Reflection: Hope Lives

by | Apr 22, 2019

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. 

John 20:18

Happy Easter!

It almost seems an act of insensitivity to be joyous this Easter, against the backdrop of the last week’s events that remind us that Christianity offers no guarantee against mortal danger.  When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his coming crucifixion, he warned them that they would face persecution, even sharing, “They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”

But being Christian in the United States can lull us into thinking that we are safe to worship Christ and share our faith (as long as we don’t pay too much attention to Black church burnings or the occasional invasion of armed individuals threatening church services or Bible studies).  We sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and assume that our churches are like fortresses against any unpleasantness we face in the world, our faith a shield against any pain of doubt or accusation.

And then we saw Notre Dame on fire.  As a student of Western civilization, I watched in disbelief, much the same way I watched the World Trade towers go down on 9/11.  I kept recalling the many times I had visited there, especially when I went to school in France.  You never feel unsafe inside a cathedral like Notre Dame; you feel like the stone structure will stand forever.  So I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, partly because it never occurred to me that the roof was made of ancient wood, but also because it almost seemed symbolic of the death of the Christian faith, especially in secular Europe.

And then the singing began.  That was when I started to cry, to hear about the people kneeling and praying for their spiritual home, and the hymns being lifted up outside the cathedral.  While everyday life in Paris is led by so many without acknowledgement of God’s blessings, the danger of losing such a formidable foundation of Christian culture pricked their consciousness, and they turned back to God for help.

And God helped.  Only one firefighter and two police were injured, priceless art and holy relics and the magnificent organ were saved, the building stood, and the wealthy and powerful pledged support for rebuilding.  The desire to contribute spread to more modest churches closer to home, to three Black churches that were burned down in Louisiana a few weeks prior to Notre Dame, all historic in their own communities, precious in the lives of church members for generations.  Since Notre Dame burned, some $2 million was raised to rebuild these three churches.

France has suffered greatly from terrorist attacks recently, so it seemed a relief that the cause of the Notre Dame fire seems to have been a short circuit.  However, it is all too familiar a story that the Black churches were victims of yet another young White man acting out of racist hatred.  And yet, members of these churches have responded in a way that must make Jesus’ heart swell with joy.  Greater Union Baptist Church celebrated the Resurrection in a windowless basement in the local Masonic lodge.  Rev. Harry Richard reminded his people, “Don’t ever give up on love.  I don’t care what the world might do to you.  You never give up on love.”

Likewise, the church secretary showed pity towards arsonist Holden Matthews, and noted the financial donations that will help these three churches rebuild their facilities better than before, saying “Maybe in some weird way or a blessed way, God had a hand.  I feel sorry for Holden.  He thought destroying a building would destroy our faith and ambition to be better, and he didn’t.  All he did was motivate us.”

Many of us woke up on Easter morning to hear of the tragedy in Sri Lanka.  The latest report is that nearly 300 people were killed and over 500 injured in a series of eight bomb blasts, including three churches that were attacked in the midst of Easter services.  In the depths of grief for this tragedy that strikes at the very heart of our faith, let us experience a resurrection of faith in our lives.  Just as the spear struck at Jesus’ side, leading him to glory and all believers to eternal life, may God show us God’s gracious and compassionate will on all who mourn for our sisters and brothers in danger.

As Jesus has risen, and Notre Dame yet stands, as the churches of St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, witness to grace and rebuild, as I pray God will find a way to comfort all after Sri Lanka, may we ever see and proclaim that death is not the final answer.  Like Mary, each of us who know the risen Christ can declare, in spite of whatever the world might do, “I have seen the Lord!”  May we tell all the world that hope still lives, because Jesus yet lives, and will live forever.

I will be out of the office this week.  May we all witness to resurrection, the persistence of life in our Lord, this week and throughout our lives.

In faith and gratitude,