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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