Notre Dame’s fire prepared me for Easter with an exquisite image …
On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb. —John 20:1
Like many people, when I first received the news that Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire, I feared the worst. Having visited Note Dame and other gothic churches and cathedrals, I knew how much wood is found in those seemingly indestructible buildings and how common church fires were in the Middle Ages. But even knowledge and historical perspective didn’t prepare me for the sight of the spire collapsing into the nave and the images of firefighters pouring thousands of gallons of water on the seemingly inextinguishable flames.
Once the flames were extinguished and the firefighters were able to enter the ravaged building, sharing the first images of the destruction, my heart sank, imagining the loss of historical works of art and the holy relics housed in the cathedral. But then, the now-iconic image appeared: Beyond the rubble and charred remains of roof beams, the high altar and pieta with the gilded cross standing out—shining—in the darkness.
As I reflected on the fire and that image, I was struck by what a powerful Easter image it was.
When we think of the experience of Jesus’ mother, friends, and followers during that first Holy Week, we can imagine the absolute devastation they must have felt. Thinking of this man whom they loved being abandoned and abused, a victim of those hell-bent on protecting their power, it must have seemed as if all the powers of darkness and evil had undone all the Jesus had said and done in his years of ministry.
But then, after he was placed in the tomb and the dust settled, a new reality set in. He was gone. What would happen next? What was left for them?
The story wasn’t finished, however. In the light of that first Easter morning, what had been lost was not only re-discovered, it was transformed. The darkness was vanquished and everything was changed as the light of the Risen Lord shone forth, like that cross in the charred remains of “Our Lady’s” church.
The light of that Easter morning was the dawn of a new era of freedom for humanity and the fulfillment of promises. This is why Henri Nouwen could reflect,
The resurrection of Jesus was a hidden event. Jesus didn’t rise form the grave to baffle his opponents, to make a victory statement, or to prove to those who crucified him that he was right after all. Jesus rose as a sign to those who loved him and followed him that God’s divine love is stronger than death. To the women and men who committed themselves to him, he revealed that his mission had been fulfilled. To those who shared in his ministry, he gave the sacred task to call all people into the new life within him.
For those who are able to look with the eyes of faith, the promise of Easter pervades all of life, even when it seems that darkness and death will prevail. Easter defines who we are as followers of Jesus, confident the new life offered to us by the Risen Savior.
It will take time for Notre Dame to be rebuilt. While it is impossible to go back and replace what was lost, a new generations of artisans and architects will beautify that sacred space, building on what came before, even as they create something new.
As we will see in the coming weeks of the Easter Season, this same dynamic was at work as the Apostles and those early Christians tried to make sense of all that happened during that first Holy Week and Easter day. But they allowed themselves to be guided and formed by their experience of the Risen One. They, in turn, shared the light that was within them, inspiring new generations of believers, down to our own time.
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!”
How have you experienced the Risen Lord bringing light and peace into your life?
What have you lost or let go of that has been restored to you in new and unimagined ways?
Reflect on your experiences during Lent and the renewal of your baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. How have you grown as a disciple of Jesus?
Words of Wisdom: “We pay more attention to dying than to death. We’re more concerned to get over the act of dying than to overcome death. Socrates mastered the art of dying; Christ overcame death as the last enemy. There is a real difference between the two things; the one is within the scope of human possibilities, the other means resurrection. It’s not from ars moriendi, the art of dying, but from the resurrection of Christ, that a new and purifying wind can blow through our present world … To live in the light of resurrection—that is what Easter means.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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