Only time will tell how justified the anxiety is. For now, at least part of our task is to manage our anxiety. And one way Christians can manage our anxiety is to immerse ourselves in the biblical story, which helps us to make sense of our lives.
Religious people have long memories. For centuries, we have continued to draw lessons from ancient stories, stories of tragedy and loss and inspiration and hope. We tell those stories over and over again because, in some strange way, taken together they are our story. What happened last week, what happens every week, takes its place in the grand story that the Bible tells.
So, for example, our gospel reading for this week begins with a prediction about God’s Temple in Jerusalem. It is an important chapter in the grand story of salvation. And, as always, a little context helps.
Just last week, we read about the construction of the Second Temple, the Temple Jesus is talking about. Babylonians had destroyed the first temple, the great temple built by King Solomon. It was a traumatic event in the life of ancient Israel, one that is remembered with horror to this day. But God’s people endured. God’s story continued.
The small community of refugees who returned to Jerusalem from exile in the sixth century BCE built a new temple that was much smaller than Solomon’s. Five hundred years went by. Then, about the time of Jesus’ birth, King Herod dramatically expanded the second temple, making it one of the most impressive buildings in the ancient world. At last, after 500 years, the Temple was back to its former glory.
And now, in today’s gospel reading, Jesus predicts that the newly expanded temple, completed just a few decades before, the temple will once again be destroyed as part of a whole series of terrible events: wars; earthquakes; famines; plagues.
Jesus’ prediction surely horrified his audience, who well knew the story of the first temple’s destruction. And Jesus’ prediction came true just a few decades later when Romans sacked Jerusalem.
Many people expected the world to end right then. They thought God’s story was coming to a close. They were wrong. The destruction of the Second Temple was a horrible time for the people of God. But that, too, was not the end of God’s story.
God’s story began long, long before. And God’s story continues long, long after. God’s story begins with God’s creation of the world. God’s story includes the rise and fall of great nations. God’s story revolves around the ministry of Jesus Christ. God’s story continues through the birth of the Church and its gradual expansion across the globe. God’s story concludes only with the coming of God’s kingdom of peace and justice and love.
What happened two thousand years ago to the Temple is one chapter in God’s story, not the whole story. What happens today, in our nation, in our parish, in our lives, is the current chapter in God’s story. And of course we hope that our chapter will be a happy one. But always we should remember that we are characters in God’s grand story, that our time is a single chapter in God’s grand story, and that whatever happens along the way, God’s grand story has a happy ending.
In the prayer with which we began this morning, we asked God to help us hear the stories that together make up God’s grand story, to hear them, to read them, to mark and learn them, and over time to inwardly digest them.
I love that image of digesting the stories of Scripture. It is as if God’s Word becomes our nourishment. We feed on God’s story. We internalize God’s story. Gradually we make God’s story our own as it becomes a part of who we are.
Ideally, God’s grand story shapes us in its image so that we act in our time as characters in God’s story, doing our best to see with God’s eyes of love, to do God’s will of justice and mercy, to act in hope as we move towards God’s kingdom.
And, of course, we do not simply hear and read the stories in Scripture. We enact the single most important event of the entire story every week as we share in the ritual meal of Christ’s death and resurrection. We consume the bread and wine that are the body and blood of Christ. We take Christ into our bodies, inwardly digesting the sacrament, being nourished by God, being transformed from within into the people that God calls us to be.
Today we are particularly blessed because two beautiful children are going to enter that process of formation in God’s story in a new and powerful way. We are going to baptize Declan and Logan.
As we will pray in a moment, “In [baptism], [Declan and Logan will be] buried with Christ in his death. By it [they] share in his resurrection. Through it [they] are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”
That is to say, in their baptisms, Declan and Logan will experience in some small way the climatic events around which all of God’s story revolves. They will become, in a new and powerful way, participants in God’s grand story.
And, of course, they will not understand the full significance of what is happening. Who among us does?
But this much we know. In baptism, God acts.
And, for the rest of our lives, we react.
For the rest of our lives, we do our best to live into the promises made on our behalf at our baptisms. For the rest of our lives, we hear, read, learn, mark and inwardly digest the stories of the Bible. For the rest of our lives, we share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. For the rest of our lives, with God’s help, we strive to grow into the full stature of Christ.
Baptism matters, because it is the normal way our part of God’s story begins. The Christian life matters because it is how we live into our baptism, how we act as the people that God creates us to be, how we participate in God’s grand story, how we play our part in this chapter of the grand story that began with creation, revolves around Jesus Christ, and ends with God’s kingdom.
And so on this day, I give thanks for the gift of baptism. I give thanks for the newest characters in God’s grand story. I give thanks for the opportunity that each of us has to share in God’s mission as we look forward to God’s kingdom. And I ask God’s blessing on Declan and Logan, and on this congregation, and on our nation.
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Amen.