It’s undoubtedly been a Holy Week to remember. In addition to the usual services, especially those on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday plus Easter Vigil services that will take place tonight, the week has certainly been a rocky one.
On Palm Sunday, a fire in the crypt of the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine in New York broke out just after the 9:00 am service. The 11:00 service was moved outdoors as fire crews made sure the fire was out, and investigators made ready to begin their duties.
On Monday, a fire near the Marwani Prayer Room at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, experienced a small fire. It was quickly extinguished and without injuries or damage. But the world didn’t hear a lot about this fire, mainly because another landmark claimed the world’s attention.
At nearly the same time as the Al-Aqsa mosque fire began, the world learned that the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris began to burn in the upper regions of the vaulting, roof, and scaffolding over the nave. It blazed for about nine hours before it could be extinguished, and crowds stood on the banks of the Seine praying, singing, and grieving for the damage to this 860-year-old icon. When the spire fell, it was like watching the radio tower on top of one of the World Trade Center buildings fall to the ground on 9/11. For the people of France, it must have felt very much like what the people of New York experienced on that date.
Many news channels followed the fire throughout the evening and the night, and finally, announced that the fire had been brought under control and, was out. Later it was revealed that the grand organ, which is a magnificent instrument, had not been damaged by fire but instead was dusty but would be inspected for water damage. The choir organ was damaged severely, but there were things saved. Brave people ran into the smoky interior to grab what they could of the artworks and the vessels used for Holy Communion. Even the legendary crown of thorns was saved. According to reports, the three stained-glass rose windows were intact, and relics and paintings removed during the fire were safe. The altar area was sooty but undamaged. A roof can be repaired, organs can be restored, and paintings and relics cleaned, but replacing the wood structure and lead covering of the roof may never be exactly the same.
Watching the fire via the internet, I thought about how ironic in the sense of these fires breaking out at the beginning of Holy Week, a time when the Cathedral would probably be busy as usual for Holy Week services. The Episcopal Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe was swift to offer “… [A]ny hospitality that would be of help …”* It seems to me that that is another great sign that the Body of Christ and other faiths can work together tragedy strikes. The offer is, as I see it, the true church at work.
I think about Good Friday, and I thought to myself that this is a cross Notre Dame was bearing at that moment in time. This was their Golgotha that they must endure, just as Christ had to suffer the cross as the women and the beloved disciple watched helplessly. Looking at the damage in pictures posted in the news and online, it’s possible to see the skeleton of what once was a magnificent roofline, now a forest of blackened and burnt timbers, and with holes that must be quickly tended to prevent further damage to the stonework of the vault and the church below.
The fire also made me think of the Fire of Creation, the new fire that we light at the Easter Vigil. The church is dark, and suddenly the light rises, providing living fire from which the baptismal candle and others can be lit in celebration of the Christ who rose from the tomb and into the light once again.
I am sure, as sure as I am of the resurrection of Christ, Notre Dame will once again be restored to beauty and functionality. Jesus spoke of his own death and resurrection when speaking of the destruction of the Temple but being rebuilt in three days (John 2:19), but the people didn’t realize that, even those closest to him. Even after they were told of the resurrection by the women, they did not believe it until they came and saw. Maybe in looking at the damage to Notre Dame, it will be a good lesson for us to see it in its damaged state. It is, after all, a building, a cathedral owned by the nation of France, and administered by the Roman Catholic Church. The remains of Notre Dame will be with us, perhaps for decades, but we have faith that it will be restored to its form and function even if not precisely the same as it was.
We see the resurrection of Jesus as an affirmation of our own resurrection. It may not come in three days as his did, but we believe it will come. For the people of Notre Dame, and for us, the fires of destruction and the fires of creation linger in our hearts and make us more aware of our need to work, pray, and worship together so God will be glorified, as the original architects and laborers hoped for Notre Dame.
May you have a blessed and happy Easter. God bless.
*Quoted in Schjonberg, Mary Frances, Episcopalians remember, reflect, pray, for Notre Dame Cathedral found on Episcopal News Service, April 16, 2019.
Image: Cattedrale di Notre Dame, La cattedrale di Notre dame durante l’incendio avvenuto il 15 marzo 2019. Author: A Tutto Wiki. Found on Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also estate manager and administrative assistant for Dominic, Phoebe, and Gandhi.