Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Luke 21:33 NRSV)
Inherent in human beings is the need for permanence, and yet we live in a world of impermanence. We seek constancy in a world of continual change. We look for something (or someone) to which (or to whom) to hold fast to.
Throughout history human beings have built monuments to heroes and to great men and women, so that the names and deeds of these people may live on down through the generations. In Greek mythology the warrior Achilles is the hero of the Trojan War. But initially he is unsure of whether he should take part in the war, as he has no love for the Greek King Agamemnon whose desire it is to wage war on the city of Troy. Achilles seeks the counsel of his mother, who tells him of a two-fold vision she has seen concerning the future of her son.
In the first part of the vision Achilles stays at home in Greece rather than joining the fighting in Troy. He marries, has a family and lives until a ripe, old age. But he is not remembered by anyone. In the second part of the vision, Achilles goes to war in Troy and becomes the greatest warrior and hero of the conflict, and his name is remembered for all time down through the centuries. Songs and poems are written about him that recount his heroic deeds. But he also dies a young man at Troy. After hearing his mother tell of her vision, Achilles chooses to go to Troy, where his mother vision become a reality. Achilles would rather die young and be remembered for his heroic deeds forever, than live a “normal” life until an old age.
Few of us imagine that our names will live on forever, and yet we still seek something to which we can hold fast, something enduring. For those of us who are parents we once held fast to our children, those newborns and toddlers who, in the blink of an eye, are grown up and beyond our grasp. Some of us are blessed with life partners with whom we share the joy of companionship for many decades. But inevitably the time will come when one of us will be left alone, bereft, torn apart.
The good news of Jesus Christ is that God is with us in our fleeting humanity. God knows that we are seekers of permanence and He reaches out to us in a supreme act of self-revelation. As the author of the Gospel of John told us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NRSV)
The Gospel of Luke describes a farewell discourse that Jesus delivers to his disciples in the final stages of his earthly ministry. He addresses humankind’s search for permanence in an impermanent world. When some of his disciples were speaking about how the Temple in Jerusalem was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said to them, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5–6 NRSV) The Temple was of course then destroyed by the Romans in 70CE in response to a rebellion by the Jewish people.
Following his prediction of the Temple’s destruction, Jesus went on to warn of persecutions, war and natural disasters. As he completed his discourse, he revealed what would endure, what was permanent, that to which they could hold fast. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33 NRSV) Jesus means here not only what he speaks, but also who he is. As the author of the John’s Gospel testified, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NRSV)
God has thrown us a lifeline, someone sure and eternal to whom we can hold fast.
Rawls, James J. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. WestBow Press 2018.