In the movie version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Gandalf and Pippin are walking through the levels of the city of Minas Tirith which is a massive seven-tiered city built into the side of a mountain. The white stones of the city shine bright in the rising sun and burn as with fire at the it's setting. On the highest level of the city is a courtyard in which stands the White Tree of Gondor, a symbol of the cities rich heritage and history. Unfortunately this tree has not blossomed since the last king sat on the throne many years earlier. Before the failing tree Pippin asks Gandalf why they still guard it if it's dead. Gandalf responds, "They guard it because they have hope. Faith and fading hope that one day it will flower. That a king will come and this city will be as it once was before it fell into decay. The old wisdom that was borne out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living and counted the names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of Kings failed, the White Tree withered, and the rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men."
While there are a ton of sermon illustrations in that single quote alone, one line has always struck me in a powerful way, "kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living". To me that is a very sad picture of the state of a once magnificent kingdom. When a kingdom venerates the halls of the dead and neglects the slums of the living there is something wrong. When Gondor placed a greater priority on remembering the glories of the past they neglected the suffering of the present and thus doomed their future. Now they are waiting and hoping for the king to return to Minas Tirith to bring life to a dying city and diminishing people.
This line in the movie always reminds me of when Jesus said in Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
This stands in juxtaposition with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, when addressing the topic of sexual purity, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."
What a contrast though, between being a tomb and being a temple. A tomb is filled with death and sorrow, a temple is filled with life and joy. Though a tomb may appear beautiful on the outside the inside it is filled with "unclean things". Conversely, the adornments and decorations of a temple are superfluous, what makes a temple a temple is the living presence of God residing within it.
These are two stark spiritual realities, we are either tombs or we are temples. This world has enough tombs as it is, people who walk around and behave as though they are alive but spiritually they are dead in their sins and trespasses. What this world needs is more temples, people who are spiritually alive because God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence inside their hearts.
I could write a lot more (and I might at a later time) but these are just some thoughts that I have been having lately, but I want to leave you with some words from one of my favorite worship tunes and my hope is that this would be all of our prayers, that we would desire to be temples of the living God and not tombs of death....
"Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving I'll be a living sanctuary for you."