Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stone Unstacked Upon Stone

Mark 13: 1-8, 1 Samuel 2:1-10

These passages sail the shores of emotion this morning. The song of Hannah is a prayer of thankfulness for the lifting of what in those days was the curse of barrenness by a woman who has had a child, and that child having being dedicated into the service of God.

Contrast that with the worry and the concern with the end of the world, which is coming, in the context of Jesus saying that there will soon be a time when the temple will be destroyed, and not one stone will be left upon another. This is the scariest thought possible for the Jews of that day.

It’s hard to read the Bible sometimes, when here is such a spread of emotion. We read the Joy of the song of Hannah, and we think of people who have not had that joy; who have gone through months, maybe years of in vitro fertilization, spending thousands of dollars; who have gone through years of trying, and perhaps have even been stonewalled while trying for adoption.

We read that song, and then we read immediately after this the Mark passage, which talks about destruction and fire and the end of the world, and the cornerstone of the Jewish identity at that time being destroyed, and we find ourselves more familiar with the Mark passage. Perhaps it is hard to think about, but effectively, the end of the world is more comfortable to think about than the joy of a new mother.

We have all had loss in our lives. Somehow, somewhere, there are people we have lost. Parents, spouses, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, grandchildren, and we can’t also ignore that some of us may have lost friends that were closer to us than any family member.

Frankly, it’s easier to get our heads around stories of loss in scripture than stories of Joy. We distrust joy, don’t we?

We live in an area of the country that has not had a positive economic forecast for 60 years. The Knox Mine disaster happened, and the economy craters. Then comes Hurricane Agnes, and the crater gets deeper. This area has never recovered completely. There are efforts, and they do work partially, but don’t you find yourself expecting wonderful economic efforts, civic improvements; don’t you expect them to fail at some level in your mind? It’s easier to hear bad news; we’re more used to it here.

But let me tell you a story about this. Outside of the narratives we have in the gospels, and Acts, the story continues. Yes, in AD 70, the temple was destroyed. Stone was indeed unstacked from stone, and there was fire and broken walls. When you see people today lined up in Jerusalem against what’s called the Western Wall, praying and putting pieces of paper into the chinks on the walls, that wall isn’t even a wall of the temple. It was the retaining wall that enclosed the temple. The temple was destroyed so utterly, that the best remnant we have is just the enclosure, not even the temple itself!

And with the loss of the temple, the idea of how to be a Jew ceased to be possible in the old way. Many, many people lost their faith because they lost their practice. No more temple sacrifices, no more priests.

But oddly enough, there were already synagogues and rabbis present, and in the absence of the sacrificial ritual, the religion shifted to knowledge of Torah, and Judaism rebuilt itself fundamentally. In that complete redesign of how to be a Jew, new joys were created, new moments were sanctified, and God was shown to still be with the people. Even after something that cataclysmic, God was still present.
Imagine the collective state of mind after the towers fell on 9/11. How shocked we were, how angry we were, what our thoughts of doubt were. Now add to that the component of something like that being the ONLY religious outlet for a whole religion, the focus of all faith, being destroyed like that.

But the faith did not die. It changed, it metamorphosed, it grew. There were other dangers in the history to come. We can talk about Pogroms, we can talk about the Klan, we can talk about the Holocaust.

But there is still joy expressed in the faith. The Song of Hannah is still sung by those who feel joy in God. So it is with them, so it is with us.

Yes we have all lost friends, we have all lost family. But the sun does rise the next morning. There are new joys. Life changes, but it continues. There is always a new joy to look forward to. Perhaps the prospect of grandchildren. Perhaps success in a job you don’t even hold yet. Perhaps friends you don’t yet know that will hold your heart in their hands, and will bless you.

They are always coming. We are always becoming.

Sometimes, the anticipation of the worst thing that has ever happened to you is worse than the actual event. We don’t always know it’s coming. Car accidents, heart attacks, are always sudden traumas. But if we have sat with loved ones in their illnesses, and watched them decline, the actual event of their deaths is sometimes less a blow than a relief. We’ve thought about it, we’ve stayed up nights worried about it, we have seen lawyers and funeral directors to prepare for it, and that is usually worse than the actual passing.

Sudden or lingering death, a divorce, a job loss, all of these are traumatic. They are all major changes to our internal narrative, the story we tell ourselves about how the world is going to go.

But we know from our faith and this book that there are joys ahead of us. Our faith tells us that the end of the road is joy, no matter how much pain there is in the meantime. In the end, Revelation tells us, we don’t go to heaven; heaven, the new Jerusalem, comes to us!

There is always tomorrow. The sun always comes up, and god is always with us. Even when we can’t see God, even when we don’t want to see God, God is still with us and understands us.

After all, God lost a child, too.

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