For Kirwan Uniting Church's Keep in Touch pew sheet, Easter Day 2019.
“Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.” (Isaiah 64:11)
Just a few weeks ago, I rambled about light pouring into a sacred space through stained glass windows, and particularly mentioned the Rose Windows at Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres and Reims. And now Notre Dame’s windows, North, South and West, are incinerated. Some of you (of us) are old enough to remember the 1969 BBC series, “Civilisation”. The art historian Kenneth Clark famously kicked it off, standing in front of Notre Dame, asking “What is civilisation?” His answer was: “I don’t know. I can’t define it. But I think I can recognise it when I see it, and in fact I’m looking at it now.”
The sadness, bordering on grief even for non-French people, at the destruction of an icon of Western, Christian civilisation, might be a metaphor this Holy Week of the utter despair felt by Christ’s disciples, earthly family and friends as they saw Him hanging on a cross. But Jesus used a similar metaphor when he responded to the Pharisees who had challenged Him after he whipped the money changers out of the Temple. ‘“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.’ (John 2:19-22). And after the Resurrection, those same disciples, facing martyrdom themselves, could now assert with St Paul that “we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands”. (2 Corinthians 5)
There is confident talk that Notre Dame will be rebuilt, and anyone who loves Paris will long to see those towers and that spire looming again over its island in the Seine. But the Resurrection faith which a church building, ancient or contemporary, declares is not contingent on that physical building, it is secured by our risen Builder, eternal in heaven.