Recent times haven’t been good for church buildings. Of course, the big one this past week was how the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire, but that wasn’t the only one, not even this week. I read that there was a mosque in Jerusalem burning at the same time, and there were those arson cases going around the United States, and even locally in BC we’ve had several church fires ranging from small blazes to catastrophic disasters. And even this morning I read about the bombings in Sri Lanka and the climbing death toll that caused. I personally haven’t been to any of these places listed, but I was sad to hear about them nonetheless. It is always sad when we see the destruction of something so sacred, so beloved, so central to our identities as people of faith.
Of course, you’d imagine that people talked about the Notre Dame Cathedral the most. It was prominent in the news and everywhere on the internet. People were talking about the beauty destroyed, the history lost, and the symbol of the church just being taken away by flames and smoke. And of course, now we know just exactly who on our friends lists have actually been there as everyone is posting their selfies all over social media as a tribute. The French president is hoping that it will be rebuilt in 5 years, just in time for the Olympics that they’ll be hosting in 2024, but it seems like he is the only one that thinks that is even remotely doable. And to make matters worse, my in-laws are leaving this Friday for a European trip and the Cathedral was their first planned stop. Missed it by that much.
Through it all, I kept thinking, man what a Holy Week this is turning out to be, surrounded by the pain, disappointment, in some cases anguish around these events. And I also kept thinking, there has to be a sermon in there somewhere. And will I be able to mention the fact that the 4th Avengers movie in just a few short days?
Well, I’m sad to say, I won’t be talking about the Avengers (except for just that), because the emotions running rampant around the sense of loss and hurt that came with these church fires that I saw and read about was just too real. It hit close to home because I think all of us know that feeling of loss and brokenness. And when it happens in the church, the faithful sometimes are shaken the hardest. It’s like we feel these things aren’t supposed to happen, not to us, at least. The church is a place that should be free of that pain and brokenness so people can be comforted by its consistent peace and blessing. It’s like we feel like the church should be exempt from the hardships and realities of the world so we can find sanctuary and security within its walls. It’s like we feel if the church isn’t free from the dangers of the world then how on earth can we ever trust it to protect and save us? “We’re children of Abraham, and we’ve never been slaves to anyone” the Israelites said. It’s like we believe that our heritage as God’s people is supposed to shield us from all the bad things that life can throw at us.
So that brings us to today, this Easter Sunday. Today we sing and shout Alleluia, we re-adorn the chancel with the candles and paraments, we gather in joy and thanksgiving and have food waiting for us downstairs, we think yeah, this is the kind of church we can get behind. This day on which we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, his glorious defeat over death, the triumph of good over evil, we are like yeah we can feel safe with this victorious God. Today, on this high holy day of the church year, this day that we can safely say that we’re the good guys and we have an awesome God on our side, this day that we see the new life that has been given to us and we’re sitting on top of the world, maybe thinking we’re untouchable and nothing can bring us down from this high. But then these past few weeks happens. All the news of the church fires that we heard and read about happens. Death happens.
But that is life, right? Where there is life, there is death. Nothing last forever. Not even really really old churches. Not even our seemingly euphoric highs. Not even the one whom we believed to be the Messiah, the one to save us all. Yeah, that guy. He died and with him went a lot of hopes and dreams. And he didn’t just die like a natural death, but he was killed at the hands of those who couldn’t accept his message. He was murdered by those who didn’t want his way of life impeding on their privilege and prestige. He was forced out of the realm of the living by those who were so angry at him and his ideas of grace and mercy that they hated him literally to death. He lost and his enemies won.
That sounds a lot worse than a couple buildings burning, doesn’t it? But this destruction, this brokenness, this pain, it’s all the same. It is the same disappointment of something not lasting forever that shakes us up, it is the same sinking gut feeling when you see hopes and dreams shatter that hits us right in the feels, it is the same heart wrenching pain that entombs us in darkness and death, holds us there, unable to see the light of day. Maybe this sounds a bit dramatic over some buildings, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many out there were seriously mourning the loss of these structures.
But, the good news with the buildings is that they can be rebuilt. It won’t be the same, yes, but they will stand again. The materials might be different but the symbol of the building remains the same. The craftsmanship and architecture might be changed but the history will still be there. The aesthetic might not be what it once was, but the beauty of it will remain always.
So as with Jesus, the pain and hurt inflicted on him didn’t stick. All the anger and hatred directed at him, all the ill-will and hard feelings, all the damage and brokenness they wanted him to feel, it didn’t last. The tomb of death that they wanted to imprison him in couldn’t hold him as the stone was pushed aside by the powerful love of God, leaving the pit empty. He is not here, but he is risen. See, this is what Holy Week is about. This is Easter. This is who we are as God’s children, a people who aren’t shielded from the hurts and pains of the world, but a people who know them all too well, likely first hand and multiple times, but through it all are brought back up, rebuilt and redeemed by God’s love, grace, and mercy, ready to face another day. Nothing lasts forever. But when it all ends, there is resurrection, leaving our tombs of disappointment and despair and anguish empty.
That is God’s promise to us. That is God’s gift. That is God moving and working and healing in and through and all around us. That while along the way we may face snags, we perhaps will hit bumps, we might even fall into catastrophic destruction, but we know that our God is with us and holds us and redeems us with a love that not even death can keep down.
I’m not saying that the buildings that burned down isn’t sad, of course not, it is sad. I’m not saying that Jesus dying was ok, it isn’t and it was unjust and evil. I’m not saying that we all need to face hardship and death and perhaps the destruction of our own church building to know fully God’s love, no, hardship and death are difficult and losing this building and especially this mural would be awful. But what I’m saying that is where we hurt the most is where we’ll see God’s love for us the most. Those places where it is dark and empty is where we see God’s light and presence more clearly. When we are most broken and deflated is when we’ll see and feel God holding us up, rebuilding us, and bringing to us new life in the resurrection of Christ.
So the world can throw at us what it will. It won’t change God’s love for me, you, any one of us, but it will help us to grow stronger in faith and love and knowing that God is with us through Jesus our resurrected Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This Easter, may we boldly and confidently face life with all its ups and downs, trusting that God will remain faithful in God’s promises, that even in the face of hardship and death, we are given new strength, new love, new life. Thanks be to God. Amen.