Earlier this week, on Monday, I happened to be driving through Memphis, TN, on my way to visit my father’s gravesite. I had not visited since he died when I was eighteen years old in 1977.
I turned the radio to NPR to catch-up on the news. NPR happened to be reporting the Notre Dame Cathedral fire. I, like many people, had visited Notre Dame several times over the years, most recently a year ago, and felt myself start to choke-up at the thought of such a special place being destroyed. A holy place, one of those thin places where I suspect the prayers of millions if not tens of millions of people offered from across the centuries still swirl about the spires like a mist. Lamentation is the word that comes to mind, anguish at loss, Paris’ loss and my own, as I wended to my father’s grave.
So much in the Gospel according to John is devoted to the action verb, believe, and its relationship to the word, truth. John visibly (pun intended) suggests sight, or vision, as the primary metaphor for the word, believe. Seeing is believing. Or, is it believing is seeing? Indeed, one of the central signs in John’s Gospel is Jesus healing the man born blind. All I know is that I was blind, but now I see, the man testified.
On Easter morning, when Peter and “the other disciple” entered the tomb in response to Mary Magdalene’s testimony, they found Jesus’ burial clothes on the ground. The two men had not believed before now, but upon seeing they believed, John writes.
After Peter and the other disciple left the tomb, Mary Magdalene returned. She encountered a man whom she mistook as the gardener. Mary! he exclaimed, sounding very much like the Jesus she knew and loved. His voice, the way he sounded her name. (The way he sounds your name.) Only, he was dead. But here he is, alive! Mary, too, entered belief.
Later, the disciples, minus Thomas, secreted themselves in the upper room. They locked the doors out of concern for their own safety. Jesus appeared behind the locked doors as though a ghost. He offered them his hands and side to touch physically, and that is when they understood, or entered belief. These men moved from blindness to sight, from the state of disbelief (not mindset) to a world having different rules, that of faith. They believed. Perceived. In their souls. Truth. Not just that this man might be raised from the dead, but also the truth of incarnation, that God condescended to make a mystical bargain on our behalf that we, to this day, still cannot articulate. How does one describe something eternal using finite words? Even twenty centuries later, we perceive, but cannot fully understand. We believe it, but cannot fully articulate.
Finally, we encounter Thomas, in a repeat scenario from the week before: locked doors, ghostly appearance, and the revelation of hole-y hands and side. Thomas declared his unbelief up until the very moment he declared his belief. He, too, moved from darkness to light, was blind, but now could see.
The power of the resurrection is about cataracts, and their removal. Scales falling from the eyes. You enter a dark tomb expecting death, only to find the tomb illuminated with truth. Truth, as in a state of seeing. Or the posture of the soul. Pilate resisted truth, as expressed in his flippantly exclaimed rhetorical question, What is truth? Jesus had already answered the question, I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Truth is not facts, but encounter. Not a state of rightness or wrongness, but the movement from darkness to light. And, there was more light inside the tomb than outside. Alleluia, the Lord is Risen! (Put another way, All I know is that I was blind, but now I see.)
The Holy Week Notre Dame conflagration has been compared to Good Friday, with reconstruction being compared to Easter. Death and resurrection, seemingly apt metaphors. Only – not so much. Easter resurrection is about far more than stone and mortar. It is about us, the human experience of life and death and life again, resurrection. It is about walking into a dark tomb to find it dancing with light. The restoration of Notre Dame, albeit a special place, is about stone upon stone.
And Jesus never held stone in high regard. Not one stone will be left upon another …, he had said while observing the magnificence of the Temple. Even the stone sealing the tomb was cast aside as irrelevant.
When I was a boy, someone gave me one of those cryptic books with drawings of crisscrossing blue and red lines, and a pair of blue tinted glasses. The color lines were scrambled indecipherably, that is until I wore the special glasses. The tint filtered out the blue lines, leaving only the red lines, which formed a drawing that suddenly made sense.
John writes of resurrection that you might believe, that you might wear glasses that unscramble the chaos. That filters out death so you can live. Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!
My prayer, of course, is that Notre Dame will be restored fully, but it will never be resurrected. Restoration will result in a different Notre Dame, and the 21st century fire will fade into its millennial history.
For myself, on this most holy Christian day, I prefer resurrection over restoration. Which means that I, alongside the disciples and Mary, must enter the tomb, lit incandescently. Only this time, It is my funeral clothes that lay in two heaps off to the side.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!