Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is burning.
I’ve never been to visit it, so I have no particular memory of it that is special to me, and I have no sentimental attachment to it. And yet the sight of the cathedral ablaze, and the news that firefighters may not be able to save it, breaks my heart.
I’ve been to other famous cathedrals, like St. Vitus in Prague, the Notre Dame in Montreal, and St. Peter’s basilica. Sometimes these places get a reputation: they’re too decadent, too tourist-y, and anyway, isn’t it more genuine to find God elsewhere? And yet, I experience a particular peace and ambience in cathedrals I can’t find anywhere else. They are beautiful, silent, reverent places – sometimes in spite of the crowds that throng them. They are a testament to the church’s ability to endure and to guard what is in its keeping, sometimes for a very long time. They are repositories of our earthly Christian heritage and of believers who came before – flaws, failings, and all. To lose Notre Dame, if they cannot save it, is a heavy cultural loss both to believers and to the secular world – a loss not just of objects, though some are of great worth, but also of the intangible environment and ambience that is unique to each particular cathedral, the history entrusted to it.
The short little clip made me tear up. Truly: how poignant and blessed before Easter. We live in a world that is perishing. We live in a world desperate for redemption. We live in the not yet waiting for the will be. We live in a world that is not home, waiting for a home we’ve never seen. Still, for the Christian, the response to all of this is summed up in the image: to sing, even in the dark, and even through tragedy.
It’s striking. No anger. No flitting to cameras to give interviews. Sadness, yes, but not the sort of sadness that has no hope. What I saw in the video was a little community drawing together and choosing – in the face of an event they surely did not expect – to sing in response to a loss.
My pastor last Sunday pointed out that, after Jesus’ death, the disciples were not in on the whole resurrection deal. Unlike us, they didn’t see – or perhaps were blinded to – the meaning of what Jesus told them, the possibility of what God’s kingdom might mean. No one knew. And because our perceptions of Scripture are colored by what we know now, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for Joseph and Nicodemus to wrap the body of Christ and bury it. For the disciples to stare at each other’s swollen eyes across a table where the lack of their dear friend was painfully evident. For Mary, to stare in bewilderment at an empty tomb and experience the sorrow of no longer having a body to mourn.
But we know. And because we know, we don’t have to experience the darkness that the disciples and everyone who knew Jesus surely did: the terror of “what now?” and the sorrow of “never again” and the desperation of “I thought it would be okay.” As they found out, we believers came to Christ knowing the truth: it is okay, there is a plan and a purpose for all things, that the Master is at work always, everywhere, even in darkness, even in the unexpected, in pain, in the moments that we can’t see our way out.
Watching the singing in front of the burning cathedral reminded me of that.
You belong to God’s church, and it stands and will stand under His great power: all over the world, beyond the destruction of buildings and the erosion of time, beyond the ability of our own flaws to destroy it and our lack in making it into what He deserves.
What is His is eternal.