Dear Christian friends,
On Tuesday morning, as the TV showed scenes of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral collapsing in flames, I couldn’t help reflecting, as perhaps you did, that of all the weeks for this tragedy to occur, Holy Week is the most poignant.
As Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the 850 year-old cathedral within 5 years, it reminded me of the trial of Jesus in Jerusalem, when his accusers said, ‘We heard him say he would tear down this temple that we built. He also claimed that in three days he would build another one without any help.’ To which St Mark adds wryly, ‘But even then they did not agree on what they said.’ (Mk 14:58–59 CEV)
France will debate the rebuilding of Notre Dame, and we will soon find out whether the President can keep his vow. Even though it has long been one of the most secular countries in Europe, the physical loss of such a church building is still a potent strike at the nation’s identity. Few people attend there to worship, but millions gawk and gape at its wonders. It is deeply ironic that in the 21st century a cathedral once at the heart of France’s spiritual life is now a cultural and national icon that must be preserved.
The Jerusalem temple, in Jesus’ day the third of its kind, was an even more potent symbol of a nation’s heart. It was God’s seat on earth. Every male adult Jew needed to attend at least once, wherever in the world he lived. The loss of the temple was the destruction of the nation, and not so many years after Jesus’ death it was indeed destroyed beyond restoration and the people scattered. Visitors today can still see the ancient rubble strewn around the empty foundations.
While visitors can go there to see the remains of the temple, what they won’t find in Jerusalem is the body of Jesus. St Mark says that after his death, when women went to embalm his body, they met a young man who said, ‘Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, who was nailed to a cross. God has raised him to life, and he isn’t here. You can see the place where they put his body.’ (Mk 16:6 CEV)
Since the fire in Paris this week, people have applauded the courageous Parisian fire chief who quickly thought to remove the sacred relic of a piece of the wood from Jesus’ cross as the cathedral burnt around him. His action is symbolic that not everything is lost and through determined action the cathedral may yet spring back to life. As a protestant, and a Lutheran, I guess I’m not that impressed by the relic he saved, although I am by his bravery. What impresses me far more, and overwhelms me, is that in the devastation of Good Friday, when God’s Son lay dead in the grave, utterly destroyed by the inferno of human greed, ambition, sin, and the plans of the devil, God thought to raise him from the dead, just as he had promised he would.
There’s an old saying that hope springs eternal. I think that has its roots in Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing can dampen our hope in him, whatever artefacts and traditions we lose, however hard such losses may strike at our hearts. We are confident, and in the new life God has given us, because, like Jesus, we too are raised from the dead, to follow him in life now, and beyond that into eternity.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor John Henderson
Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand
Adelaide, Maundy Thursday, 18th April 2019
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