A Sign of Hope

I watched in horror as Notre Dame Cathedral was gutted by the flames, a sobering loss that left impassive Parisians weeping and singing hymns under the smoke-filled sky. The loss of this 850-year-old architectural treasure and cultural icon is impossible to measure. Many of the skills that were used to build this magnificent structure no longer exist. They just don't build them like that anymore.

For the French people and 13 million visitors each year, it is an unthinkable loss. But beyond it's role as the symbol and heartbeat of Paris, Notre Dame is a church, an ancient house of worship, a cathedral originally raised to the glory of God. It's soaring beauty has gripped generations calling forth confession and praise. Roman Catholics and Christians of many traditions have found solace and comfort in the shadow of those majestic towers. Even the cynical have found hints of the divine in Notre Dame's timeless presence.

Bewildered people have asked, "How can this happen, and of all times, during Holy Week?" The faithful have no place to gather, to remember, to celebrate. Wherever they go to worship, it won't be the same. How sad for them.

Then I saw this picture. After the flames were finally extinguished, someone made their way through the smoldering ashes to see what was left of the altar. And there it was, gleaming in the smoky darkness. The cross remains. After the raging inferno, after the roof collapsed, after most of the inner structure was incinerated, the cross still stands, still shines. I thought about the words of an old hymn:

In the cross of Christ I glory, towering over the wrecks of time,
All the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.
When the woes of life o'ertake me, hopes deceive and fears annoy,
Never shall the cross forsake me: Lo! it glows with peace and joy.

Cathedrals rise and fall. People come and go, in dust and ashes. The cross remains, a sign of hope for all the world.


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