Before any commandment was given, God first established an abiding relationship with his people. God came to his people, firstly through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and then to all the Israelites, through Moses. God established his covenant with them and brought them out of slavery. God journeyed with his people—a pilgrim among them—as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. All of this was before the giving of the commandments on Mt Sinai.

We get a hint of this in the opening words of the first reading. God said to his people, ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’ First comes the relationship: I am yours; you are mine. Only then came the commandments, which would give shape to the relationship: this is how we will live with and for each other.

The commandments of God to his people, which now includes us in Christ Jesus, are shaped in something of the reverse to the priorities of our present-day ways. Much in our materially focused lives places the materially focused things first in order. But in the Lord’s rules for living well, it is God first, then family and other persons, with laws about the things we possess only at the end. While mostly couched in the negative (‘You shall not …’), God’s commandments are parameter settings for living our lives well.

No wonder St Paul would say of our living well with God, according to the crucifying example of Jesus, ‘God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.’ There is a different kind of power and wisdom at play when it comes to journeying with Jesus, who brings us to God. It is not the power of achievement but the power of humility. It is not the wisdom of the intellect but the wisdom of sacrifice. It is the dual commandment that calls us to love of God and of one another.

As Jesus strode around the temple in Jerusalem, raging against the marketeers, he saw only a static people fixed in place, and not a relational people on pilgrimage with God. The temple itself was something of a symbol of this. God, in the ark of the covenant, had travelled with God’s people through their exodus, pausing with them in the tent of the tabernacle, which housed the tablets of the commandments. Now, God’s presence had been fixed in a building, God’s presence reduced to a location.

But Jesus had come to free God’s people of all that had reduced and diminished them. ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up,’ he said. And we know Jesus was speaking of the sanctuary of his body. God would no longer be confined to a building, but he would journey once again with his people. The material building which had been the centre of worship was no longer important. It would be in Christ’s Body, that all worship would take place within the pilgrim Christian community, the Church.

We are that Church; not the building in which we are now sitting. The Church is Christ’s living Body; it is God’s pilgrim people and the temple of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing static or fixed or stuck about it. We, the Church, journey with God, who calls us to himself. It is the Lord our God who brings us out of the house of slavery, and journeys with us on our pilgrim way to life in him.

Banner image: The Ark of the Covenant with horn players, detail of illuminated manuscript by icon-maker Markos, Maghakia of Constantinople, 1686, Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, Yerevan, Armenia.