This Holy Week, other than sadness at the loss of a beautiful, iconic church, media coverage of the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame has elicited two things from me:
- Hope that the three Baptist churches set aflame in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana will also continue to receive attention and financial support. (I later found out about the relatively smaller fire at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and hope that it receives appropriate attention, too!)
- And wonder at what this has to do with the promise of resurrection.
Honestly, even as the daughter of an architect, I’m not worried about the architecture. I appreciate the ancient beauty of this place, but even more than that, I want to celebrate the God behind all the beauty, whose Spirit outlasts any fire, whose forms should not be mistaken for their substance.
In the gospel of John, the risen Christ meets Mary Magdalene who is weeping in a garden. Mary is so excited to see him, to hear him call her name, that it seems she must also have reached for him, because Jesus says to her, “Do not hold on to me.” Or as one translation puts it, “Do not cling to me.” It’s Jesus’ way of helping her let go of his earthly form, so that she might discover that he lives in an entirely new way.
Now, I know Notre Dame will be rebuilt – and I can imagine at great expense. I understand that it’s a French national monument, that its form has lasted for centuries. But I wonder how, in the rubble of the cathedral, all the artifacts removed, the Spirit of the risen Christ might be taking new shape, and in forms that may not require the same expense. How might the fire allow faithful people to hold on, not to the forms of the church, or to the relics, but to God in the midst of it all?
I’ve also thought about how I would feel if it were Western’s building, heaven forbid. I would be heartbroken, whether it was an accident or arson. We would need some time to grieve and to discern what shapes and forms our worshiping space. But I hope that we would cling to the deeper power that unites us as a church, the love that nothing can separate us from – not a fire, not a tomb, not anything in all creation. May it be so for Notre Dame, for the churches in St. Landry Parish, even for any suffering from the Al-Aqsa fire.
I look forward to seeing you Sunday as we celebrate the Resurrection!