The bells of Notre Dame will be silent this Easter. The iconic gothic cathedral burned on Monday. The cathedral’s stone architecture trapped heat like an oven as the spires of Notre Dame collapsed on themselves.
This conflagration interrupted a recent effort to restore the eroding cathedral. Lacking major renovation for two centuries, nearly all areas were affected including, “the flying buttresses, the spire, the choir, the nave, the transept, the towers and the sacristy,” according to Michal Picaud. Picaud presides over ‘The Friends of Notre Dame,’ a society formed to seek out patrons of art and architecture willing to fund the restoration. Michal Picaud branded Notre Dame “the Cathedral of the French People,” appealing to French history and culture. In the end the restoration effort received only “bare minimum” funding.
Long before flames engulfed Notre Dame, the congregation inside the church and in greater France had succumbed to secularization. In 1905, the French passed a separation of church and state law, leading to the closure of most religious schools. In a recent survey, 41% of French nationals self-identified as Christian; of those, 80% described themselves as Catholic. Two years ago, most French people who described themselves as Catholic considered themselves to be Catholic-Atheists. Catholic-Atheism may enjoy the heritage, art, and architecture of a Christian past, but apparently remains unwilling to give substantially to Cathedral renovations. Catholic-Atheism not only struggles with renovation, it fails to capture the hearts of people.
It is a historical loss and people are grieving appropriately. But the Cathedral itself is not the loss that should grieve us most.
Secularism celebrates the West’s rapture from Christianity, lauding the new post-Christian culture. Yet, still it questions, “How can it be gone?”
The restoration France needs is not that which she craves; it needs a resurrection of the soul, not a gothic Cathedral. Like a cathedral in ruins, Catholic-atheism offers a fading glimpse into what was, but offers nothing of substance today. So let us not take pride in the heritage of our buildings or the beauty of our steeples. In the end New Jerusalem will have no need for Notre Dame, Westminster, the Washington National Cathedral, or any temple.
Christians know that the true temple of God is founded upon Christ and built up by the living stones of his people (1 Pet 2:5). “Behold,” God’s Word proclaims, “I am laying in Zion a stone a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (1 Pet 2:6). No conflagration can reduce God’s Church to smoldering ash.
So let us pray that this Easter, when the bells of Notre Dame are silent, the sweet melody of the Gospel rings all the more clear.
“The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
Pastor Summerville First Baptist, married to Danielle, father of four, PhD student @SWBTS, MDiv SWBTS 2012, BA Theatre OSU