We have just finished our Easter services and my heart is so full of joy. It has been a most significant Holy Week for me. My week began as usual on Monday teaching my young voice students. But last Monday was different. I was teaching a student the song “God Help the Outcast” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, unaware that the Notre Dame Cathedral was in flames. When I finished the lesson, I checked a text from our friend Travis who asked if I had seen the news. I was at a break in my schedule so I turned on the television and watched the cathedral burning in flames. My heart broke. The tears flowed. I was flooded with memories of visiting there with Ken and the girls. I remember being overcome by the awe, the beauty and power in that house of worship. I remember gazing in wonder at the skill of such artisans who would dedicate their labor for a magnificent work of art built for the glory of God. We made our way to that island in the center of Paris on a cold, windy day and sat on a bench outside that sacred place. When we entered I took some time to sit, pray and take in the beauty and majesty, and although many came only as tourists, surely one could not miss the power of God’s presence in the cathedral.
I love these words by Rick Steves about the cathedral:
"Imagine the faith of the people who built this great stone wonder. They broke ground in 1163 with the hope that someday their great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren might attend the dedication Mass, which finally took place two centuries later. Master masons supervised the construction, but the people did much of the grunt work themselves for free — hauling the huge stones from distant quarries, digging a 30-foot-deep trench to lay the foundation, and treading like rats on a wheel designed to lift the stones up, one by one.
And then imagine being a simple bareheaded peasant, entering the dim medieval light of the church for the first time. Take a minute to let your pupils dilate, then take in the subtle, mysterious light show that God beams through the stained-glass windows. And listen as the priest intones the words of the Mass that echo through the hall: Terribilis est locus iste — "This place is awe-inspiring.”
I am reminded of the Scripture from Exodus 31:1-4 when God spoke to Moses about the artisans building the tabernacle.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, 5 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.”
Over the next few days I watched images of the flames in tears...and thanked Jesus that lives were spared and that our hope is in Him the living God, our resurrected Lord.
The setting for the song I was teaching takes place in the cathedral. It comes from the musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It is sung by Esmeralda, a gypsy girl, in the cathedral as an intercessory prayer on the behalf of Quasimodo, the Hunchback, and her people, whom are treated as outcasts by the rest of their society. This is the first time in three years that I have been able to teach this beautiful music. This hymn of prayer has a long history for me. The last time I had a student perform the song, she tragically died shortly afterwards and her family asked me to sing it at her memorial service. I was honored, but broken. It was a very special song for this kind, young senior in high school with such a tender heart for those margined in society. Here are some of the words…
I don't know if you can hear me,
Or if you're even there.
I don't know if you will listen to a humble prayer.
They tell me I am just an outcast.
I shouldn't speak to you...
Still I see your face, and wonder,
Were you once an outcast too?
God help the outcasts, hungry from birth.
Show them the mercy they don't find on earth.
The lost and forgotten, they look to you still.
God help the outcasts, or nobody will….
In the musical, the light from the rose window of the Notre Dame cathedral shines down on Esmeralda, the gypsy girl as she sings.
The rose window that was saved by the heroic efforts of firefighters…
During Holy Week we remember and celebrate the love of Jesus that enters the dark places and brings light and hope through Christ’s death on the cross and Resurrection.
I was so struck by the pictures that flooded the internet all week of the gilded cross and the beautiful stone statue of the Pieta, Mary holding her crucified Son at the foot of the cross that survived the fire during this Holy Week. The beautiful rose windows and so many treasures were saved amidst such destruction….And the people wept and prayed and sang.
In my own state of Louisiana during the last few weeks, three historic predominately black churches were burned at the hand of violent hate crimes. The buildings were lost for generations of believers who had gathered there. Their history and places of worship were also destroyed. And yet hope remains, because the church is more than buildings - whether they be simple brick and mortar or elaborate works of art almost 700 years old.
I have worshiped in all types of buildings in my lifetime, from the beautiful downtown church of my childhood with glorious stained glass windows that tell the story of Jesus, to the humble little church in the country with my grandparents, to a school gym, to a simple brick building with a red roof, to the intimate setting with wooden beams in a gothic arch shape where I now worship. It is God’s presence and the heart of HIs people that makes a building a place of worship.
Let us pray for France, for God’s people all over the world that we may come alive once more with a passion for the living God. That we may burn with a passion for Christ that overcomes tragedy and draws the lost to desire the Savior. May we burn with a fire of repentance that humbles us and transforms our hearts to cry out to the Savior. For the light of Jesus has the power to conquer the darkness, even those places that are filled with deepest sorrow or hatred. His flame of love conquers fires, destruction and gives us hope… hope for the outcasts, the lost, the lonely, the forgotten, and the desperate. For Jesus Christ has built up His church, not only as a temple of stones gathered in a building made for praise, but as a living body of believers. In our resurrected Lord, we have the promise of new life. Jesus forever transformed human history. It is He who calls His Beloved, the church, the communion of the saints to rise up as His living, breathing body.
My prayer is that Notre Dame will be rebuilt, not rebuilt as only a masterpiece of architecture, a place of indescribable beauty, but as a home where God‘s people would gather to worship the living God who is the great Overcomer, the One who gives us hope in the face of tragedy, the One who lives and reigns on His heavenly throne, the One who will return to claim His chosen people. I pray that Notre Dame will arise as a beacon of faith.
But the greater question I think for us all is how are we choosing to be a witness this day, a light in the glory and love of Jesus Christ? Will we be a passionate flame of the testimony of the love of Jesus in the world in which we live today? May the hearts of God’s people turn toward Him and embrace the power to share the grace and hope of Jesus Christ to a world that so desperately needs the Savior. May the rebuilding of the cathedral bring new life. May the world look into the hearts of the people in our churches and throughout the earth and see the life and heart of Jesus.
This weekend in church buildings around the world the songs of the people of God have lifted up praise to our Risen Savior as we poured out our hearts of faith, in remembrance of Jesus death on the cross on Good Friday. Easter Sunday brought geat celebration of His resurrection from the grave. The music, the joy and the powerful words of Scripture echo in my mind and stir my soul as we close this most unusual, and thought provoking Holy Week.
The songs of our faith have ministered to my spirit this past week. Our hope will never disappoint us for our hope does not rest in buildings of stone or wood. Despite the tragic loss, they can be rebuilt. Our hope is in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith doesn’t rest in any building, our faith rests within us because Jesus chose the cross of love and bore our sin. He conquered death and rose from the grave that we might live. The victory is won through the selfless love of our Savior.
My life and ministry has been forever marked by the love of Christ and the power of His music. And so I close with the lyrics from a song another one of my students sang with our choir this Easter Sunday.
There’s a heart that’s lost and alone,
There’s a soul in the night desperate for hope, that Jesus sees.
And He’s calling you to come and be free,
To simply let the grave clothes fall at your feet.
Can you see the light that’s dawning?
Today is your day.
It’s time to arise.
O child, come alive!
Let the grave be opened;
Let the stone be moved.
Let the glorious praises silence the tomb,
There’s a resurrection where death has once been.
Let the grave be opened and let the world look in.
If you are in Christ, the old has passed away.
Behold, new life has come.
Death no longer has the final say.
It’s time to arise.
Oh child come alive!
Let the grave be opened,
Let the world look in!
And so we sing…..
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
We have hope in the life and power of Jesus, our Resurrected Lord.
May His flame of love rise within us as we proclaim the name of Jesus
to a world that desperately needs the Savior...
In His love and grace,
Youtube videos of God Help the Outcasts and Let the Grave Be Opened are below if you would like to listen.
Resources: Let the Grave Be Opened, lyrics Bolin, Koch West, God Help the Outcast, Menken and Schwartz
Rick Steves, Timothy O’Malley, Featured Image: Olivier Mabelly, Notre-Dame de Paris fire, taken on 4/15/19; Source: Flickr.com, CC BY-NC 2.0. Image of cross and pieta -CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON/POOL/EPA, wikipedia photo from Hunchback, Pinterest photos
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There he stood proudly with the rowdy crowds, on the side of the road that triumphal day! I imagine he joyfully gripped a palm branch tightly with his fist and waved it with all of his might, shouting to the top of his lungs! He was no longer limited to gazing between the legs and feet of soldiers, men and women as he lay vertical and near to the ground. Able now to stand and see at eye level, because of the miraculous healing that took place when he first experienced Jesus, his heart pumped with excitement as the roar of the crowds grew louder and the small donkey approached. Jesus was making His way into Jerusalem.
And there...perhaps at the beginning of the commotion, having just been healed hours earlier and walking with Jesus, was yet another with, I imagine, the same emotions welling up within. He had never seen the likes of such a crowd, literally. It was, the once, blind Bartimaeus all the way from Jericho! He was taking in every sight...absorbing every vibrant color, every smile, and every face. His experience with Jesus was life changing. He once was blind but now he could see. His faith had healed him. I can envision him to be among the first to shout loudly and lead in the rioted proclamation: "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" Bartimaeus was in fact a shouter! In his first encounter with Jesus, he shouted out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" In Mark 10:46-52, we find that he was emphatic about gaining attention and he shouted all the more when beckoned to remain quiet. Can you see him there, too? Read about Jesus' triumphal entry and Bartimaeus Mark 10:42 through 11:10.
We call this the beginning of "Passion Week" or "Holy Week."
I like to call it Passion week. For me, it's two fold. First, It's the time I remember and focus on the suffering, crucifixion, death, and love of Jesus Christ. His "passion" for us! Second, I reflect on my "passion" for Him.
During the days leading up to Easter, some 40+ years ago, I experienced Jesus in a way that I'll never forget! My life was changed forever and I became a new creation with a purpose for living! The old passed away and I gained new life in Christ. My spiritual eyes were opened and I could now see! Obedient and following Jesus, I was buried with in Him in baptism and rose to walk in newness of life! The theme of my heart and the words from my lips proclaimed, "Jesus saves!"
Having a personal encounter and experiencing Jesus does something to a person! It begins with your eyes...the eyes of your heart. Like Bartimaeus, they are opened! He knew Jesus could help him and change his life. Then, it moves to your feet. Bartimaeus JUMPED to his feet to meet Jesus and then he followed him along the road. Jericho was just roughly 18 miles from Jerusalem (an 8 hour walk!) I don't want to speculate, but, I just can't see Bartimaeus leaving Jesus' side!
So when I reflect during this Passion week, I ask myself, "Has my passion for Christ grown and what is the evidence?" Are my feet following Him with joy and determination to make His name known? Would I be among the first to lead out in proclamation on that 1st century triumphal day? What significant encounters am I experiencing now that cause me to WANT to share about His power, His truths, and His healing touch?
Let me encourage and challenge you to ask the same questions of yourself during this week of passion. What is the evidence in your life?
As you take some personal, quiet, reflection time, may this week be a pivotal point in your spiritual journey with Christ.
His passion and suffering for you was real! He sees you were you are, where you've been, and where you are headed. He is ever present and is cares for you affectionately! God is faithful and true.
As I was mulling over my thoughts of this blog, two things that came to my attention just recently are timely and apropos. I'd like to share them with you here. It's a portion of the words on Saint Patrick's Breastplate and a new YouTube video that you must see and hear!
Portions of St. Patrick's Breastplate: Deer's Cry
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day....
I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,...
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,...
He is the God who sees, hears, and cares! So many standing on the road into Jerusalem that day had had an experience with Jesus. They had heard him speak and teach. Some had been healed. Fed. Some followed him across the countryside, just to hear more of His words. Some chose to believe, other's to mock and scorn. I believe that My Jesus rode into town that day with me on His mind. With you! And then just days later, fulfillment of prophesy was completed. By His stripes we are healed. He still sees. He still hears. He continues to care for us. And as my husband sang this past Sunday, "Love Took His Breath Away."
My prayer for those of you reading this week, is that you will encounter Jesus like never before! May He touch your heart in ways that make you want to loudly proclaim His great love and care for you.
Reflecting during this week of Passion,
1 Peter 5:7 Amplified Version
Casting the [a]whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, [b]once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you [c]watchfully.
Click here to watch the 12 min. film The God Who Sees: youtu.be/sz81dIfwf4Y It will be the best 12 minutes you've spent all day!
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