Friday, 24 May 2019

Jesus shows there’s hope after disaster

THIS week, the world looked on in horror as Notre Dame Cathedral, icon of Paris and a building that has stood for more than 800 years, was engulfed in flames.

Crowds were transfixed as the blazing orange spire slowly toppled over, a moment captured for ever on a thousand mobile phones.

Images of the inside are now emerging; some of it mercifully saved (the magnificent rose window, for example) and other parts standing blackened, smoke hanging eerily in the air.

It feels particularly poignant, happening as it has, during the run up to Easter, the Church’s most solemn yet joyful festival.

As a priest, I can only begin to imagine how a team of devastated cathedral clergy are at this very moment trying to work out how the important markers of Holy Week — the Maundy Thursday recollection of the Last Supper, the cross of Good Friday and Christ’s resurrection day - are going to be celebrated with the cathedral in its current state.

France is a so-called secular state and Laïcité (separation of church and state) is expected in public life. So it was moving to see French people of all ages gather before a burning cathedral to sing and venerate the Virgin Mary.

A striking image on social media showed the hands of several firemen holding out a rescued statue of the Virgin with the words “behold your mother” written underneath, words uttered by a dying Jesus on the cross, as he looked at his mother and his beloved disciple John, and hinted that they should now become as mother and son.

Whether we believe in the Easter story or not, it has an enduring message of hope after seeming disaster.

Without exception, Jesus’s close followers urged him to avoid the suffering of the cross, seeing it only as a sign of shameful failure and disaster. But Jesus went towards it in utter trust, knowing that somehow his death and resurrection would become a gateway to life and peace for all.

Even the bulbs emerging in our gardens tell us, if we’ve time to listen, that death is not the end. Out of disaster often comes heroism, self-sacrifice, a new perspective and a painful but welcome chance to consider what is really important to us.

As unbridled capitalism and endless consumption reveal themselves to be toxic for humanity, and as we witness the severe limits of our democratic politics and the rise of the far Right, we can still hold on this week to the Easter message: death does not win and hope is rock solid.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ illustrates that there is always another chapter after the seemingly worst thing has happened.

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