Dear St. Paul’s family,
Alleluia! Christ is risen! We have entered into the great 50 days of Easter, the “queen of seasons” which began at sunset on Easter Eve and ends with the day of Pentecost. Today all is joy and celebration, but we walked through some deep darkness to arrive at the light.
I am certain that I wasn’t alone in shedding tears of grief and shock at the many images on Holy Monday of la Cathédrale de Notre Dame burning. As I watched the spire tumble in flames, I was taken back to September 11, 2001, and the horrific scenes we saw then. In those first hours, it seemed that the cathedral could be entirely destroyed, an incalculable loss to the world’s cultural heritage and especially grievous for the people of France. As secular as western Europe has become, iconic structures such as Notre Dame touch something deep in people’s souls and the prospect of their loss is agonizing.
At the same time as the Notre Dame news was breaking, I learned that both the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem suffered fires within the same 24-hour period. Holy Week became deeper and darker with every new piece of news. The three black churches in Louisiana, destroyed by deliberately set fires during Lent, added to both my sadness and an unsettling sense that faith institutions in every place were being attacked.
As I write, there is better news. Notre Dame is damaged but not destroyed, and many of her treasures were rescued. The fires in New York and Jerusalem were minor, and someone has been arrested for setting the Louisiana fires. Weeping may spend the night but joy, or at least relief, comes in the morning.
In France public sentiment has quickly led to action: the government will pull out all the stops to rebuild, billionaires have offered almost one billion dollars, our own Episcopal dean and bishop in Paris have offered the American Cathedral as a temporary home. And donations are flooding in to help rebuild the churches in Louisiana, donors apparently inspired by the generosity of the French. You may have questions, as I did, about the ease of raising money to rebuild a cathedral versus the seeming impossibility of funding the provision of clean water for the poorest people on earth, but I also admit, selfishly, that it feels good to know that even secular people will step up for a cathedral in need.
In this Easter week we celebrate resurrection. We rejoice in the miracle of new life after death, and that includes the promise of a new chapter for both Notre Dame and the little churches in the south. The fires were indisputably a disaster, but the grace that emerged was seen in the generosity and the coming together of diverse people across the world to save something precious. Our God is a God of unmerited grace, of promises fulfilled, of life abundant that never fails. This is the Easter message, and we give thanks for it. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Your sister in Christ,