I write this in the days just before what in our spiritual tradition is referred to as the “Easter Tridium”, the commemoration of Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The Tridium marks the final stages and events of the most sacred time of the Christian year - Holy Week.
What a strange and seemingly dissonant time then, to be watching one of the magnificent monuments to Christianity - the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris - burn. The cathedral’s spire toppled to the ground in the blaze and it endured other significant damage. It was a devastating spectacle for the people of Paris and France, but also for a great many Christians throughout the world.
I watched the fire do its work from the comfort of my living room; heard the anguish of those witnessing it in person; rotated among several channels every few minutes for different perspectives. And pondered two particular Christian spiritual considerations.
The more obvious one, which I heard many commentators on those rotating channels offer their audiences, was Resurrection. As the suffering, destruction and death of Maundy (Holy) Thursday and Good Friday inevitably give way to new life on Easter Sunday, so too the suffering, death and destruction of this day would inevitably give way to a rebuilt Notre Dame. Like Jesus, Notre Dame would rise again.
The less obvious Christian spiritual consideration I pondered, the one I don’t recall hearing or reading that day or the day after, was the same four-word phrase that a messenger(s) of God says to those who first reach the empty tomb in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels on Easter morning:
“He is not here.”
The grandeur of Notre Dame, the devotion of those who labored to build it, and its significance to Western culture are undeniable. The sadness over the damage suffered merits only compassion. But still, “He is not here.” Not ultimately.
What the Easter story proclaims, if anything, is that God, God’s love, and the power of God’s ways and call for humanity embodied by Jesus is boundless. It is not limited to any structure, city, nation, ethnicity or political orientation. It is not limited by suffering, destruction and death. It resides wherever and in whomever chooses to also embody and offer those same ways - compassion, forgiveness, kindness, justice, mercy, and love - to the world.
Whether it’s in a Cathedral or on a street corner. In Paris or here.