I was elated to see that some of your members are really living, just as God intends for us. But friends, I’m asking that you love each other. I’m not asking anything new here. It’s what we’ve always insisted on from the start. Love, by doing what Jesus says. From the start, this has been the whole point.
Some people are really living. Some people are really loving. Some people are doing what Jesus says.
Even in the early church, so often held up as the paradigm to get “back to,” some people are really getting it. Others are just going through the motions. They’re not so different. “Getting back” to a mythical “golden age” (whether it’s the 2nd century church to which this letter was written, or the mid-20th century post-war, baby-boom church with Sunday School classes bursting at the seams), only means going back to a time when some people get it and others are going through the motions.
The point is not to recreate an ideal past. The point has been, from the beginning, to “get it” here and now.
The point is not to pine nostalgically for glory days, but to really, truly live today.
The point is not to wish for love’s labors lost, but to love by doing what Jesus did in the present.
That’s the point. Always has been. From the start.
Just before the Jewish Passover, Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple he found the vendors selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the bankers were also there. He made a whip out of rope and chased all of them out of the temple. He drove out the cattle and sheep, spilled the bankers’ cash boxes everywhere, knocked their kiosks over, and told the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Quit making God’s house into a strip mall!”
His students remembered the verse: “I’m obsessed by my devotion to your house.”
The Jewish leaders asked him, “Who gave you permission to do this? Show us a miracle to prove it.”
Jesus answered, “Demolish this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.”
“This temple has been under construction for 46 years!” they said. “And you’re telling us you can do better in 3 days?”
He was referring to his body as a temple. After he returned from the dead, his students remembered what he’d said. Only then they embraced what was written, and what Jesus had said.
In Mark, Luke, and Matthew, the story of Jesus’ temple invasion comes at the end of the story, where it’s the final straw of Jesus’ opposition to the establishment, and sets in motion the events leading to the crucifixion.
A generation later, John tells it near the beginning of the story. The political tension is gone. With the conclusion of the episode, Jesus walks out of the temple as easily as he had walked in. Instead, John uses the story to make a point about the community’s collective memory.
Twice, John tells us, the disciples remembered. As the episode ends, John ties their remembrance to their belief, to their commitment.
Communities can use memory either as a help or a hindrance, and there are plenty of examples of both, and in churches they often center around buildings.
On the one hand, Jesus is obsessed with the proper use of the building, and this obsession becomes a mnemonic touchstone of his followers. On the other hand, the proper use of the building is not really about the building, but about Jesus and what he will do to break free of faith bound to time and materials. John holds these two memories in a balance that prevents them from deteriorating into mere nostalgia (remember the good old days), or turning the means of ministry (a building) into the end itself (God).
At it’s best, community memory is a means of embracing what has been to propel the community forward, not to hold it down to an ideal time or place.