Like most of the world, I was shocked and saddened to see the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral consumed in flames. As the spire collapsed amidst the red glow, one couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of loss.
The damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was bad enough.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that we are in the week leading up to Easter, but as I watched the flames and smoke rise from the great Notre Dame, the destruction of this cathedral reminded me of Jesus’ words as He stood in another important religious site, the Jewish temple, having just chased out the hypocritical money-changers with their animals, flipping their tables over, and pouring out their coins.
It was a shocking scene, and the Jews said to him,
“What sign do you show us for doing these things? Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body” John 2:12-21.
The temple in Jerusalem was at the very heart of Jewish life. It was a place of prayer, worship, and the sacrifice of animals for the atonement of sins. Inside the temple was a room, the Holy of Holies, separated by a large, thick veil where God’s earthly presence dwelled. The temple was a holy place where God met with His people.
The destruction of the temple would have been a horrifying thought to the Jewish people, and when Jesus said He would raise the temple up in three days if it was destroyed, the Jews could only imagine He meant the earthly temple they had known. Even Jesus’ disciples initially missed the true meaning of His declaration.
Jesus wasn’t referring to the earthly temple, though, but to His own body. Jesus had come to be the true Temple, the meeting place between God and His people.
He was the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for sin once and for all for anyone who places their faith in Him (1 Peter 1:18-19), and by His death and resurrection, He became the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). We no longer approach God through an earthly temple and the shed blood of animals; we approach God through Christ Jesus and His shed blood (Hebrews 9:12).
The Jews questioning Jesus in the temple that day failed to see the true Temple standing in front of them. We can be as short-sighted today as they were then.
French President Macron called the devastating fire at the Notre Dame the emotion of a whole nation and has promised the cathedral will be rebuilt. People around the world have begun collecting money to support the effort. I’ve wondered at the level of response.
My mind has been drawn to thoughts of the Middle East and the Christians there who have lost so much in recent times to persecution and war including ancient religious and historical buildings and artifacts that can never be replaced. Christians who are even now attempting to rebuild their lives and communities.
In a few short days, we will celebrate Easter remembering the temple, the body of Christ, that was destroyed on a cross and three days later was raised up again. If an earthly cathedral can bring forth the emotion of a whole nation, what of the true Temple, the One through whom God and man are reconciled?
As sad as it was to watch a structure as historical and meaningful as the Notre Dame Cathedral burn up in flames, and as glad as I am to hear that it will be rebuilt, let us not forget there is a world of difference between that which can be rebuilt and that which must be raised up. Let us not be as those who were speaking with Jesus that day in the temple so concerned with earthly representations that they missed the reality in front of them (Hebrews 10:1-14).
Many have called for prayers for Notre Dame. Let’s not stop there. Let’s pray for the people of France, for God to build His Church there which consists not of gothic architecture or stained glass windows but is made up of people whose faith is in Jesus as their Savior.
If there is something to reflect on in the fires that destroyed a portion of such a beautiful and historical religious structure, maybe it’s that our faith isn’t secured to a place, but to a person. We do not come to God through temples or cathedrals, we come to God through Christ Jesus, the Savior of the World (John 14:6).
We may lose our religious buildings, our exquisite works of art, even parts of our history, but in Christ, faith, hope, and love are eternal for they are secured in His finished work on our behalf.
Churches may be destroyed, but not the Church. Maybe that is the Easter message for us this year held in the ashes of the Notre Dame.