The collect and readings for yesterday may be found here.
The appointed gospel is Mark 13:1-8:
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
I remember the morning of my divorce. I remember the afternoon my younger son called and said, “Dad, I just joined the marines!” I remember the night my older son died. With each of those events one of the great buildings of my life was thrown down. Stones that I had so carefully placed and upon which I had built my life no longer stood one upon another. Temples of my world had fallen. My world had changed and my life would be different.
We all build temples – personas, relationships, beliefs, institutions, roles, reputations, dreams and sometimes even illusions. Stone upon stone we build them with the idea – sometimes spoken and sometimes unconscious – that these great structures will provide us meaning, direction, identity, security, value, and order to our life and world. The temple into today’s gospel is more than just a building in Jerusalem, more than the place of worship. It was the center and anchor of Jewish life. It provided identity, structure, and meaning – the same as do our temples of today.
The disciples are pretty impressed with the large stones and large buildings of the temple complex. They draw Jesus’ attention to them. Jesus responds, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
I suspect each of you could tell a story about the day your temple was destroyed. Maybe it was your own divorce or the loss of a loved one; a story about cancer; the day you became a parent and caretaker to your own parent; the time someone betrayed and hurt you; the loss of a job or business; the realization that your life or the life of one you loves is controlled by addiction, fear, anger, or resentment. Or maybe it was the day your recognized your own powerlessness and lack of control. Perhaps beliefs that had sustained you for years suddenly became a rubble of doubts and questions.
Regardless of how it comes about the day our temple falls is the day of apocalypse – a day when our great buildings are thrown down and not one stone is left upon another. Our life and our world have forever been changed. Too often we think of apocalypse as the end of the world. It certainly feels that way – earthquakes shake the foundations of our world, famine leaves us empty and denying us any sense of satisfaction, wars divide and fragment the unity of our life and relationships, and all the voices that tempt us – but it is not the end. Apocalypse is not so much about the end of the world as it is about the end of the many worlds, temples, and great buildings we have created for ourselves.
Our spiritual work in those days is to not be alarmed or afraid, to be faithful and not be led astray, to be watchful, present, and attentive. Apocalypse means to reveal, to pull back, or to uncover. So it is much more about revelation than destruction. And yet there is always a falling away associated with true revelation – the falling away of illusion. Most often apocalypse holds before us a truth and reality about our self, life, or world that we have denied, ignored, forgotten, or simply refused to see. It is always a painful process to see our great buildings fall and be confronted by the reality and truth revealed in that fall.
The apocalypse of my divorce set me upon a path of self-examination, personal growth, and the discovery that the inner world does not follow the rules of the outer world’s appearances of success. “Dad, I just joined the marines” made me face the fact that my son was no longer the little eight year old boy I carried around in my head and heart. He had become a fine young man more than capable of leading his own life and making his own decisions. And the death of my older son has stripped me of an innocence and naiveté about life that I am still trying to understand.
When the great buildings begin to shake the temptation is to shore up the foundation, add some, mortar, make it stronger. Yet Jesus says that all of this is necessary. He can see in those moments what we are not able to see. And I am not suggesting that God causes or allows bad and painful things to happen to us in order to teach us an important lesson or make us better Christians. That is not the God I know or trust. The God I know stands with us in the midst of the apocalypse reminding us that this is not the end; it is the beginning of new birth.
Too often our temples are built on some form of illusion. Apocalyptic days confront us, forcing us to decide between reality and illusion, between life and death. They ask us hard questions about where we put our trust. The day our great buildings fall is the day we begin to face our corruptibility and impermanence in order to know the incorruptibility and permanence of God. We face our temporal nature in order to discover God’s eternal nature. We must know our own barrenness and emptiness before we can know the joys of the birth pangs.
Jesus announces the apocalypse but he does not provide the disciples a nice summary or wrap up to his teaching. Rather, he tells us that the great buildings will fall, they need to fall. He leaves us to ponder questions not answers. So I wonder
- What are the temples of your life that need to fall?
- What truth and reality do you most need to face?
- How might God be working a new birth in you?