Universal horror unfolds this morning as news arrives of one of Christendom’s ancient and iconic structure’s destruction by fire. That the 800-year-old Notre Dame cathedral in Paris should fall in the days of Holy Week – the dramatic re-living of trial leading to the climax of crucifixion and resurrection – should not escape the notice of the faithful. Indeed French President Emmanuel Macron declared, even as the fire raged, “Let’s be proud because we built this cathedral more than 800 years ago. We’ve built it and, throughout the centuries, let it grow and improved it, so I solemnly say tonight: we will rebuild it together.”
This is the first Easter in 45 years that I will not be conducting services, leading people through the darkness of Good Friday through to the radiance of Easter Sunday. Over those four decades, I have become aware of a deepening consciousness that Good Friday is not marked so much by desolation but a sober realisation that transformation, transcendence and new expansive life is always preceded by dying to something that is highly valued.
The power of the Easter Triduum engages us in re-enacting this very human and divine drama – beginning with foot-washing that reminds us that our humanity is fully realised in humble service of the other. As we follow Christ through the dark hours of his arrest and trial at the grasping hands of vested powerful interests, we enter the reality of the “greater love that lays down his life for his friends” and the gentle petition of forgiveness for those who are ignorant of what they are doing. We encounter the sublime power of powerlessness as the lifeless corpse of Christ is hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb to be properly prepared at a later time. The Triduum climaxes with a burst of radiance when the embalmers arrive to find an empty tomb and a young man declaring “He is Risen!” This radiance is not completely understood, for it leads Christ’s followers into new and expanded territory, new and deepened experiences and new and soul-stretching challenges. This is why the Triduum is not a completion, but a beginning. The Easter season will stretch yet for another 50 days until it reaches Pentecost, the celebration of the flooding in of the Spirit and the birth of a universal community of people called out to live the Easter drama in community.
So when something of our identity represented in any of our collective icons dies, we look for the new thing that will arise. When we find our identity in the Christ who goes before and engage in his journey of service, crucifixion, resurrection and openness to Spirit, we are fully alive.