Reflections on the receding flames at Notre Dame
Maybe as the years wear on, I will forget the place I stood when a coworker held her phone up at eye level so I could see the live image of the great French cathedral engulfed in flames. Maybe I won’t easily call to mind the date, April 15, sure to be forever shrouded in ignominy for the people of France and the People of God.
But I pray that I do remember what I felt when I saw that image. Or rather, what I tried so hard not to feel.
It felt like some prophetic fiction from a 1970’s Walker Percy novel, not something that could actually be happening in the real world, today, now. More than another church fire, the blaze at Notre Dame is something like an uninvited glimpse into cosmic conflict, as if the ongoing battle between Heaven and Hell had torn a gash in the universe and, for one horrible, bone-chilling moment, spilled into our world.
So, as I watched the devoured spire collapse into a plume of smoke, the easiest thing to do was to let my eyes glaze over. Better that than deal with the significance of it. Better that then let my own heart be consumed by sorrow and confusion.
…Even on this dark day, Christ is our Light.
The world over grieves and feels the irreversible loss of one of our human family’s shared treasures. The art, the architecture, the stained glass windows, the culture … all, perhaps, lost. When the ash settles we will know what is left. But it does not take a man of faith to feel that this is something to weep over.
But how much more does the Body of Christ mourn today, knowing that Notre Dame is beautiful for more than just its spires and windows and gargoyles — that it is a symbol of God’s presence among us, a beacon of hope for a world that is often tempted to despair, a sanctuary for souls, a sign of our Homeland. We also weep as the House of God burns, but our tears, I dare say, taste bitterer and fall heavier.
Whatever the cause of this fire, it really doesn’t matter. It is a harrowing sight to watch the spire of a cathedral fall in flames. It left me with the eerie feeling of knowing that you are being watched and laughed at by someone, somewhere. “This is your hour, the time for the power of darkness,” Jesus said in yesterday’s Passion reading — and how true it feels today.
My friends, even on this dark day, Christ is our Light. We are rightly devastated to see Notre Dame burning, but we should also remember that the churches we know and love so much are meant to be a foretaste of Heaven, where the dwelling of God will be with us, and
He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:3–4).
Today, even in our disbelief and sorrow, we can cling to the promises of God. We can recall that this Holy Week is about God’s salvation and that that salvation came by way of Christ’s self-sacrifice unto death. We can stand with John and Mary at the foot of the cross, waiting in the darkness of unknowing, not seeking to understand but rather to trust that that it is the fire of God’s love that will win the day.
Perhaps as we pray for Notre Dame and for our suffering Church, we would do well to meditate on the Psalm from today’s liturgical readings:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom should I fear? …
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord with courage;
Be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord
- (Psalm 27).
Sarah Spangenberg is a member of Saint Mark’s Young Adults. She is completing a Masters of Arts in Theology and works as alliance coordinator for the Minnesota Alliance for Ethical Healthcare.