In the ancient world, if you wanted to find your god, you went to a temple. Every culture had them. The Babylonians built ziggurats which contained giant statues of their gods. The Egyptians had temples and pyramids. Romans and Greeks had temples and statues of their gods everywhere. But among the Jews, there was just one building in the world where God could be found. That was the temple in Jerusalem.
It was massive. The entire building stood high above the rest of the city. The entire complex was the size of 15 football fields. King Herod started a renovation that lasted 80 years. He made it one of the wonders of the known world. Even Romans found it impressive.
There was a massive courtyard that could fit thousands of people. Jews brought animals with them to be sacrificed. Goats, sheep, doves. It would have been loud and smelly. You came forward to the central building, which was the actual temple. There, priests would take your animal, roast it some of it, give you back to the rest to take home and cook. Only priests could go inside. Only one priest could enter the most important room, the Holy of Holies, where it was believed God’s spirit dwelled.
 Elon Gilad, "Why Jews Stopped Sacrificing Lambs and Baby Goats for Passover And why some have started trying to perform it on the Temple Mount again.", Haaretz.com, 24.04.2016
This was God’s house, God’s only house on Earth. It was beautiful, massive, and impressive. For that reason, no Jew, including the disciples, could imagine it ever being destroyed. They had gone to the temple their entire lives, and would do so even after Jesus was gone. So, they are shocked when Christ says it will all come down some day.
But Christ was right. In the year 70, some 40 years after He died, the temple was completely destroyed. Jewish rebels had seized control of Jerusalem. Roman armies came to crush the rebellion. Thousands were killed, crucified, and the temple was burnt to the ground. For Christians and Jews alike, this seemed like the end of the world. Jews were expelled from Jerusalem, and thousands were taken to Rome as prisoners.
The fall of the temple caused a seismic shift in the history of religion. After the temple was destroyed, Jews gave up offering animal sacrifices to God. And so did Christians. Both faiths gave up on animal sacrifices.  And when Christianity became the religion of the Roman empire a few centuries later, animal sacrifices were phased out for the rest of the empire, too. The fall of this one building brought an end to animal sacrifices which spread across the Middle East, Europe, and eventually the world. The fall of the temple changed how religion was practiced all over the world.
When Modern Buildings Fall Down
This may all sound like ancient history, but we moderns still place a lot of faith in buildings, and can be shocked and bewildered when they fall. Two days ago was the 19th anniversary of 9/11. Everyone who was alive that day remembers where you were when you first saw those terrifying images of the twin towers coming down. It is not too much of an exaggeration to describe the World Trade Center as a kind of temple for the secular age. The terrorists who destroyed the towers knew they symbolized American capitalism. The Americans reacted as though a temple had been destroyed. They launched two wars to avenge the crime. The attack sent shock waves throughout the West, changing the way we fly, our attitudes towards Muslims, and ushering in a fear of immigrants among Americans.
 Elon Gilad,ibid.  Christians likely kept sacrificing until the temple was destroyed: Daniel Ullucci, “Sacrifice in the New Testament,” Rhodes College, Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/resource/sacrifice_nt.xhtml
But historians may remember this pandemic as being the crisis that really brings down the temples of our time. If you go downtown on a weekday, look up at the business towers. For the first time since they were built, they are mostly empty, day in, day out. Skeleton staffs keep them populated. Their employees have been told to stay home. It turns out that these great monuments to industry and commerce have an achilles heel – the elevators. Our greatest architectural marvels are designed with small rooms which take people up and down. And now, thanks to the pandemic, elevators are everyone’s worst enemy.
The result has been a massive shift in where people work. Before the pandemic, around 5% of people worked from home.  Now that number is closer to 50 percent in many cities. This is a truly unprecedented situation. Companies have been surprised at how easily it has been to shift workers to their homes. Many report that productivity has actually increased. So now, some corporations are considering making this arrangement permanent. Twitter and Facebook have told their employees to stay home.  In Ottawa, the Rogers company declined to renew a lease for its call centre, and sent everyone home. In Toronto, the major banks have told their employees to stay home for the foreseeable future.  For most white collar jobs, the chief expenses are labour and office space. Companies have discovered that they don’t need the office space, so many are scaling back, leaving office buildings empty. Business experts are predicting that even after the pandemic subsides, working from home will become the new normal for a large proportion of white collar workers. The gleaming temples of our capitalist society are suddenly falling, and a new kind of work is emerging in their place.
But will working at home be good for workers? What will it be like if a large section of the working population is forced to work in the same space where they live? Studies have found that the people who like working at home usually have a dedicated room for their office.  However, for many people in Toronto, that is not an option. Half of all Torontonians rent. Most rent apartments and condos. Rental Condos have been steadily shrinking for the past few decades. In 2016, the average size of a new condo in Toronto was 647 square feet, which is a small one bedroom apartment, with no room for a guest room or office.  There are condos as small as 280 square feet. So many people’s home office will be a couch or a kitchen table.
 In America, 3%: “Is the office finished?” The Economist, sept 12th, 2020.  “Covid-19 has forced a radical shift in working habits” The Economist, Sept 12th, 2020.  “End of the office: the quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home” The Guardian 14 July 2020  https://www.macleans.ca/economy/realestateeconomy/out-of-office-is-the-new-office-can-the-work-from-home-boom-last/  https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/telus-tells-staff-to-work-from-home-until-next-year-1.1473309  “Covid-19 has forced a radical shift in working habits” The Economist, Sept 12th, 2020.   Garry Marr, “Why the incredible shrinking condo is about to become even more popular,” Financial Post, Jun 23, 2017.
The bigger problem is how people feel when they work at home. It gets lonely.
Almost one third of all households now have just one person living in them. It is the single most common living arrangement in Canada.
So, when companies tell workers to stay home, a large number of them will be people living alone in small apartments and condos. For these people, going to work was the one guaranteed social interaction they had. Now that will be going away.
And it will not just be a problem for single people. One third of married people are not happy in their relationships.  So, even for many couples, working at home may pose serious challenges.
Before the pandemic hit, experts were declaring that the West had a loneliness epidemic. In 2018, the British government appointed a minister of loneliness to deal with the problem. In the US, studies have found that about a quarter of Americans feel lonely. And that was before they were cut off from going to the office. Polls have found that 70 percent of workers would gladly return to the office if they could.  In April, a Swedish sound studio made a playlist on Spotify of office sounds – printers, copiers, phones ringing, people talking. It was made as a joke. It has been streamed half a million times. People are listening to fake office sounds while they work from home, pining for when they were around other people.
After the pandemic ends, we will likely be facing a pandemic of loneliness. Working at home is going to leave people feeling socially disconnected and trapped. And it will hurt. As spiritual people we know that how we feel affects everything about us – our attitude towards life, our relationships, and our physical health. People who feel cut off and lonely are at higher risk of depression, dementia and premature death. Long term studies have found that loneliness is worse than obesity for your health. It has been equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  Sending people home to work may be good for the bottom line, but it promises to amplify an existing emotional crisis which will have serious effects on the mental and physical health of workers.
 Julianne Holt-Lunstad, "The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors," Public Policy & Aging Report, Volume 27, Issue 4, 2017  Olga Khazan, "How Loneliness Begets Loneliness," The Atlantic, April 6, 2017.  “The Voices of the Loneliness Epidemic,” The Atlantic, March 10 2020  “End of the office: the quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home” The Guardian 14 July 2020  “End of the office: the quiet, grinding loneliness of working from home” The Guardian 14 July 2020
What can we do?
So what can be done now that our corporate temples are emptying out? 2000 years ago, when Jews and pagans alike came to their temples to make sacrifices, they didn’t go inside. Only the priests went inside. People like us would stay outside, watching the smoke rise from a distance. But when Christians were allowed to build churches in the 4th century, they changed that. They invited congregants to come inside, like we do. Close enough to hear sermons and prayers, close enough to sing together. People were brought inside the temples.
It’s time to do that again. All over the city, there are churches like ours which are planted in the middle of residential communities. Our churches are within easy walking distance of hundreds of homes. Homes that will now be filled with white collar workers, many of whom will not be going into the office much, or at all. Our churches will be surrounded by lonely people, who will crave social interaction. We can be the meeting place they need. Not because they all want to be Christians. Most won’t. But they will need a place to meet with friends and neighbours for the sake of their mental and physical health. This is not the time to sell church buildings. They are in perfect locations to serve as a new kind of community hub, where lonely workers, freelancers and parents can meet for tea, for games, for glee clubs, to volunteer, to find the social interaction they crave.
This could be the difference between health and disease for many of them. Studies have found that even a modest amount of regular social interaction makes a big difference. Our church buildings are in exactly the right locations to be places where we can help others fight off the demons of loneliness. Now that the temples of capitalism are falling into irrelevance, we can help the people who have become office exiles. Imagine our church being a place that every day has people meeting just to have fun, to hang out. Some of them may even become congregants and allies of the church. But that isn’t the most important thing. We have a chance to become a source of love and compassion for people who desperately need it, to truly love our neighbours. This change can start with you. I encourage you to think of our church building as a place where you can hang out with your friends, and with each other. Reserve the library for a get together with friends. Host an exercise class in the gym – we have a screen and sound system in there.
 Julianne Holt-Lunstad, "The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors," Public Policy & Aging Report, Volume 27, Issue 4, 2017  https://www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic
We have big rooms, big enough for socially distanced get togethers. This is your church, now is the time to start using it, to make it relevant to the community’s emotional needs.
Christ predicted that the temple of his day would fall, and it did. Our secular temples are falling, too, and the people need refuge. Christ said that we are with him anytime we offer help to the sick, to the prisoner, to naked. Now it is time to help the lonely. Let’s open the doors of this temple to them. To be a source of comfort and compassion; to let Christ’s spirit be here for everyone who walks in.