Do you see these great buildings?
Not one stone will be left here upon another;
all will be thrown down
. (Mark 13:2)

It is a shocking vision. Jesus is speaking about the temple in Jerusalem. The temple of shinning white marble and glittering gold gilding. The temple of towering bronze doors behind which dwelt the mystery and might of God’s presence. The temple that was surrounded by a three-football-field-sized courtyard, protected by 20 story high walls towering above the city of Jerusalem.

This is the temple built by Herod the Great. It embodied everything for which our hearts long. It symbolized the presence, the mystery and the power of God. It stood strong and solid an eternal testimony to the faithfulness of the Almighty in the lives of the people of Israel. It was an enduring sign of security, safety, permanence, and stability.

Jesus points to this great edifice and declares it will all be turned to rubble. The whole thing is going to be destroyed.

It is a deeply disturbing declaration, utterly unthinkable.

And yet… we know it is true. We know that all those external things in which we seek to establish a sense of security, safety and permanence are going to let us down. Eventually,

Not one stone will be left here upon another all will be thrown down.

The disciples want to understand:

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?’(Mark 13:3,4)

They want to make sense of these dark predictions. They want to know what the program is here. How can they make sense of these terrifying words? Even more important, how can they get ready? What do they need to do to prepare for the catastrophe Jesus sees approaching? What insurance plan has the power to ward off the terrible consequences of the horror Jesus sees on the horizon?

Jesus offers no program. Instead, he suggests his followers reframe the way they look at catastrophe. He invites them to recast their understanding of the pain and suffering that are an inevitable reality of life. Jesus sees “wars and rumours of wars.” He knows that

nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.

But rather than catastrophe, Jesus sees that all,

This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (Mark 13:8)

Jesus urges his followers to see in pain and suffering, not some terrifying end, but rather a sign of the possibility that something new is coming to birth.

If you asked the pre-born infant in the womb whether or not it seemed like a good idea to go through the pain and uncertainty of birth, the answer would almost certainly be “No.” But what is lost when, for fear of pain, we cling to the known? What is lost when we rush around trying to shore up the bricks and mortar of all the little temples we have built in a futile attempt to establish the illusion of safety and security?

Jesus promises that everything we cling in the external, material, time-bound realm will be shaken. Jesus promises that everything we have built will in time be destroyed.

But, Jesus also seems to have believed that this dark vision of destruction did not need to be a cause for despair. In the midst of his predictions of suffering and uncertainty, Jesus held out hope of another possibility:

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. (Mark 13:7)

Jesus urged his followers to find within themselves that deep abiding place where it is possible to “not be alarmed.”

If we allow them to do their work in us, all the shaking, all the pain, all the uncertainty can be transformed into the birth pangs of awareness. Those experiences we most want to flee can become the voice of eternity calling us into consciousness of a reality that does not falter when earthquake, fire, pestilence, and pain strike our lives as inevitably they do.

The voice of love calls us to see through this fragile uncertain material timebound physical realm to another dimension.

The temple was never intended to be an end in itself. It was to be a portal pointing to a reality beyond itself, a reality that does not shake and that will not fail, that will not let us down, and that never comes to an end. When our hearts soften and open, we are born into an awareness of this other realm that permeates all of life and can be known even here in the midst of the chaos and confusion that characterize so much of human existence.