If someone had sat us down two years ago and told us that much of what we love would be changed or taken away from us entirely over the course of 2020 and 2021, I think we would have laughed. A catastrophe of this magnitude and length would simply have been beyond our ability to imagine. It wouldn’t be worth thinking about seriously because dwelling on the cost of prolonged isolation, mixed scientific and political messaging, and the death of hundreds of thousands of people is pretty clearly an unhealthy exercise.
Yet here we are. Everything we love has changed, and we’re still scrambling to make something of what’s left.
I begin there today because I think our collective pandemic experience puts us in a unique position to empathize with Jesus’ disciples, who have just learned that the Temple they love will be destroyed. “‘Do you see these great buildings?’ Jesus asks. ‘There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’” Everything you love will change, Jesus says — and the disciples simply don’t know what to do with that knowledge.
So they ask him privately, “‘When will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?’ And Jesus begins to tell them about the false prophets who will come bearing his name and how the disciples will hear of wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and famines. “Do not be alarmed,” he says. “This must take place, but the end is not yet. . . . These are just the beginning of the birth pangs.’”
We can almost see the expressions on the disciples’ faces — their wide eyes, their clenched jaws — at hearing this news. Everything you love will change, Jesus says. The places you go, the people you see, the little things you took for granted because they were so much a part of your life — all of it will change, will be gone in an instant. And that’s just the beginning.
What could be worse news? Wars and natural disasters are life-changing events; but to have the core of one’s faith left in rubble is a waking nightmare, the kind that you can’t shake even months and years later. The Temple was a part of the disciples’ home, a cherished part of their lives. And it would all be destroyed.
To make way for something better.
Not that that was the thought that came to them in the moment. The worry was too present, like a weight on their shoulders or pressure in their chests. They couldn’t possibly imagine the gift that would be given them when the Temple was destroyed, only to be raised three days later.
And yet this is the path onto which the disciples have stepped. The path we also walk.
The disciples will suffer. We will suffer. Everything we love will be radically changed — whether by the marching armies of Rome, by a years-long pandemic, or simply by time; but like the woman who cannot imagine surviving the pain of childbirth, there will come a moment when the suffering is nothing compared to the new life before us.
Looking back, the disciples will grieve what they have lost, just like we grieve what we have lost. We shed tears over what once was, knowing that the past held both beauty and goodness. But then there will come a day when the story resolves, when the pieces click into place, and we turn our eyes toward the one who is life incarnate, who “by a single offering . . . has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified,” knowing that by his sacrifice, the path our lives take will never end in the valley of the shadow of death.
And in that moment, when our hearts are lifted up to the heavens, we will praise God, saying, “O Lord, you are my portion and my cup . . . I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.” Because God is at our right hand, we will not be shaken.
We shall not be shaken because we are washed, we are clean, we are made new in the blood of the Lamb. Through our Savior’s sacrifice, we have a certain hope that we will not be abandoned to the Pit, that we will not be left to struggle forever against the corruption in this world; but that our minds, our hearts, and our bodies — our whole selves — will be redeemed, will be brought into the very presence of God.
And that is a promise that cannot be broken. A fortress that cannot be overrun. A reality that will never change because Jesus himself, God himself, has given his own life to guarantee it.
Brothers and sisters, we are living in a time of loss, a time when our lives have changed before our eyes into something we wouldn’t recognize two years ago. The pain of that is real and present; and we will wrestle with it for years to come. But it is also not the end, for we walk a road that ends in resurrection.
“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall. My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” AMEN.
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