By Rev. Joan Kessler
What lasts? It’s a question we are presented with on a regular basis. If I am considering a monumental purchase, I do my research. I want some assurance that whatever the item, I am getting value for my dollar. We devote resources to things that have longevity and perform they way they are intended…that don’t break down, that come with a guarantee and warranty. We trust research and tested methods that have proven something. We read the Amazon reviews of others when we cannot see an item for ourselves, touch it, turn it over, or leaf through its pages. What lasts is often answered in 2021 by what do others say about something. And once I know what I believe to be sound evidence, I will make up my own mind.
There is more to what lasts than this, the things I buy…what about belief and faith and values? These are the elements that give my life meaning and help me to make sense of my world. But then inevitably, progress happens, and change arrives, sometimes before I am ready for it. The way I used to feel about something doesn’t work any more.
Disillusionment is the experience of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. We hear this word and associate it with a negative, even painful experience. You may recall your own experiences of claiming your disillusionment over something that you once held as true and lasting. The new job, the new relationship, the new house…in the beginning it was like the dream could never end. But at some point, the reality of the situation begins to set in and change arrives. Someone pokes a pin in the balloon of our illusion.
What lasts is without a doubt the question the disciples were asking after hearing Jesus’ prediction that the newly reconstructed Temple, the one that took some 46 years to build, is one day going to fall. The auspicious structure was more than just a place of worship, it was central to their faith and daily living as Jewish people. The Temple represented God’s unshakeable and unmoveable presence.
But Jesus sees something else, something entirely different and he predicts it will not stand, and just like the first Temple, it will fall into a pile of rubble. Despite the enormity of the stones and the wealth and power structures that held it up, Jesus only sees impermanence…he sees change rather than the status quo. And then he proceeds to remind his friends that he will not always be with them; they should be wary of those who come after him, claiming an authority. Wars will be fought, the earth will groan and shift with earthquakes and famines…but do not be afraid for this is not the end….the end is still to come.
We are all temple builders at one point or another. We construct our truth and live into the things that give our life meaning. But then change arrives. Our bodies get sick, relationships end, people disappoint, work ceases and is replaced with retirement. And our temple sometimes gets thrown down. We don’t give up on the reconstruction, but perhaps we let go of the illusion that they are to be permanent.
This story from Mark’s gospel is often described as apocalyptic. Jesus isn’t predicting the end of the world as we often associate such writing. An apocalypse is an unveiling or an uncovering of something new, to receive a fresh insight or revelation. He is suggesting his friends question what is permanent and lasting. God is not just four immense stone walls…the Divine Presence cannot be held or conformed to a system, an institution, or one particular way of thinking. Despite my best efforts at reflection on any given Sunday, I don’t come close to explaining what Spirit is up to and the day-to-day mishaps and adventures we all experience. I can’t fall in to the grandeur of large stone edifices. God can’t be quantified or relegated to some predictable outcome and no feat of architecture can do this either. Because God is God and I am not. And this is good news indeed.
When I considered Temple walls falling down, I was reminded of the Leonard Cohen masterpiece, Anthem, and its refrain, There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in. Cohen had a way of seeing the dark side of his world, and hope wasn’t always easy to come by as reflected on world events. In a rare interview about Anthem, Cohen shared these poignant thoughts:
The future is no excuse for an abdication of your own personal responsibilities towards yourself and your love. “Ring the bells that still can ring”: they’re few and far between but you can find them.
The situation does not admit a solution of perfection. This is not the place where you make things perfect, neither in your marriage, nor in your work, nor anything, nor your love of God, nor your love of family or country. The thing is imperfect.
And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, the repentance is. It is the confrontation with the brokenness of things.
We hold on to hope. Cracks from inner pressures and other forces will break us open and the light will shine through…old ideas and ways of being make way for the new. We have lots to consider with a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be easing, climate agreements, the ongoing work of becoming anti-racist and living into right relations with respect to Truth and Reconciliation. But something new is always being birthed…it takes courage to say “Not this”…”I can’t support that”….”This doesn’t work for me anymore.” What lasts is perhaps the challenge and the change that nothing ever really stays the same….a comfort to some and a fear to others.
What lasts? I hope you will do your own pondering on this good question and look to your future as you consider your answers. Let’s now listen and reflect on Leonard Cohen’s Anthem.