Longing for Heaven – Br. James Koester

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Psalm 145: 1-5, 18-22
2 Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17
Luke 20: 27-38

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked. And I know that the other members of the community have also been asked the same question. In fact, I was asked this question once again, just the other day and I was nearly 2000 miles away from here!

When will you be back in the monastery? When will the chapel be open? When will we be able to have services back in the chapel? When will the Tuesday evening Eucharist begin again?

If there is not a person here today who has not asked, or even just thought of asking those questions, I’ll eat my hat! (If I were wearing one, that is.) It’s a question on everyone’s minds, and not just you who are assembled here in this room today. It’s a question we brothers ask regularly ourselves. It’s a question people ask us whenever and wherever we travel. If people have heard about our renovation project, they are curious to know how it’s going; and when it will be finished; and when we will be able to move back in; and when the chapel will be open once again.

As you know, we had hoped to be able to be back in the chapel, at least for Sundays, sometime this fall. But instead of there, in that space, we found ourselves first in a tent in the guesthouse garden, and now here, in this space, in the basement of the building where our administrative offices are being temporarily housed. And I know that if you are like me you are probably thinking, yes, this is okay to a point, for a time, but it’s not the same. It’s pretty crowded here. It doesn’t feel the same. It’s not very holy. It feels stark, and barren and unprayed in. Where are the beautiful windows, and the gorgeous marble? Where oh where is the organ, and the incense? Where are all the beautiful vestments? Will we ever again be back in the place that means so much to so many?

Oddly enough, we’ve been here before, and I don’t mean 34 Concord Avenue. Time and time again, God’s people have found themselves in the very place we find ourselves today: longing for that which once was, and hoping for it once again.

The lesson today from Haggai reminds us that nearly 3000 years ago, God’s people were longing for what once had been, at least in their imagination, and hoping for it once more.

Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory?
How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?[i]

God’s people were just back from their long years of exile in Babylon. Their beautiful Temple was a pile of rocks and what was being built in its place was “as nothing” in their sight. It was stark. It was barren. It was unprayed in. Where was the marble and cedar? Where was the gold? Where were the beautiful vestments and the incense and the intricately carved woodwork? Where oh where was their beautiful Temple?

As God’s people we have been here before. We have been in this place of longing for what once was and hoping for it again. And it is a good place to be!

Yes, we all miss the chapel, especially and not least of all the brothers. But this place of loss and longing and hope is a good place to be because it helps to remind us about that for which we truly long, and that for which we truly hope. This stark, barren, unprayed in room is a good place to be. Like the people of Israel newly returned from Exile the words of the prophet Haggai are for us as well:

Take courage…take courage…take courage all you people of the land,
says the Lord; …for I am with you. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.[ii]

Take courage, take courage all you people of Concord Avenue, for the Lord is with us. God’s spirit abides among us. Yes, the chapel on Memorial Drive is beautiful. And the Lord is with us here! Yes the organ and windows and vestments and incense are wonderful. And the Lord is with us here! Yes, all those things down the street are wonderful, and helpful, and beautiful and the Lord is with us here!

In the years to come, this time away, whether it lasts another week, another month, another … who knows, will perhaps, like the Exile for the people of Israel, be one of the most important, one of the most significant things that has ever happened to us as a monastic community, as a worshipping community, as a liturgical congregation. This time away will perhaps be the most important thing that has ever happened to us in shaping and moulding us more and more into the people God desires us to be and making us more and more ready for the day when there will be no Temple, when there will be no chapel

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; …. And I saw the holy city,
the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a
bride adorned for her husband. [And] I saw no temple in the city, for its
temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no
need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and
its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of
the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day
— and there will be no night there.[iii]

In years to come, this time away will perhaps be the most important thing that has ever happened to us because it is reminding us that it is not the chapel we long for, but heaven. It is not the temple we long for, but the Lord.

Advent is just around the corner. I don’t know if we will still be here then. Perhaps we will. Perhaps we won’t. But this barren, stark room may just be the best place for us to keep Advent because this place, this room may teach us as no other place could, including our beautiful chapel, to pray even more fervently: Maranatha! Lord Jesus, come soon![iv]

[i] Haggai 2:3

[ii] Haggai 2:4, 5

[iii] Revelation21: 1-2, 22-25

[iv] Revelation 21:20b

Support SSJE

Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.

Click here to Donate


  1. Melanie Zybala on February 25, 2013 at 09:47

    Thank you for both the meditation and the responses.
    Usually, I don’t read the responses, but this is a mistake. DLaRue’s comment is gripping, strong, and utterly real. A whole meditation could be developed from
    her/his few words, and I hope it will. Thanks also to Margo for her equally
    terse and loving statement. These two people’s honest “misgivings” are valuable.
    –even as I hope your chapel will be restored.

  2. Margo on February 22, 2013 at 11:14

    Love the sentiment the Lord is with us here where ever we are.
    I wonder which is more pleasing to Him our beautiful temples or
    the hungry fed, the ignorant educated, the sick healed or the many other basic needs of God’s people met.
    But I am not the first to ask this and I have no answer. Just misgivings.

  3. DLa Rue on February 22, 2013 at 09:50

    Sometimes events come to pass that signify a real exile, the realization that returning is simply not ever going to be possible. I’ve seen several situations in which an exile from hope seems to have happened, either for the return to a place of hope in a particular setting or situation, or for a larger goal. Then it’s the going on that is the hope.

  4. Bob Greiner on November 10, 2010 at 12:53

    I like everything in its place. This type of yearning for a time of renovation or beginning that is not yet certain, such as the reopening of the monastery buildings, would be difficult for me. But to dwell in a time of expectation seems to be a wonderful attitutude to graft on during this season—especially as you note the coming of Advent. When you mention the empty chapel I found my mind thinking of the imagery of a womb, with the expectation of a wonderful birth, or in this case a re-birth and all the joy that will be shared with the “birth” of the new space happens. “Come, thou long expected Jesus.”

Leave a Comment