The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
April 21, 2019
On Monday, the Cathedral burned. I’ve never been to Paris, but I know about Notre Dame. Gothic cathedral. Rose window. Gargoyles. Quasimodo. But that day we saw an icon of history and history itself burning away.
Against the backdrop of smoke and flames, all manner of people began weighing in. Like a worldwide lament, we were flooded with pictures from our friends when they visited the cathedral. We read about people crying at home, though they had never visited the place. There was anger, there was sadness, there was sorrow at what was being lost on the screens right in front of us. The refrain was picked up around the world, even by people who are not Christians – they lamented at what was being lost. They lamented for their memories.
And memories, that’s what Mary Magdalene is hanging onto. Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, she rushes to the tomb of her dear friend. As she went to the tomb that morning, the memories scroll through her mind like an overwhelmed Facebook feed. She can hear the sound of his voice. In sorrow, in pain, in horror, all she can think about is Jesus of Nazareth and what is left of him. Memories.
Now I expect that the world will be talking about the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral for years, perhaps centuries to come. Early on that morning, the first day of the week, I expect that no one was talking about Jesus. His accusers were relieved he was dead, and who cares to talk about dead terrorists? I mean, that’s what he was crucified for. His supporters were afraid, and surely they didn’t want to talk about him, to risk the same fate as his.
It’s ironic, that when an old cathedral burns, people weep and wring their hands. But when an innocent man dies, the world moves on. It’s ironic, yes, and it cuts open our souls to reveal who we really are.
Kids are locked up. Innocent people are executed. Students are shot. People starve. Women are told they aren’t believable. Men are told they aren’t tough enough. Slaves are held, traded, and abused at will, not less than a mile from where we sit now. Sure, we’ll mourn over a building thousands of miles away in a different hemisphere but will we shed a tear for the people, the people who are suffering pain unimaginable? For the people, who, like Jesus, are being nailed to a cross day by day?
Don’t get me wrong – it’s tragic that Notre Dame. Lord knows, I love church buildings. I mean…look what we did. And yes, it’s tragic to have lost so much. But Jesus did not die and rise again for a building. Easter is not about an institution, a monument, or a museum. Jesus died and rose again for you, and for me, and for all people who walk this earth.
We see it, as plain as the smoke pouring out over Paris. We see that Easter means that everybody, everybody is loved and valued. Here’s Jesus, a carpenter from a backwoods city of a backwoods province. He’s just another insurgent crucified by the Roman Empire. Jesus is rejected, mocked, ridiculed, betrayed, crucified, and he dies stark naked and bleeding on a cross. In the eyes of the world, he’s just another piece of human trash that we so wantonly discard by the side of the road.
Then comes the radical, unbelievably good news of the gospel and of Easter. He is not trash, though they tried to throw him away. Jesus has gone the way through death and hell first, and come back again. And what God did by raising Jesus from the dead is a promise of what God chooses to do for all of us. The cross and the empty tomb show us as plain as we saw that cathedral burning, that God is not willing to throw anyone away. No one, I repeat no one, is trash. Your parent who has Alzheimer’s and can’t even remember their own name, they are not trash; they are still valued by God just as much as anyone else. The refugees of this world, fleeing for their lives, they are not trash; they are valued by God just as much as anyone else. The kids who are dis-associated, the ones with ADHD, depression, anxiety, the cognitively different people are not trash; they are valued by God just as much as anyone else. That no name carpenter from Galilee was risen from the dead. A sign and a promise that God loves all the no names this world has tried to throw away.
And you, you are valued by God. I know you may not believe it. There is some part of us, some thing in us, that we don’t like and that we want to get rid of. We want to get rid of our wrinkles so we have botox. We want to get of our spare tire so we get liposuction. We don’t like the way we feel, so we, quite literally, “get trashed,” trying to find the answer to our pain in the bottle or the pill. We think of ourselves as trash. We treat ourselves like trash.
But here you are and I beg you, I plead with you, peer with Mary into the empty tomb. And you will see that no one, not a single one of you is trash. Because God does not throw anything away. Even Jesus, wrecked as he was, was not thrown away. No, God raises Jesus from the dead, body and all. And God will take you, every single bit of you, even the parts you don’t like, and make them holy. Not only at the resurrection on the last day but today. And you, you are loved and valued by God far more than all the churches, chapels, and cathedrals this world can muster.
You get it, right? This whole scene of Mary and Jesus at the empty tomb, it doesn’t take place in a church or a temple. It takes place in a garden. A garden. In that grand old story, it was in a garden that God created humanity. Mary even mistakes Jesus for the gardener. And it is in this garden, the garden with the empty tomb that God recreates me and you by raising Jesus from the dead.
And now we move onto the conversation about whether rebuilding Notre Dame is worth it. Well, my church, my money, nor my opinion are involved, so it’s not my call. But I tell you one thing that I do know for certain – God can and will rebuild you from the ashes of your life. No matter what has been burned down, no matter what has been scorched, no matter what has been desecrated and lost forever – God will not let that get in the way of your reconstruction. For in the empty tomb we see the tenacity of God, that nothing, not even death, will separate you from the love of Jesus Christ. This is the unwavering, eternal, life-giving, gracious message of the empty tomb – you, even you, are worth rebuilding. It will take insane amounts of money to rebuild Notre Dame, but the cost of your reconstruction, the cost of your resurrection, has already been paid. That cost was nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because in the eyes of God, you are worth saving.