Monday, 26 February 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 4 March 2018

The Ten Commandments on two central panels of the reredos in Saint Margaret Lothbury Church, London, with the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed on each side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next [4 March 2018] is the Third Sunday in Lent, and the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19; I Corinthians 1: 18-25; John 2: 13-22.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Moses (left) holding the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and the Prophet Elias (right) in a stained glass window in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Exodus 20: 1-17:

There was a time when the Ten Commandments, as we find them in this reading, were displayed publicly in Anglican churches, often on painted boards beside the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, so that people could learn them off by heart and understand their foundational significance for our faith.

The Ten Commandments are the foundational moment for Israel as a community. Today, the curtain or screen (parochet, פרוכת) that covers the Torah Ark containing theTorah scrolls in a synagogue is usually embroidered with a representation of the two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, and the scrolls themselves are covered with a mantle with similar decoration.

The parochet symbolises the curtain that covered the Ark of the Covenant, and the word also describes the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the main hall in the Temple in Jerusalem. The use of the parochet in synagogues today recalls the centrality of the Temple in Jewish worship, and the foundational role of the Ten Commandments for Jewish identity.

The Ten Commandments mark the Covenant between God and Israel but, unlike the covenants with Noah and Abraham, which we have looked at in the previous Sundays (Genesis 9: 8-17, the First Sunday in Lent; and Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16, the Second Sunday in Lent), both parties have a stake in this covenant.

In the earlier covenants, God acts and promises, but the other parties are passive recipients. With this covenant, either party can break it. Why does God now enter into this covenant with the freed slaves at Mount Sinai?

In the previous chapter, Moses is reminded on the mountain top of what God did to the Egyptians and how he has lovingly protected Israel, so that ‘you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation’ that had ‘no other gods before me’ (Exodus 19: 3-6). God demands loyalty, punishes those who intentionally reject him, and rewards with compassion those who love him and follow his ways.

The first part of the Ten Commandments set out why, how and when God alone is to be worshipped (verses 2-11). The second part of the Ten Commandments sets out how this is to be put into practice: honouring older people, respecting the sacred qualities of life, marriage, truth and the rights, security and personal possessions of others (verses 12-17).

The Ten Commandments are the summary of our relationships with God and with one another. They symbolise this covenant, they summarise the purpose and direction of worship, and they summarise and express the core values of community relations.

The actions of Jesus in our Gospel reading are a reaction to how those values have been abused and set aside for personal gain in a place that is supposed to be at the heart of these relationships.

The Ten Commandments on a Torah Mantle on Torah Scrolls from Adelaide Road Synagogue now in the Dublin Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 19:

This Psalm is known to many people because its closing verse was traditionally used as an opening prayer by Anglican clergy before preaching a sermon: ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer’ (Psalm 19: 14).

For the Israelites, the firmament is a giant covering for the earth, and beyond is a hierarchy of heavens. God’s glory is told out, by day and by night, by day and night, to the end of the earth (verses 1-4). God has created the sun, which rises early in the morning like a bridegroom and lights up God’s creation, making God’s presence known (verses 4-6).

In this Psalm, the law of the Lord is said to be perfect, it revives the soul, it makes the wise simple, it gladdens the heart and enlightens our eyes, it is sweeter than honey and is to be desired more than fine gold (verses 7-10).

If one accidentally breaks this law or the covenant, God is ready to forgive and to protect (verses 11-13). But true worship must by reflected in our words and deeds (verse 14).

I Corinthians 1: 18-25:

This Epistle opens with the Apostle Paul reporting he has heard from Chloe about the quarrels that are dividing the Christians in Corinth, and he urges them to put aside their divisions and to be ‘united in the same mind and the same purpose’ (I Corinthians 10-17).

Now he urges them to unite around Christ, telling them that while the Cross appears to be foolish, meaningless and nonsense to those who think they are wise, its message makes sense to us as Christians.

Saint Paul recalls a time when Assyria was threatening Judah. The king’s counsellor, who was regarded as a wise philosopher, advised an alliance with Egypt. But the Prophet Isaiah told the king instead to trust in the Lord rather than those who claim to be wise and intelligent (verse 19; see Isaiah 33: 18).

Greek philosophers and Jewish scribes rely on wisdom and signs (verses 20-24). But Saint Paul reminds the Church in Corinth that we offer something very different to both Jews and Gentiles, to prophecy and philosophy: ‘For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (verse 25).

‘Christ driving the Traders from the Temple,’ by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos, 1541-1614), The National Gallery, London El Greco (ca 1600)

John 2: 13-22:

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ 18 The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ 19 Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20 The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The Cleansing of the Temple, Giotto, the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

The move from Cana to Jerusalem

The scene in this Gospel reading moves from the small town of Cana in Galilee to the capital city of Jerusalem, for the first of three Passover feasts that are part of Saint John’s narrative.

The Synoptic Gospels telescope the public life of Christ into one year, and have only one Passover celebration, and they place the Cleansing of the Temple in the last week of Christ’s life: Saint Matthew places it on Palm Sunday (see Matthew 21: 10-17), while Saint Mark sets this incident on the Monday (see Mark 11: 15-19); see also Luke 19: 45-48.

However, in Saint John’s Gospel there are three Passovers:

● John 2: 13 to 3: 21;

● John 6: 4 ff, and

● John 13: 1 ff.

The Cleansing of the Temple takes place during the first of these three Johannine Passovers.

In the outer court of the Temple, Christ finds a thriving market, where visitors can purchase the animals needed for sacrifice and change their money with the money changers for half-shekels from Tyre, which were acceptable religiously.

The animals and the coins were absolutely necessary for the Temple worship. So, in attacking the commerce in the outer court of the Temple, Jesus is doing more than purging the Temple of an abuse – he is attacking the Temple itself.

In Cana, Christ replaced the rites of purification. Now in Jerusalem, he shows that the very centre of traditional religious worship is losing its meaning in his presence. Later, he replaces the great feasts, one-by-one.

The glorious presence of God, which was once confined to the Temple in Jerusalem, has now become incarnate in the person of Christ Jesus.

Jeremiah had said that impurity would destroy the value of the Temple in God’s eyes: ‘Has this house, which is called by name, become a den of robbers in your sight’ (Jeremiah 7: 11).

Other passages in the Old Testament tell how the coming of the Messiah will see an ideal Temple appearing on earth. No commerce will be tolerated there, and all the nations of the earth will be welcome in this new Temple: ‘And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day’ (Zechariah 14: 21; see also Isaiah 56: 7; Tobit 14: 5-7).

Verse 13:

Christ goes up to Jerusalem.

Verse 14:

The animals sold for sacrifice and Roman coins were changed into Jewish or coins from Tyre in order to pay the Temple tax.

Verses 15-16:

This is not an outburst of temper, but the energy of righteousness being used to confront the religious leaders who have made a good business out of the religious practices of others.

Verse 15:

In the third stanza of his poem A Song for Simeon, TS Eliot brings together the Christ who will tie cords to drive the traders from the Temple and the Christ who will be whipped and scourged,

Verse 16:

‘My Father’s house’ is a claim to lordship.

Verse 17:

‘Zeal for your house will consume me’: The reference here is to Psalm 69: 9: ‘It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’

Verse 19:

He says: ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Instead of interpreting this as meaning ‘I shall destroy this temple,’ the Temple authorities ought to have heard him saying: ‘If you destroy this Temple, in three days I will raise it up.’

Verse 20:

The rebuke by Jesus is heard and interpreted only in material ways. How could he possibly rebuild in three days had taken 46 years to build?

Of course, even in the time of Christ, building work on the Temple had not been completed. The Temple was begun by Herod the Great in the year 20 BC and it was not finished by Herod Agrippa until AD 64.

In two of the Synoptic accounts, the false witnesses at the trial of Jesus will misrepresent what Jesus said, claiming he said he was able to or would destroy the Temple: ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days’ (Matthew 26: 61); ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’ (Mark 14: 58).

But as Saint Mark points out, the Temple of which he is speaking is not made by hands.

Verse 21:

This is not simply a prediction of his coming death. For the Apostle Paul, this temple is the Church of believers (I Corinthians 3: 16). But John has a different emphasis: the Temple is the body of Christ which, as the disciples would see after the Resurrection, would be raised up in three days.

Notice how John deliberately uses the term ‘raise up’ and not the ‘build’ or ‘construct’ we find in the Synoptic Gospels.

Verse 22:

In this Gospel, there is a continuing thread in which seeing is related to believing. But, as we know, seeing is not always believing; and believing in what has been seen and what has been said on this occasion is postponed until the disciples see the Resurrection.

Topics for discussion:

Have you ever excused your anger by finding a moral justification for your actions?

Is it ever right to lose my temper?

Have we a moral responsibility for the way the Church orders its financial affairs?

How zealous are you for God’s house?

Do you see your body as the Temple of the Holy Spirit?

Can you extend that image to other members of the Church, your parish, your community?

The Ten Commandments on two panels in Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: Violet.

Penitential Kyries:

In the wilderness we find your grace:
you love us with an everlasting love.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

There is none but you to uphold our cause;
our sin cries out and our guilt is great.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed;
Restore us and we shall know your joy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5: 1, 2)


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who was in every way tempted as we are yet did not sin;
by whose grace we are able to overcome all our temptations:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord our God,
you feed us in this life with bread from heaven,
the pledge and foreshadowing of future glory.
Grant that the working of this sacrament within us
may bear fruit in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ give you grace to grow in holiness,
to deny yourselves,
and to take up your cross and follow him:

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for the Third Sunday in Lent (Year B) in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Exodus 20: 1-17:

383, Lord, be thy word my rule
76, Sweet is the work, my God and King

Psalm 19:

606, As the deer pants for the water
153, Come, thou Redeemer of the earth
351, From all that dwell below the skies
631, God be in my head
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
616, In my life, Lord, be glorified
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
384, Lord, thy word abideth
432, Love is his word, love is his way
638, O for a heart to praise my God
34, O worship the King all–glorious above
35, The spacious firmament on high

I Corinthians 1: 18-25:

10, All my hope on God is founded
643, Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
232, Nature with open volume stands
248,We sing the praise of him who died

John 2: 13-22:

453, Come to us, creative Spirit
336, Jesus, where’er thy people meet
343, We love the place, O God

The Ten Commandments on the ‘parochet’ or curtain on the Ark containing the Torah Scrolls in a synagogue in Krakow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

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