Stones, Buildings and What Truly Lasts
That is how it felt to learn about the people killed this week in Paris, Baghdad, and Beirut.
These deaths are the result of acts of terrorism, of terror, of fear attempting to hold the whole world hostage.
I feel like my heart has been breaking a lot this year and, each time, I learn of another death, another act of violence, another shooting or bombing, I am left speechless.
How can we possibly find words even to pray?
And what if we can’t prayer, what if all we can offer are the tears streaming down our faces?
Will our tears speak for our heart in ways that our words cannot?
Or perhaps we should echo the words of the psalmists of long ago who asked, how long?
How long, O God?
How long, O God, will our human siblings die in vain? How long will we kill each other in order to seek revenge? How long will we fail to see the humanity in one another? How long will we weep at the death of the innocent? How long will the cycle of violence continue?
In the Scripture today, Jesus tells us, “When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be alarmed.”
Do not be alarmed? The world is at a crossroads and Jesus is telling us today, “Do not be alarmed.”
Jesus’ words catch me by surprise because my natural response is to sound the alarm, to ring the bells, to shake everyone awake, because we have a lot of work to do. We cannot sit idly by. Jesus tells us that we are in the midst of the labor pains; Jesus tells us that new life is coming, the kin-dom of God is being birthed right now, but if we are to be the labor coaches for the birthing process, if we are going to be midwives of resurrection, than we need to do so together as a people united and awake and ready to work.
Yet, as we gather, Jesus tells us: Do. Not. Be. Alarmed.
Jesus is telling us not to be swept away by the terror running rampant in the world, not to be carried away by the anger and hatred, to refrain from joining the crowds in crying out, “Crucify them, crucify them.”
No, if we are to be labor coaches for the world around us, we must – in the midst of our pain -remind the world and ourselves to breathe, to breathe with all our being so that we might be able to be a resurrection-bearing, non-anxious presence for the world. (This imagery comes from a reflection by Rev. Jess Felici).
“Do not be alarmed.”
These are the words that Jesus says to the disciples in this morning’s Scripture.
Jesus says to them, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Things like this will happen but the end is still to come.”
“Are you serious?” I imagine the disciples thinking, “You really think we are going to keep calm in the midst of worldly chaos?”
“See these buildings?” Jesus also says, referencing the Jewish temple that had been the center of worship on-and-off for over 900 years. “Not a single stone with be left on another. Everything will be torn down.”
That is how I imagine it felt for the disciples to hear those words.
“Why is Jesus saying this?” I imagine them wondering.
Jesus is preparing the disciples for the days ahead, for the days when the Romans destroy the Jewish temple in 70 A.D., the days when the Roman Empire view the Jesus movement as a threat and seek to eliminate it through the use of violence and terror, killing many Jesus followers.
You see, the thing about the Roman Empire is that it was confident – just like those who terrorize today – that, through violence, it could win, that, through violence, it could have the final word.
“Fear not,” Jesus says, “This is not how the world ends. The kin-dom is a-comin’ and you are called to be labor coaches in the process, to help bring about the Holy Reign of Love and Justice here on earth.”
In this Scripture, Jesus is speaking to the disciples during Holy Week, or the week leading up to his death on the cross. Jesus’ words today are the culmination of many years of teaching.
“This is your time,” Jesus is saying, “To be midwives of the Spirit, to breathe, not to panic, to choose to respond with love and compassion, to end the cycle of violence, to forgive, to serve, to listen, and to heal.”
Shortly after this teaching, Jesus gathers the friends around the table for one last meal together, taking the bread and giving to those around saying, take and eat and know that you are not alone. Then Jesus takes the cup and blesses it and gives to those at the table, saying, take and drink and know you are God’s beloved.
Jesus is teaching us that, yes, things of this world will not last. As for prophecies, they will come to an end. As for tongues, they will cease. As for buildings, they will crumble. As for empires, they will fall.
But there is one thing that cannot die, that cannot be killed and that is Love – the Holy Love of God embodied in the form of Jesus.
Love never ends. Period. Not in the wake of terrorist attacks, not in the wake of violence, not in the wake of death, not if we were to lose our building which we treasure dearly. Even then, Love would be there to embrace us, to walk with us, to make us whole again, and to lead us to a life of resurrection.
This is the Good News that Jesus came to share. Jesus came into the world so that we might know that forgiveness is more powerful than harm and that love conquers hate. Jesus’ message was so radical that humanity sought to silence Jesus with violence, because they thought violence could win, that violence could have the final world.
Humanity crucified Jesus on the cross, and, even from the cross, even in the midst of the pain and the suffering, Jesus takes a deep breath and says, “Forgive them they know not what they do.”
Then Jesus dies, and I can tell you that, despite human hostility, death does not have the final word. After three days, Christ defeats death itself. Then Christ appears to the disciples, huddled in a room with the windows shut and the door locked, paralyzed by terror. They don’t know what to do next and Christ appears to them, saying, “Peace be with you” and suddenly the words come back to them, “Do not be alarmed.” Christ breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” and they remember that new life is a-comin’.
With that, the Holy Spirit floods the room, kicking open the shutters, letting in the light, and allowing all to see clearly the Risen Christ, to see the truth that love never dies and that it is the faithfulness of God that truly lasts forever.
Shaken from their grief, the disciples take a deep breath to clear their minds, drumming up the courage to go out those locked doors into the world. They drum up the courage to go forth, doing the holy work of kin-dom building, of midwifing resurrection, of learning to love their neighbors, their enemies and themselves.
The kin-dom is a-comin’.
Do not be afraid.
Hear the words of Jesus: “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit.”
And go forth into world as bearers of love, as labor coaches of life and as people of the resurrection.