April 18, 2019
"Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here; he has risen!"
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
It was such a shock this week to see pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral in flames. On Monday, we had no idea if anything would be left standing as the news reports played and replayed the scene of the flaming spire crash down into the roof.
As I watched the news reports, I looked through the few pictures I had taken myself. I was only able to visit Notre Dame once - last summer during our very brief layover in Paris on the way to Kenya. I had only taken a few photos there, probably because we were so tired. I had a couple of the front façade, a couple of the rose windows, and one very dark carving. I pulled up the carving to try to figure out why I had taken the photo. It was a carving of Holy Week! I brightened the photo so you could see it - on the left, you can see Jesus in blue, riding on the donkey as people laid their cloaks down along the path. Then a relief of Jesus serving the disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus washing his disciples' feet, and finally, the disciples sleeping in Gethsemane as Jesus prays his prayer of anguish to the Father, "...
Yet not my will but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Of all the elaborate images within the Cathedral, this is the one that spoke the most to me. This is the road Jesus took to the cross. Traveling, eating, washing, sleeping, praying. These are each very mundane tasks, but brought together in this carving was the incredible power of this story. Our God came to earth, that a way might be opened for us to have a restored relationship with the Father.
Would it be possible for this fire in Notre Dame to be a way to remind people of God's incredible gift of the death and resurrection through Jesus on the cross? I wondered and prayed as I watched people gathered on the streets of extremely secular France, Parisians and tourists alike praying, watching the fire, and singing hymns. Although many had turned their back on faith long ago (even generations ago), the Notre Dame fire seemed to light a spark of a hunger for something sacred.
And then in the wee hours of Tuesday morning came one of the first images from inside the building as the fire was extinguished:The cross glowing in the darkness.
One friend posted it with the last words of Joan of Arc: "Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!"
As I watched footage from Paris and from people around the world, I was struck by the impact of the cross on others. People writing from China and India would share this picture and say things like, "I don't believe in God, but you have to admit there is something powerful about this."
The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has great power! It holds the power to change kingdoms and nations, and it has the power to transform our lives as well.
This week I have been holding onto the promises of Isaiah 61. This is the chapter Jesus read to the synagogue when he first started his ministry in Luke 4, and it seems fitting as a promise now as we celebrate the redemption of His resurrection hope. He promises "to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor" (Isaiah 61:3).
As we open our hearts to the exuberant joy of Easter Sunday morning, may the Lord indeed fill us with beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning. May He fan into flame the sparks of faith that have ignited in our community and around the world, and may every knee bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!