Thursday, June 30, 2016
This past April, I celebrated my 49th birthday. Not quite the big “50” but significant none the less and I wanted to do something special so I decided to take myself to London. It was my first trip abroad and I was really excited... excited for the adventure I was about to embark on... excited for seeing a new and different county, excited because I was traveling alone, something I love to do... to meander the streets finding new treasures... taking my time to take in the city.
One of my “must” stops was the Temple Church, which is the knight's Templar church that was featured in the DaVinci Code. I wanted to go there because I was looking for a connection to the early church... the first century church... because this church grew under such tremendously challenging circumstances. Crucifixion, being fed to the lions, mass murders and persecutions were par for the course for the early christian community. This is the reason the sign of the fish, the Ichthus, is used today to represent Christianity, because the ichthus was a sign used by persecuted believers to identify each other.
Drawing the sign of the fish in the dirt was a secret signal, known only to believers, that stood for Christ. It was a visual reference to Christ's miracles, Him multiplying two fish and five loaves, feeding five thousand [Jn. 6:10-13]... and then four thousand [Mark 8:1-9]... it was the only way for believers to safely reveal themselves to each other, and although I changed the spelling (someone else was using it) the ichthus, was the inspiration for this blog, “Ikthos”... a way for believers in The Way, believers in Christ, to identify one another and share their faith with one another in a safe space, where we can engage one another, nurture one another and truly be that “body fitly joined together, joint supplying joint” [Ephesians 4:16]
What I found among the effigies and stone and stain glass was a living church steeped in tradition. The majority of the service was sung, as the early church and even the Latin Roman Catholic mass was sung. The Temple Church was consecrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 10, 1185AD by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem and has existed continuously. The feeling of history was palpable, however, I believe the service I attended, was very different than the services attended by the early christian believer.
The early church during Roman oppression, met in private homes, catacombs and as Justin Martyr replies to his interrogator Rusticus, the Roman Prefect, “Wherever it is each one’s preference or opportunity....” 1 This was a church under seige... where being revealed as a member could get you put in prison, tortured, interrogated and ultimately killed... and yet it grew.
After Constantine “converted” (I'm not sure he converted to Christianity or if he converted Christianity for his own purposes), the reverse became true. If you didn't accept Christ, join the church (and at that time there was only one) and worship exactly as they said, you could be tortured and/or killed. If you dare have a difference of opinion or a unique experience that differed from what was taught to be the norm, you could literally loose your life. One would think we've come a long way... or have we?
There's much to be learned from the past. And although events and circumstances have changed our society... what we know and in many cases, what we as modern believers find important, the truth of the Gospel, the Good News, never really changes because people, the one constant throughout history, never change. We never loose the need to be loved, unconditionally. We have never and will never be perfect so we will always have a need to be perfected, and that is what the love of God, in the person of Christ Jesus does. He perfects that which concerns us. [Psalms 138:] In every way. In our body He heals, for he is the balm of Gilead. He gives sight to the blind and raises the dead. In our hearts, for he heals the brokenhearted and in our mind He frees us from fear by giving us the spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind” 2 Tim 1:7. And yet we have movements within modern Christendom, that want to make the church be more “seeker friendly” as if those who seek Christ today are really any different than those who sought Him when He walked the streets of Galilee. Zacchaeus, the short tax collector in Jericho who climbed the tree so he could see Jesus, didn't have any greater need to “see Jesus” than any other vertically challenged person would today, except Zacchaeus made the effort... he labored to “see”. And I don't believe Jesus responds to us today with any less graciousness or love than he did to Zacchaeus. If we make the effort, Jesus shows up, and He dines with us... he heals our hearts, stills our minds and nourishes our spirit... or at least that has been my experience.
Although, my visit to the Temple Church was special, something I'll remember, it was my experience at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle that moved me to tears. I was there the week after Easter, and there was a very simple, very large cross with a large crown of thorns draped over the top, hanging over the alter. It looked like it had been created with builder's lumber, not artistic or polished or “beautiful” by any modern aesthetic, but more beautiful than anything in either church because it represented the love... what Christ was willing to do for us... what God was willing to sacrifice for us... God's labor of love for us. There is no need to make our faith any more “seeker friendly” because Christ has sought us. The work to get us to God is done. It is finished.
1Christianity Today, “Where Did Christians Worship?” by Christopher Haas. Issue 37