Our Lady couldn’t breathe yesterday. This week, neither could Jesus.
No week is more fitting for a historic cathedral to be scorched from the inside out. On Friday, we’ll gaze at the ruins of Christ’s body—pierced, torn, and unable to breathe. The world was set ablaze. Jesus, whose body was the Temple of God, was gutted of everything. He was thirsty, but could hold no water. This was a God hollowed of God as he cried out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
Holy Week isn’t about a God who saves us from pain, but one who enters the fire and walks alongside of us.
What did we see when we watched Notre Dame bursting into flames? The loss of history? A God looking for vengeance on a corrupt Catholic Church or an indictment on a country’s secularism? I have no emotional attachment to the cathedral or immersion in French history, so I saw only the truth of our world: its fragility. Our most incredible accomplishments and cultural treasures are petals on dandelions. One small flame and a gust of wind and only a stem remains shooting from the ground, wafting in the breeze. Nothing gets out of life unscathed.
For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
All around the world people, not just Christians, are left wondering, “Can these bones live?” It’s not only about Notre Dame, but our world and all that’s in it—our transient accomplishments, our broken systems of oppression, failing churches, our dried up lives. When we look at Notre Dame, we look in the mirror. We can rise to the heavens, enshroud ourselves with gold, layer on bulges of muscle—but we’re still bones.
What does God do with bones?
Ezekiel is some help, here. He prophesied during a time of great suffering, when his nation was stripped to the bone and their temple was in ruins. Then, he had a vision that he was taken to a deep valley, engulfed in bones. Each set of bones a person with a family, a story, a heart that beat with passions and dreams. Now, their histories are buried in the dirt.
The Israelites can't see beyond the death, but God sees a frame for re-creation. And God calls Ezekiel to preach to the bones. Flesh begins to wrap around the bones. Veins carry the blood throughout the body. Ligaments connect bones. Muscles move. The problem is that there is no breath. Ezekiel preaches again, this time he asks the ruach—the breath, the wind, the spirit—to come into the bodies. This is the same ruach that hovers over the water at creation, the same breath that fills the dirt and creates life, the same Holy Spirit prophesied by Joel. And the bones stood on their feet.
“You shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and bring you up from the grave. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.”
Christians know what God can do with a large chunk of collagen and a good breath of air. This is why Catholics ran inside the scorching church to save morbid relics like someones tibia, molars, and another’s locks of hair—an inmate's crown of thorns. Churches with attached cemeteries will agree: bones make for great buttresses and gravestones are the best foundations. It's strange, but we believe a new heart can be placed in their shell.
What did we see when we looked at Notre Dame? Did we see Jesus?
The church helps tells the story of France, but part of the church's story is a crucified Lord. Notre Dame displayed theological might and awe inspiring beauty, but now there is weakness. This is Jesus. The humbled one found in the poor, the ordinary, the groaning, and burning world. Can his bones live? Despite the towering flames and the ashes, an empty cross shines, pumping light throughout the haze and the darkness of death. God’s no stranger to crosses. After all, Jesus is a carpenter who is particularly skilled with beams of wood.
The cross is a promise: God will blow away the smoke, pick up the dust, and breathe into it. Life emerges again. Not just for ancient cathedrals, but for all of us.
The Church calls it resurrection.