We gather to worship this morning to celebrate the culmination of the story of Jesus’s life on earth. We’ve gathered over the last weeks to explore the ultimate journey of sacrifice and pain. We’ve watched the Teacher, Jesus, making his way to the Cross. We’ve watched his students, the twelve, the women, and others in the deepest lessons of life—bearing witness and unable to help.
In our gatherings and contemplations, we’ve borne witness to the worst torture, torment, and death. We’ve witnessed betrayal, denial, doubt, and heartache. We’ve witnessed strong faith and determination. We’ve witnessed deep moments of weakness and fear. We’ve witnessed love and judgement and hate. We’ve witnessed moments when all felt forsaken.
It culminates in this moment of loss. This moment at the tomb. The worst has been piled on and piled and piled. Loss of friends, loss of life. Uncertainty for what comes next, but it seems the end has come and there is nothing left to do by pick up the pieces and move forward.
The women gather together in a quiet moment to honor the dead, Jesus, with spices and herbs. It is the very beginning of letting go, and closure. And then they come upon the broken tomb. Imagine the initial horror that the drama isn’t over, but the worst is continuing. Women who bore witness on the cross and now witness possible desecration of the tomb and body of Jesus..
And then the angels appear.
Then, the angels appear.
The word is spread. Jesus is risen from death…as promised. There is a resurrection, hope and love. A new faith blossoming: Christianity.
As I close my words this morning, I feel that I would be remiss if I did not bring up the destruction of Notre Dame on this Holy Week. First and foremost it is a fellow place of worship.
With you, I watched the fires burn through the Cathedral and thought of the people of the Church. I thought of those who had planned to celebrate Holy Week and Easter at Notre Dame. A people losing their church whether locals or visitors. The priest losing his place of worship; his home of worship. The loss of a resting place for the dead.
It makes one wonder how this could happen. It makes one contemplate the Church and the sacredness of a place. Like ours, it is a church with history—different, but both holders of history. I think of the call of the bells from her towers to commemorate history and change. The literary history. I think of Victor Hugo who saved Notre Dame from neglect in the early 1800’s. He is a reminder of the power of one person to do good—one person. One man who simply wrote a book. It is not the Hunchback of Notre Dame in French, but Notre Dame de Paris. Notre Dame of Paris. The novel’s central character is the cathedral. One person can make a difference. It is because of him that the cathedral is what it was on Monday morning.
The museum. The art and music. The organ. The architectural wonder. Flying buttresses and wonders in stained glass. The bells. The relics Notre Dame held: perhaps a piece of the crown of thorns, a piece of the cross, lockets of Mary’s hair. Relics of saints.
The sanctuary aspect. A safe haven for the lost. Most of all a place of worship and wonder. A place where people come together to worship God, the divine, sacredness. A place to gather, refill the well, and go forth to spread good. A gathering place of community and connection.
All of this…lost. I thought of the grief and pain. Loss and disbelief. Feelings of being forsaken. All the feelings we witness in the last weeks before Easter through watching the journey of Jesus. We know this loss, especially at this time. This is also not our first loss like this…loss of other cathedrals, churches, and holy spaces. I thought of recent churches in smaller communities experiencing their own loss and loss of place and loss of life. [Just this morning on the way here, I listen to a news report of destroyed Churches and loss of life. Today. On Easter morning.]
I think the pain and dissonance surrounding religions. The judgement and condemnation. Acts of horror out of judgement. My deepest comfort though watching the fires rage was learning that it was not a deliberate attack. An accident. Terrible, but an accident.
I found these words of comfort from Becky Clark (director of Cathedral and church buildings in England: I feel it applies not only to Notre Dame, but other sacred places that have experienced loss. Not simply places or religious places, but the bigger sense of the word: Cathedral. Cathedral…:
“The fire and the destruction is had caused are heartbreaking. We stand together in prayer with all who love Notre Dame; it’s worshipping community, those who have visited, and this who only know it from afar. We understand their sense of loss, and the uplifting connection people feel with cathedrals and church the world over.
“But no matter the destruction, the spirit of what is means to be a cathedral can and does survive such catastrophes. In England the spire at Lincoln collapsed in the 1500s, St Pauls was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and Coventry was destroyed by bombs. All have been rebuilt, sometimes taking on new forms, to stand as reminders of eternity and resurrection which are the foundation of the Christian faith.”
But what I found most comforting were the hymns being sung on the streets of Paris. The people coming together to bear witness in community—not only Christians, but everyone in solidarity and grief. This, to me, stands as the reminder of eternity and resurrection which are the foundation of the Christian faith.
When we experience loss, it is our reactions that creates suffering. We can cling to anger and hate and grief and hide behind judgement. Things that divide us. Separate us.
Or we can come together. We can sing hymns and pray. We can bring spices to the tomb and pray. Things that bring us close together and closer to God.
Sometimes there is resurrection.
Sometimes there is not.
We are Christians. We understand loss and sacrifice.
What rises from the ashes? What rises from the tomb?
Hope and faith. Hope and faith. People. People gathering together. A new faith blossoming in humanity, in God, in Jesus.
Words of Victor Hugo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame: “Spira. Spera.” Breathe. Hope.