A Reflection on Notre Dame at our Holy Tuesday Service
Holy Tuesday 2019
Year C, 2019
The Rev. Miles Brandon
I am certain we all shared a deep sadness yesterday as we heard news or even watched on our TV’s and phones Notre Dame on fire…great balls of flame protruding from the roof top…seeking to devour such a sacred place of devotion and connection, a place where people are drawn from around the world to feel connected to something larger than themselves, to be inspired by the art and architecture, to feel the presence of the communion of saints through time and space, and most of all a place to commune with the divine. Notre Dame is indeed a world wonder…a monument to human ingenuity and hard work…and a monument, most of all, to our God of love, who like Notre Dame but only much more so, stands at the heart of all of our communities…Paris…Central Texas…and everywhere in between, through time, offering peace and connection…love and belonging. Watching the central spire whose intention, like the vaulted ceilings from inside, is to draw our hearts and minds heavenward…watching that spire collapse onto the roof…was for me deeply unsettling and terrifying. And watching the tears on the faces of onlookers, as they stood speechless, gazing upon such a loss, was even more so utterly heart-breaking. My heart went out to our Catholic brothers and sisters in particular, and I imagined the even deeper sadness I might be experiencing if it was Canterbury or the York Minster or our own National Cathedral…places of special devotion and somewhat regular pilgrimage in my own life…sacred spaces where I have felt profoundly connected to my faith…deeply connected to our particular history as Episcopalians…and spaces where I have personally felt intimately connected to God in Christ, as I prayed in them.
I am profoundly grateful for the first responders who kept the building from collapsing and so grateful that no human life was lost. I consider it a true miracle, a work of God, that the fire began at the end of the day as the last visitors were being ushered out. And I am praying for all involved and all who are heartbroken…just beginning with the people of Paris.
But, today, I personally woke to what I would describe as more mixed feelings…the sadness and vulnerability remains…but there is something else that is welling up in me…and I will call it hope. For as Jesus says in our Gospel lesson on this Holy Tuesday, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
If Notre Dame caught fire on any other week…any week other than Holy Week…it might just be sad…maybe even for some a symbol of the decline that the Body of Christ, the church universal, is suffering all over this world…most especially in the western world…in both influence and number. But not on this week…on this week I see something different. On Easter Sunday, this Sunday, we will begin our services with fire…with the lighting of our Christ Candle. And, that fire does not represent destruction…it represents life…for whenever we bring flame to wick in our church, whether to a single candle or a hundred, it is lit to remind us that God in Jesus is entirely present filling us with the flame of his Holy Spirit, which is the well of life…eternal and everlasting life, a life born from the ashes and loss and suffering we experience even now…and most of all born out of our own death. Easter begins at the cross…Jesus must first suffer before he is glorified…and so it is for us. So it is for us…at the moment of our own passing from this life into the next. So it is for us…even now…as we die to self to love others well…as we die to sin and are born anew, more and more, into the fruits of the Spirit…fruit that brings abundant life into our world right now…for us and for those who have been entrusted to our care. The grain…Jesus and you and me…for we are all the grains of which Jesus speaks…only if the grain falls to the earth, is buried in the ground, dies to what it is…can its full potential be truly born…come out of the ground and bear much fruit.
I heard an interview this morning on the Texas Standard with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Beaumont, Texas. And he mentioned that Notre Dame means, of course, Our Lady…Mary…the mother of Jesus. He said that one of the many gifts that Our Lady provides really the whole world, whether lovers of God or lovers of beautiful things, is that she draws us together…for more people visit Notre Dame than even the Eiffel Tower. How wonderfully and powerfully she has done this while fully alive in all of her glory sitting at the center, the heart, of one of the great cities of the world. And, my thought…and I believe this is what the bishop was suggesting…was how much more she will bring us together in her death. For, in a moment in time yesterday, the world was joined together in mourning, and today the world is joined together with the opportunity to participate in a resurrection. I can’t think of a greater gift that Our Lady, and the son she birthed into our world, could provide. For “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
As the world watched a cathedral on fire, they were also reminded over and over that it is Holy Week…not just any other week…but Holy Week. I imagine the words Holy Week and Easter have never been said out loud more on cable news than they were yesterday! Here, at the very beginning of our journey to the cross and then on to the Empty tomb…on this Holy Week, Our Lady reminded us what it is really all about. Jesus’ death…his life given for the life of the world.
Perhaps this is a time of God’s own making to remind the world about Easter…God’s proclamation that love is stronger even than death…that we all belong to God and each other…that in Jesus’ death and resurrection the whole world is reconciled to God and each other…that now is the time to for the church, for you and me, to do likewise…to die to self…and be reborn into a resurrected people who bear much fruit…our own lives given together for the life of the world. Amen.