Only Israelites could enter the surrounding courtyard and only the priests and Levites could enter the structure itself. Within the temple was the Most Holy Place, where the presence of God himself was said to dwell. Only the High Priest could enter this part of the temple, and only on one day of the year. However, there was one fundamental difference between the Jerusalem temple and the gated community where I had stayed. Rather than holding people back, the temple was, paradoxically, intended to enable more access to God. It mediated his presence to people who couldn’t handle being too close to him. But, like that rented house in the Cotswolds, it was only ever meant as a temporary dwelling. In three of the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ death on the cross is accompanied by the tearing of the curtain that led to the temple’s Most Holy Place. Symbolically, it showed how Jesus has opened up the way for us to be close to God. Even in the sorrow and pain of the cross, the Bible depicts this moment of immense joy, where the presence of God bursts out into his creation.

The church is the new temple of God – not the building, but the people who are transformed by faith in Jesus. It is our job to show him to the world around us and enable people to be close to him. We must not be a gated community, hiding behind barriers of exclusivity. Rather, we have the privilege of welcoming people in to experience the presence of God among us so that everyone can be transformed by his love.