As I write this, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France is a smoldering ruin, gutted by fire. What was once a glorious masterpiece of Gothic architecture is now a darkened shell of its former self.
The Cathedral is much more than Christian symbol. By the outpouring of grief across the world it is clear that the monument was also a testimony to human achievement in engineering and design, a benchmark for culture, beauty and magnificence and, perhaps most poignantly, a tangible connection with our human history for the better part of the past millennium. As such, it has now become a tragic reminder of the utter impermanence of all things and, in many ways, offers a fitting symbol of Good Friday and the Pascal Mystery which Christians around the world celebrate during this Holy Week.
The hearts of the disciples were fixed on Jesus not just because of his religious beliefs but because they saw in him the fulfillment of the messianic prophesy. Here was the man, they thought, who had come to repel the Roman occupation, to restore authority to the people of Israel and to lead the people to a new era of prominence and power. The hope for the messiah was that he would establish something strong and lasting in this world.
The tragedy of Good Friday was that as Jesus died on the cross so did the hope and courage of those who had been longing for a new earthly realm. However, Jesus had promised much more than a kingdom built of earth and stone.
The Good part of Good Friday is that it is the gateway to the resurrection. That, without dying, there is no chance for new life. The pascal mystery tells us that in Christ death has no power over us and that life will prevail. Not life as we had imagined but new life in God.
We experience the pascal mystery in many ways during our lives. It helps us make sense out of suffering and loss. It helps us endure hardship with patience and serenity. It helps us forgive when we have been wronged and it helps us to seek reconciliation and forgiveness when we have failed. Sometimes it is important that we experience the darkness of Good Friday so that we can rise to the new life that God wants us to have.
It is likely that Notre Dame will rise again. It will once again become an important symbol and people will vie to for it to be a new showcase of engineering and beauty as well as the chance to display financial generosity. But the bells of the Cathedral will ring hollow, all the effort will be wasted and the money far better spent if we fail to witness the real resurrection which is Christ, the living presence of God for whom this majestic edifice was first built to honor and worship.