The famous Tien An Men (Gate of Heavenly Peace) in Peking was shrouded in bamboo scaffolding. The impressive structure, originally erected in 1412, was restored in 1651. But the old gate was showing the wear of time, the brutalizing of wars and revolts, and the ravages of pollution, so more necessary restoration was now under way.

I was in China with my two sisters and brother as part of a two-week pilgrimage to our old home. The pilgrimage completed, we parted company in Hong Kong. My older sister, Rosa, had never traveled through Europe and it was now or never, so we boarded the plane together for Athens.

In Athens, we could see the Parthenon from our hotel room. It was covered with scaffolding. What weather and wars had failed to do in 2,500 years, pollution had accomplished in just a few.

Our next stop was Paris. Jeanette Evans, whom we’ve known since college days, met us, gave us a swift and amazingly comprehensive tour of Paris, and then took us to her and her husband Bob’s home near Versailles. After a night’s sleep, we toured Versailles—that is, we walked through a small part of it.

Versailles, which was completed in 1689 after around 30 years of construction, has to be seen to be believed! In the 1700s the Royal Chapel was added, completed in time for the marriage of Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette. And wouldn’t you know—the chapel was covered with scaffolding.

We drove the 40 miles to Chartres to see its great cathedral, which is one of the finest examples of the French Gothic cathedral. Once more we found scaffolding.

From Paris we flew to London where even a whirlwind tour is better than no tour at all—especially if it includes Westminster Abbey. As we approached the exquisite abbey, so alive with history, what did we see? You’ve already guessed: scaffolding.

Is that the way the world sees the church?

Scarred by wars, buffeted by storms, and eroded by pollution, God is at work restoring his own, repairing, cleaning, purifying. He sees the end from the beginning. He sees us “complete in Christ” The day will come when “we shall be like him.”

But in the meantime, the world sees mainly the scaffolding.

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