As soon as I heard the news on Monday, like everyone else I went to the internet. The live video of the flames rising up from the roof of Notre Dame in Paris was deeply disturbing. Like so many others, I felt an immediate grief. How touching that we would feel wounded when hearing about and seeing the wounding of a great and beautiful cathedral. And it is no accident that we should have felt this way.
For like so many other medieval cathedrals, Notre Dame de Paris is so much more than a building. It is first an offering of great love for our Lord and his physical, earthly mother. It is also an embodiment of faith, a tangible expression of the Body of Christ. This is particularly evident in the way that its floor plan is shaped in homage to his crucified Body. The cathedral therefore represents an ‘incarnation’ of what the book of Revelation calls the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. For he is the One through whom all things were made, and the One through whom all things will come to their End… whether their End be their termination, or their fulfillment and completion.
Believers through the centuries who worship the Incarnate Lord have something in common. It is both true of his followers at the time of his crucifixion, two thousand years ago, and true of us today. As believers, we are never ambivalent about harm brought to the Lord’s Body, and to living symbols of his Body — both harm to the structures in which we worship, and harm to the ‘living temples’ formed by us, his embodied members.
For the Lord, for his followers, and for all members of his Body, death is always a gateway to new life. And, for the cathedral of Notre Dame, death to one phase in the life of this magnificent building will surely become a gateway to a new life ~ both for it, and for her people.
It is precisely with this awareness, I believe, that Peter Koenig has painted, and offered for our spiritual edification, his glorious image of Christ as the Second Moses. Peter Koenig’s vision is similar to that of the original builders of Notre Dame, the same mystical vision permeating John’ Gospel and John’s understanding of Jesus’ Incarnation, life, death and resurrection.
We should notice this: The body that the Son of God embraced, and with which he became one, has become the Body we have embraced, and with which we have become one. The Body of his transformation has become the Body of our own transformation. His death was a critical ‘hinge point’ ~ a hinge point in his and our process of transformation. And so, though our worship on Good Friday liturgy is ostensibly focused on the death of Jesus, it is also profoundly about the renewed lives of others, like us.
At the beginning of Lent, we reminded ourselves of a practical truth. Our journey toward knowing the fire of the Holy Spirit more truly, begins with physical ashes. A sign of death and destruction like ashes, or the Holy Cross, can help us see new life beyond it. May we, like our brothers and sisters in Paris, always remember this.
The above painting is Peter Koenig’s, Christ as the Second Moses, also known as The Rainbow Resurrection (used by permission of the artist). This post is based on my homily for Good Friday, April 19, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking here. Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.
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