Jesus’s disciples remember a big beautiful building. I remember a big beautiful building. How does the fall of great buildings, the end of what seems solid and strong provoke in us anxiety and indifference? How does God’s apocalyptic Word turn everything on its head?
Relevant Scripture: Daniel 12:1-3 and Mark 13:1-8
What do you feel when you see something sublime? Something great, tall and beautiful so that every inch of the frame before your eyes is beautiful? Does your jaw drop? Do you freeze? Do wonder and awe take root? Do you poke the person next to you, perhaps someone you love and say: “do you see this?”
That’s what Jesus’s disciples do, when they see the temple, its great stone work, its architectural splendour. They have to show him. They have to share it with him. Lord look. See. Behold with me…what a prayer.
The experience through which I relate to this text is a time when I was still a teenager, and we were brought to see the Haggai Sophia. The dome was higher than high and glowed. The arrangement of squares and circles bedazzling. There was great calligraphy that I remember as three four times as tall as I was set at an immeasurable height from when the Muslims had conquered. In corners and in the balcony peeled back beneath the paint you could find rich rugged tapestries, all the fire of John the Baptist staring at you, all the knowing pain of Christ witnessing the site.
His disciples ask Jesus, do you see this building? Do you see what it is? And he knowingly looks at them and ask them, asks us, do you see what it is?
I spent the rest of that day…well I don’t remember all of what I did but I remember being on a boat in the Bosphorus with a bunch of other teenagers. They were playing and giggling and…being teenagers on an adventure. But I my jaw was still dropped. No longer with wonder, but with sadness. It felt hollow. That great building built for the glory of God was now a tourist hub, this beautiful sacrifice had been lost. A place for adoration had become a place for gawking. A place of praise had become a game. A place where hearts opened in vulnerability reduced to a simple amusement. It was just all so much more hollow than I could handle.
Do you see these great buildings Jesus asked them? This temple, this one center in the world for the worship of the one true God-do you see it? I God am telling you that not one stone will be left on another. It is coming down. It is all coming tumbling down. Do you hear me? Why do you gawk? Why do you mourn? It is all falling down.
Its all falling down. We get a small snippet of a vision given to Daniel of this reality. Daniel a man raised outside of his culture and yet witnessing to his God in the face of other narratives that desire to claim his obedience. Daniel, who might as easily assumed he was living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, clings to our God in prayer, in witness, in pursuing righteousness and wisdom. To him comes a vision of an angel arising, and of wars and of pain. Daniel sees that everything falls down and that the Earth cries out in anguish.
There are two not-so-good things that tend to happen when we try to hear what Jesus says: Either 1) we grow anxious or 2) we grow indifferent. Since the plan seems to be the end of all things that make sense on humanity’s own terms we try to get more specificity around the plan so we can prepare-you know, to run from our anxiety. A few of his disciples pull Jesus aside and ask…so this everything falling down thing…when is it going to happen? Will there be warning signs? What’s the deal?
Jesus says…oh you want signs? The trouble is there are going to be more signs than you can handle. Many will come and tell you that the time has come but they aren’t coming to help you they are coming to deceive you. Are there going to be terrible things? You bet. There are going to be many wars and famines. Many fortunes will rise and fall. And despite how terrible all of this will be you know what your job is in the face of all of it? Do you know? He tells them not to be alarmed. Your mission is not to use your anxiety to overcome the terrible things that will happen in this life, your mission is to not let the anxiety overcome you in the face of all this terror. Jesus speaks into this question about our tendencies to fret and flips it upside down.
The reign of Christ is coming, the king is coming not just to save but also to rule. Daniel sees in his vision that the anguish that comes is the anguish of birthpangs. The gospel is not a message of an easy freedom from suffering, it is a message of much suffering for everything is being turned over. In this anguish Daniel sees the birth of redemption. In this anguish Daniel beholds that death’s dominion is broken and the dead are risen to new life. In this anguish Daniel sees that the apparent victory of the wicked is set on head by the judgment of God. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Everything is falling and we are called to look up as everything we think we desired falls around us. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains. Our challenge is to live now, when the empires and ignorances of this age seem powerful and timeless, where the secular museumism dominates the Haggai Sophia, where anxieties and need abound, and the Word of God it sometimes seems is heard more in echoes than claps of thunder. Hold fast, provoke one another in love, and keep watch. Receive in this Eucharist the kingdom that rises when everything else falls away. Thanks be to God.