As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."I love a good ruin. It comes from my days as the grandchild of a funeral director. We would often, when on errands with my grandfather to burial grounds and memorial parks wind up playing among the headstones. I have since then been fascinated with the memorials to folks interred, running my fingers over their dates of birth and death, while reading epitaphs and admiring the artistry that stonecarvers from different ages have committed to the elements on behalf of their customers. There is a beauty in the soft melancholy that comes with threading fingers past lichen and moss, evidence of the natural and organic decay that is inevitable in a world and life where "moth and rust doth consume."
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs."
In and amongst these gardens, one would find from time to time the ruin of an old chapel or church. a left behind memoir in crumbling testament to the people who once called this particular place their spiritual home. Those ruins now, as priest and middle-aged man, make me pause. I often come back to this passage for the coming Sunday, and remember that even Christ himself reminds us that no human structure is forever. We assume timelessness only because we embrace the conceit that things were this way before we arrived, and then project that they should continue until after we are gone (preferably into perpetuity).
That assumption, though, is just hubris on our part, much as the assumption that a stone memorial raised over a grave will last forever. Conservation may preserve structures and monuments....but the toppling effect of great ages will claim all, eventually.
Don't think that is a bad thing. It is a sad thing, because with ruins come a loss of human memory. No institution or structure is forever, really.
So, then, what does abide?
Ah, there it is! Finally, we are starting to ask the right question....but are we ready to hear the answer? It's simple enough, but it means us letting go of our fears of oblivion and our ambitions to be remembered forever (at least in a human fashion).
What does abide is God's steadfast love for creation, for us and all that is made. Nothing passes without being noted, and in Christ's resurrection, nothing is lost that will not be recovered in the life to come.
Our task is to recognize ruins for what they really are....not just a testament to folly and loss, but rather an affirmation of the glory that is to come, something we can only model or imagine. The true form will rise with Christ.
It's just going to take a while.