Maybe you spent Monday like me, in shock at the sight of the Notre Dame Cathedral filled with flames. Many us have been lucky enough to visit Paris and marvel at its Medieval innovations, like flying buttresses, and find rest in the dappled light from its carefully preserved windows. The press commentary on the accidental fire was an interesting mix of hand-wringing over the loss of art, culture, and ancient craftsmanship. And though the Roman Catholic faithful of Paris were shown in song and prayer, lamenting the destruction of this ancient cathedral, the press stumbled to find the right language to describe the loss of a sacred space that is a spiritual home, a church.
After the smoke cleared more cynical voices have looked forward to rebuilding Notre Dame in a way that treats it as a culturally significant landmark with diminishing emphasis on its religious heritage. Harvard architecture historian Patricio del Real told the Rolling Stone, “The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation.” It is easy to assume that in aggressively secularist France this moment is emblematic of the decline of Christianity in the west.
The Notre Dame Cathedral stands as a reminder of the glories of the High Middle Ages when it was constructed as a center of worship for Christendom. I have always found hope in the past glory days of Christianity, especially while standing in the sturdy walls of the great cathedrals. The Church was, admittedly, deeply entangled in struggles for power and wealth that allowed corruption to infect in the Church but also managed to build awe-inspiring monuments to the glory of God that still silence us with wonder a thousand years later. Are our greatest days behind us now?
Our Bishop Todd Hunter often reminds us that “the Kingdom of God is never threatened.” Not by fires. Not by dwindling faith. Not by persecution. Not by authorities. Not by corruption. The Kingdom of God is never threatened!
With this in mind, we can still lament what has been lost. This Holy Week we take the emotional journey to the cross with Jesus, lamenting the humiliation and death of the one we love. This morning I spent a while studying a photo taken in the Notre Dame of the “Pieta,” the statue of the grieving Mary holding the broken body of her crucified son, surrounded by rubble with a golden cross shining above. Those were the darkest days for Mary and the followers of Jesus, everything that they had hoped for in Jesus died with him and was buried in the grave. Can you imagine the utter despair?
But the kingdom of God is never threatened—not even by death! We know the full story of the glorious undoing of death on Easter morning. And yet it is easy to feel threatened, as though the world is pressing in all sides to crush our hope in the promises of Jesus. If praying for the Persecuted Church during Lent has taught me anything it is that the kingdom of God will spread and flourish despite all opposition.
Think of the three African American Baptist churches maliciously set on fire during recent a ten-day hate crime spree. I marvel at the resilience of the Black Church, faced with generations of opposition from a hostile culture and other Christians who should have counted them as brothers and sisters in Christ and come to their defense. And still in them we have a witness to the truth that the kingdom of God is never threatened.
Every church is called to be a witness to the Kingdom of God in the community where we live and work. In this Holy Week, we join with Christians around the world who worship in secret, in ashes, in humble churches, and in grand cathedrals. We worship the crucified Jesus and we lean toward the resurrection with unwavering hope that because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the kingdom of God is never threatened.