A sinkhole opened in front of the Pantheon in Rome last month. It is almost ten square feet wide and just over eight feet deep.
This by itself would be newsworthy. I’ve stood at that very spot several times over the years; if it had happened while tourists were there, they could have become a part of history in an unexpected and potentially tragic way.
What makes this story interesting, however, is what was already in the hole. Archaeologists found seven ancient slabs made of travertine, a kind of sedimentary rock. They were created around the same time the Pantheon was built, from 27 BC to 25 BC. They were designed by Marcus Agrippa, a friend of Emperor Augustus.
“This is further evidence of Rome’s inestimable archaeological riches,” the city’s special superintendent noted.
Stepping from the Eternal City into eternity
Rome is often called the “Eternal City.” This idea was first expressed by the poet Virgil, who called Rome imperium sine fine, “an empire without end.” From her founding to today, the city continues to exert remarkable influence in our history and culture.
Walking her streets is like traveling through time. I remember vividly my first time to experience the Colosseum and the Pantheon, the Forum and Palatine Hill. But my favorite spot to visit is a site few tourists seem to find: the Mamertine Dungeon.
This small, cramped space is the cell where the Apostle Paul was held before he was executed. Here he could look back over a lifetime of faith and ministry, writing to his son in the faith, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6).
Paul knew it would not be long before he would leave this world for the next. But he faced his death not with fear but with anticipation, as he testified earlier: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
One day, every Christian will be able to say the same.
On that day, the “empire without end” will end for us. Or if our Lord returns before we die, it will end for everyone. Our “departure” will take us from this fallen world to God’s perfect paradise. We will step from death into life, from time into eternity.
We will be home, and we will be well.
As the sinkhole in Rome reminds us, the ground beneath our feet in this life is unstable. The best way to navigate our way through this world to the next is to live every day ready for that day.
Paul assured Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). When you look back over this day after it is done, will you be able to say the same?