the church will live on
I wept for Notre-Dame de Paris.
I have no shame in that. I joined my mourning with millions across the world as I saw the first picture from a passer-by on the streets of Paris, panicked as they saw the spire engulfed.
Like many, I took to social media in a panic.
Like many, I tried to consume as much information as I could.
I was burdened along the way with knowledge regarding how fire moves, and the estimation of how extensive the damage would be if the fire reached point A, then B, then C.
Burdened, further, with an understanding of the architecture of the Cathedral... how a wooden roof was covered by lead sheets to waterproof it... and if the wood underneath was burning, no amount of water sprayed on it by the firemen below would reach it.
Not until the lead melted, of course.
But the mechanics of the fire are unimportant, now. As the fire progressed, my emotions, and the emotions of many, went on quite the roller coaster ride.
The cathedral in all her glory was always a sight to behold, and as the fire burned - first around the spire, then along the entire course of the roof - thoughts of her total destruction were on our minds. And what would come with her total destruction? A loss for France, certainly. A loss for civilization, surely.
When the spire collapsed (and took some of the roof with it), the rest of the roof began to collapse, too.
There's no putting words to the surety with which we felt Notre-Dame de Paris would collapse after that. After the roof gave way, we 'knew' her treasures would never again see the light of day.
We 'knew' her Rose Windows were lost.
We 'knew' the Crown of Thorns, a relic of relics that had been stored there and triumphantly displayed for centuries, was lost.
We 'knew' the church was dead already. World leaders seemed to acknowledge the same... when the roof gave way, leaders couldn't say fast enough:
"We will rebuild."
I didn't want to 'rebuild' Notre-Dame de Paris. I didn't want her to join a crowded field of cathedrals marred by war damage or simple neglect that had become grotesque blends of the modern and medieval architectural styles. Those cathedrals were not 'rebuilt.' New ones were built where the old ones died, and the same name was slapped on them.
I was angry, when the roof collapsed. I wasn't just angry at the neglect that was the likely source of the fire (and is still the working theory, as of the writing of this post), though I certainly have some stored up for that; I was angry at the rush to make the loss of something so spiritually enriching and culturally important political.
President Trump offered something about the possibility of water-tanker planes dropping water on the fire, and at first, reporters agreed, asking the same question. Chris Cuomo, on CNN, wondered aloud (then asked a reporter in France) why water wasn't being dropped aerially.
French fire services responded publicly that the dropping of water on the structure might damage it more than the fire. Water is heavy, after all.
There was no harm in wondering aloud why different forms of fire suppression weren't being used to put out a fire that had international attention, but it was seized on to make political points; to pretend that the president had to be taken down a few notches because his idea was practicable.
In a time of unimaginable loss for the world, some reporters couldn't help but be petty and partisan.
My anger for those reporters was short-lived,
though, as the fire took a turn.
For the better.
Yes, the roof collapsed, but as the lead sheets that covered the wooden roof melted, as the wood began to give way, the firefighters' water began to work... and work well. Yes, as the sunset became nightfall, the extent of how much damage there truly was became all-too-apparent as we saw the fire still burning through exploded windows.
Firefighters were inside as the fire burned, and we got our first glimpse into the extent of the destruction... and there was reason to hope.
Yes, the wooden roof had collapsed, and yes, part of the stone roof had collapsed, but most of it remained... and at the far end of that picture, you can see the cross, right?
The altar remains.
The pews were still mostly there. The wooden pulpit to the right was still there. The candles in the candelabras were unmelted...
There was hope for Notre-Dame yet... and that came after we had given up on hope. When we were already imagining a post-Notre-Dame world.
Conflicting reports came out of rescued art and rescued relics. Some said the famed Rose Windows had exploded, too, some said they survived. Some said the Crown of Thorns was lost, some said a priest had braved the fires to rescue it. We weren't sure. I slept, exhausted from the news of the day, from the emotional toll it had taken.
Joy cometh in the morning, as the Scripture says.
The tale of the priest braving the fires to rescue the Crown of Thorns had been real.
Father Jean-March Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, rushed into the blazing building to save it and the Blessed Sacrament. I cannot express my gratitude enough for this act. The Church owes him so much.
That's not the only piece of good news.
The Rose Windows had not exploded.
All three had apparently survived. These are windows from the 13th Century. They are a legacy of ages past. That they survived... it still takes my breath away.
You can see in this picture the extent of debris on the floor... the Grand Organ, a product of the 1730s (expanded in the 19th century) was feared lost, too, but according to the Archbishop, it was just a bit dirty from debris and ash, but escaped
Of course, as a minister,
I can't help but reflect on our Christian story.
The Church, the Big-C-worldwide-little-c-catholic communion of faithful people bound together by faithful people who believe in the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is not bound up in a building.
The Church cares when her houses of worship are vandalized or destroyed, but our faith is not shaken by such events. In the wake of the fire at Notre-Dame, there were signs that faith strengthened. The crowds gathered at the barricades to sing hymns of praise... they prayed in the streets for the church and the Church... they helped each other, they loved each other, and they clung to their God for comfort all the more.
When hope seemed lost in the building, hope in Him who cares for us never faltered.
But I have to imagine myself in the shoes of those who walked with our Lord some two thousand years ago, as they saw Him led to slaughter, as they heard of His death, or witnessed it themselves... hope surely must've taken a heavy blow. As I read how the disciples didn't believe the women excitedly sharing the new of an empty tomb and a risen Christ, I am bold to say that hope died for many when Jesus did.
But after three days of despair, joy came in the morning.
When I read of the relics that were saved, I wept in joy. Hope that had died lived again.
I can only imagine that my joy would've been immeasurable if the Lord with whom I walked was with me again in the resurrection. When hope that had died lived again.
I thought Notre-Dame de Paris was dead, and I had no desire for a 'rebuilding' of what could not be rebuilt. But she is alive, still. Just damaged. And she can be resurrected.