As news of the terrorist attacks on Paris began to spread on Friday and Saturday, my Facebook news feed began to fill up with prayers and support for the city and its inhabitants. Nearly every message was accompanied by a photo of the Eiffel Tower. It is the iconic symbol of Paris, and it is usually outlined in twinkly lights as the center of the City of Lights.
But after the attacks the Eiffel Tower went black. The lights are off. And so one of the most powerful photo montages I have seen this weekend has a darkened Eiffel Tower in the center surrounded by images of other iconic buildings from around the world which have been lit with the colors of the French flag. You can see the Tower Bridge in London, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, City Hall in San Francisco and even the new One World Tower in New York City bathed in the blue, white and red colors of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” that are the emblems of the French flag and nation.
One of the most poignant images ties into our gospel reading for this morning. It is a photo of the Western Wall or the “Wailing Wall” in Jerusalem which has also taken on the colors of France in solidarity and mourning for the extreme violence that has resulted in so much death, suffering, fear and grief. The Western Wall is all that remains of one of the most beautiful and significant buildings in the world, the Jewish Temple.
This is the same Temple that Jesus and his disciples are visiting in Jerusalem during the Festival of the Passover in the last week of his life. The disciples are simple fisherman from Galilee. The Temple is the largest and most dramatic building they have ever seen, fashioned from huge blocks of marble cut into enormous squares. It was covered in gold and ornamented with the finest materials gathered from all over the known world. At the Passover Jews from every part of the known world made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to pray in the Temple and to offer their sacrifices and offerings.
The temple was the center of Jewish worship and identity. It was the symbol of their survival, security and hope. The disciples were impressed and awed by what they saw. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings?” they remarked to Jesus.
It’s then that Jesus begins his prediction and warning of what is to come. He knows that this amazing edifice will be destroyed. In just a couple of decades the Temple was torn down forever. All that remains of that once astonishing building are the stones from the base that make up the Western Wall where people still congregate to pray and mourn in times of deep need and sorrow. The temple is gone and with it the entire way the people of God oriented their worship and religious identity.
For years people have read Mark, chapter 13 and Jesus’s words about wars, famine and earthquakes as predictions about the end of the world. But Jesus was also very clear that no one, including him could predict when that would be. In his words to his beloved friends, Jesus is doing what he always does, loving them to the very end. He knows that the world as they know it is coming to an end.
The temple will be destroyed and the world turned upside down. The catalog of the world’s tragedies will continue to cause suffering and disruption. Jesus grieves in advance for what lies ahead. He wants them to be prepared. He cannot protect them from the pain and sorrow of the world. But he doesn’t want them to be those who lose hope. He knows that beyond the very worst that they will experience is a new beginning, a new birth, a new life in the Spirit.
It’s not just the temple that will be destroyed. These words are spoken just four days before Jesus himself is handed over to death. When his followers experience the horror of his death on the cross, they are devastated. They are overwhelmed by grief and loss. They lose hope. It seems as though death, destruction and evil have won the day. It feels as though the world is an unsafe place and that Jesus’s teachings of love and forgiveness are eclipsed by the powers of violence and hatred. It is as if the lights have gone out, and the darkness has taken over.
Have you ever felt that way? Maybe even this day. The world can be a difficult and dangerous place. In addition to the dangers of terrorism and cataclysm we experience our own mini-apocalypses of suffering, grief and loss. It seems as though our world has been turned upside down. It may even seem that God is absent or that Jesus doesn’t really care. Like the disciples we may lose hope and give into the despair and bitterness that fuels a dark and bleak vision of the world.
But this is not the vision that Jesus has of the world. He is no stranger to the darkness and evil that is very real and present. But he knows a greater light and a higher power. He knows that death will not have the last word and that hope will be born anew as God’s love is poured out into the world through suffering and beyond death.
In spite of all human violence and hatred Jesus is true to his mission to love God and love others, even his enemies. He forgives even from the cross. He trusts even unto death. He loves to the end and beyond. He endures the very worst that humanity is capable of and is transformed by the power of the resurrection from the dead.
And so are his disciples. They didn’t get it while he was with them. But they too were transformed by resurrection. The light of Christ did not go out with the death of Jesus. It continued to shine in them even in their own darkest hours and death. They passed on to us who continue in the way of Jesus the strength and courage to endure the very worst of what may come with a resolute hope and trust in the one who will never abandon us.
The writer to the Hebrews encourages us in this way, ” Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
We do not know what that Day may be for us or when it will be. But Jesus has prepared us. He has given us his words to encourage and strengthen us in the dark times. He has placed us in company with others who love him and helps us learn to love one another. He has given us a mission of love and service to our neighbors who are hurt and suffering.
And he has promised to be with us even unto the end of the age. He is with us this day in the Body of Christ gathered here and around the globe. He is with us in the words spoken and the prayers prayed. He is with us in break broken and wine poured, his very presence poured out in love into our lives that we might go forth with faith and hope and love. Amen.
With faith, hope and love,
Canon Britt Olson