Fire is on my mind as I scroll through image after image of the grand Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France crumbling into a burning heap on the banks of the Seine. Centuries of history, religion, and tradition have been lost in the blaze and the world mourns along with Parisians who have gathered on an island in the Seine to grieve and weep together. NBC news reports that a majority of the artifacts, artwork, and other relics were saved. This, of course, comes as a relief to many who call themselves Catholics, Christians, or simply admirers of the history housed there.
As the world presses into Paris’ loss, many have voiced a feeling of unexplainable sorrow welling up inside of them. Social media posts full of travelers’ reflections on their visits to the the lady of Paris have filled news feeds. And in all of it, a sense of positive obstinance seems to pervade. Billionaires around the world have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars towards the rebuilding effort. France has pledged its support and the Catholic church has committed to restoring the former grandeur.
Scrolling through news headlines yesterday, I was caught off guard by a story titled ‘They didn’t burn down our spirit,’ Louisiana Black Churches Defiant Amid Fires. Caught off guard because I remember seeing a couple of articles earlier in April about the burning of three traditionally black churches in the south but somehow managed to keep scrolling—not stopping for a moment to walk towards the flames and grieve with my southern brothers and sisters in their loss. Rev. Harry J. Richard, the pastor who spoke these defiant words, will have to rebuild his 100 year old church building with no international support; no million dollar donations from billionaires; no federal pledge of solidarity. And yet, he recognized that the fires did not take from his congregation the most important thing. It did not take from them their faith in the One who holds all of this in his hands.
Another article that stopped me in my tracks this week was the story of Hindu radicals in southern India seizing hundreds of Bibles from a group of Christians and burning them in the street. The radicals verbally assaulted and threatened the Christians with violence before pouring gasoline on their holy books and lighting a match. Christian Headlines reports that, “The hostilities come after ‘one of the most traumatic’ years of persecution of Christians, according to a report released last week by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).” Again, I can hardly bring myself to step, even mentally, into the place of my brothers and sisters who live under this kind of daily pressure to abandon their faith—our faith.
Holden Matthews, the man charged with the arson of three church buildings in Louisiana has also been charged with hate crimes. Prosecutors claim that evidence for these acts being racially motivated abounds.
I can almost hear an echo of the words Jesus cried out on the cross, God, have you forsaken us?
An image taken by Christophe Petit Tesson from the inside of the burned out shell of Notre Dame has captured the spirit of defiance in the words of Rev. Harry J. Richard of Greater Union Baptist Church in Louisiana.
A guest on Fox News commented on this photo and the early question of whether rebuilding was a viable option, saying, “We are left with the cross and now we must choose what to do with it.”
“We are left with the cross and now we must choose what to do with it.”Fox News guest
Isn’t this the question that is confronting the whole world this week? This coming Friday, Good Friday, marks the day of Jesus’ death on that cross. And we are left to sit for three dark days with the reality that sin leads to death (Romans [6:23]). Then, as members of St. Mary, Greater Union, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church along with Catholics around the world and the Christians under fire in Telangana, India, we must choose what to do with it. Will we follow Jesus to the cross this Friday? Will we choose to hang there and die to the hatred and fear that feeds the burnings of churches and bibles? Will we step across the aisle, the street, and even the world to take another mourning friend or enemy into our arms? This is what Jesus has done—for me—for you—even for Holden Matthews and the Hindu radicals in Telangana. This Easter season, let us dare to follow Him towards the flames.
*Correction: According to Vox News and CNN, a wave of funds for rebuilding the three burned churches in Louisiana have poured in since the Tuesday fire of Notre Dame. Many have taken to social media, using the Notre Dame fundraising efforts to point people’s attention to the need in the Southern US. But as Vox notes, “Even with the surge in funding, the churches face a long road ahead as their congregations begin the process of rebuilding.”