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In 70 A.D., two generations after the death of Jesus, the wondrous Temple of Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans and thousands perished.  For the Jewish and early church community this was a loss beyond description.  The Temple was a source of national identity and pride.  The people literally believed that God resided there in a special way.  For many it seemed that God had died.

Luke’s community was living through this difficult transition.  Many early Christians were Jewish and shared in this loss.  In addition, as a result of the loss the Jewish community reset its boundaries and the Christian sect was no longer welcome.  Tonight we consider Jesus’ words In Luke’s gospel reflecting on this historic loss and providing instruction and comfort for us when life brings us difficult transitions.

Healthy Transitions

Each week we remember people going through transitions due to illness, age, job loss, relationship loss etc.  Those who study the transitions in life say our culture is particularly bad at managing normal transitions, much less traumatic ones!  The ancients were better at creating space to manage change and creating rituals to mark the moment, such as Jesus going into the desert for 40 days as he transitioned to public ministry.  Books on this topic (a good one cited below) talk about three stages in healthy transitions:

– Letting go of the attachment to what was lost.  We have a tendency to go back to where the Temple was a pretend nothing has changed!  Worse we hang on the anger etc. toward  those we blame for the loss.

– Embracing the emptiness of in between time.  We hate emptiness and immediately try to fill it up by building a new “temple.”

– Having courage to begin something new.  Taking risks is hard anytime, but it is really hard after a loss.

Hope to Persist

Jesus offers a few kernels of comfort and wisdom for the spiritual person going through transition.  First, he says we are not alone, we do not have to do this all by ourselves.  Because we are not alone the emptiness of transition can be a holy place, not a place to run from.  Jesus says here that God is so close that it will seem that God is speaking for us.  At our best we do this for each other during transition.  We companion each other and provide words when a brother or sister has none.

Then Jesus says “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”  Interesting statement, as Jesus just said some will suffer and die!  While there is no rescue promised from painful transitions, Jesus is saying  there is part of us that cannot be touched, cannot be destroyed.  Jesus pointed the way – they took everything from Jesus, his freedom, his dignity, his meager possessions, even his life.  But they could not reduce Him.

Finally Jesus says that if we persist through the transition, we will actually become aware of this part of ourselves that cannot be destroyed and “find our life.”  That diamond of life that came from God and is returning to God is not dependent on the Temple or military success or anything else that we may want to rely on.  Our Life is not in the corner office, the cancer free body, the perfect romantic partner.  It is when we stop trusting in “temples” for meaning and identity we find our life.

While some transitions are, of course, inevitable, it is better to have fewer of them!  Some painful transitions are self-created, and some folks are in crisis more than others.  We need to build fewer “temples” to promote, protect and project ourselves into the world.  Fr. Tony De Mello is fond of saying that the mystic steps lightly on the earth and is wary of attachment.  There are fewer painful transitions that way!

In a few moments we will pray together and we will hear about typhoons, injury, disease, loss of work and aging.  We may not hear this out loud, but I expect some folks here are even experiencing a transition in faith in God.  In all these experiences we are tempted to press the eject button and skip over the work of endings, emptiness and new beginnings.  May this Eucharist give us hope and eyes to see that we are not alone, our authentic self cannot be touched and we can persist and find our lives.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saturday Evening, November 16, 2013

Focus text:  Luke 21:5-19 (the Temple destroyed and tough times)

Photo by Filip Maljkovic on flickr.com

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