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Rising from the Ashes

[This post is created from the sermon Rev. Jane shared Easter Sunday, 2022.]

Notre Dame Cathedral buttress being re-built
Wood brace for a buttress at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Monceau, via Flickr. Shared under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.

We Don't Talk About...

On Easter Sunday, we sing all the favorite Easter hymns. But I have had another song running through my head.

We may not talk about Bruno but we are here this morning to talk about Jesus. Although I have to tell you, I haven’t been able to watch the movie Encanto without thinking about Easter from the very first time I saw it—it embodied the resurrection story for me.

I don’t know about you, but despite the title of the song, we have heard a whole lot of Bruno in our house. The soundtrack is now subsiding but we spent weeks playing it on repeat earlier this spring.

For those who have not been following along, Lin Manuel-Miranda has done it again. Disney’s Encanto tells the story of the Madrigal family and their magical casita, a house that was birthed out of the dying love of a husband and father, and then becomes a safe haven for the family and for the whole town.

But slowly through the eyes of young Mirabel, we discover everything is not as it seems. Mirabel goes in search of her own special gift, but instead, the more she looks, she finds cracks in her family’s story, searching for her missing uncle Bruno, leads her to see that their beloved house and her family is starting to fall apart.

When the magic finally dies and the house collapses, cracks extend throughout the town, and a mountain splits open.

It reminds me of after Jesus’ crucifixion, the earth quakes and the veil in the Temple is torn. We learn that sometimes renewal and transformation can only come through letting go, even losing that which is most precious to us.

Mirabel and her abuela (grandmother), have to rediscover a new relationship, they are reborn following the destruction of their house. At the end of the movie, (spoiler alert if you haven’t yet seen it), the whole town helps to rebuild the house – each bringing what they have to help their neighbors. And they discover that love which was the magic of the casita from the beginning, cannot be destroyed. Love is more always powerful than death.

The Source of Resurrection

Resurrection only happens when we are able to let go of what we know and allow something new to emerge. We have to mourn what is lost, accept the destruction of what was and move into a new future.

Early on that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene can’t sleep and she finds herself drawn back to the tomb, to this garden where they had laid Jesus’ body. She sees the rock is rolled away, and she runs to tell the others what she has seen. They return to inspect the tomb but find it empty and return home. But Mary remains weeping in the garden convinced something terrible has been done to his body.

When Jesus calls out to her, she doesn’t recognize him at first. She thinks he is the gardener. Nothing in her life had prepared her for that moment. But suddenly as she wakes up, there is a crack as she begins to see a new reality emerging, and Mary has to decide will she cling to what she has known or will she accept Jesus’ invitation to go and proclaim what she has seen with her own eyes?

Resurrection only happens when we are able to let go of what we know and allow something new to emerge. We have to mourn what is lost, accept the destruction of what was and move into a new future.

Easter begins with despair and heartbreak, but there in the shadows, something new is stirring.

Often we don’t recognize it at first. It seems impossible, unimaginable, that something new could come from this place of brokenness.

Jesus’ burial, which had seemed to be the end, was actually the beginning. The new rises from the old – our sins and mistakes, our frail bodies, our histories, events, relationships, tragedies, our memories, our intellects, our imaginations.

In the fourth century Hilary of Poitiers wrote, "God will repair what has been shattered, but not by mending it with something else, rather out of the old, and very same material of its origin, God will impart to it an appearance of beauty.”

Out of the Ashes

The very same material of its origin…God can re-create and bring new life out of that which is old. Almost exactly, three years ago, on April 15, 2019, we all watched horrified, as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire. It’s iconic spire burned and fell to the ground, bringing most of the lead roof of the cathedral with it.

Parisians were in shock. People were crying. People were praying. People were kneeling in the street. It felt like a devastation. Like when the Twin Towers fell on 9-11, or the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. On French maps, distances are measured from Notre Dame. It is the kind of zero point from which all else makes sense. I lived in Paris for a year in college, and walked by Notre Dame multiple times each week. I babysat a little boy whose family lived in an apartment in the shadow of that great cathedral. We would ride his little bike and play in the gardens behind Notre Dame on many afternoons.

Knowing my love for all things Paris, my dad gave me a recent edition of National Geographic magazine that describes the rebuilding of Notre Dame. (You can read the article about Notre Dame online.)

It took almost two years after the fire just to remove the burnt timbers and other debris and to stabilize the vaults and walls against collapse. But now the restoration has begun and it is hoped that the cathedral will be open again by April 2024. Each wall is being cleaned and shored up. The iconic windows have been taken out in many places to clean and preserve them. A new spire is being designed and built to match the original one.

This isn’t the first restoration of Notre Dame. In fact, archeologists tell us that when it was originally built in the 12th century, the foundation was built using stones from earlier churches that had been on the sacred land. During the French Revolution, it suffered desecration. But beginning in 1844, a major restoration project began led by famed architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, who would build the famous spire. Out of times of destruction, new life continues to emerge.

In its day, Notre Dame was revolutionary. In the late 12th century, Notre Dame was the grand masterpiece of a new kind of architecture, one in which pointed arches and flying buttresses allowed the walls to be soaring and thin, the windows to be enormous, and the light to flood in. In the tall light, people felt the presence of God. God inspired the builders to achieve the impossible in gothic architecture.

And once again the builders are accomplishing the impossible. In order to rebuild Notre Dame once again, robots have helped sort the debris, new techniques are being used to restore the murals on the walls, and technology is helping builders figure out the exact size of stone or the exact support needed to keep an arch in place.

The man leading this project, Phillipe Villeneuve, is working to restore Notre Dame to its former glory. “We are restoring the restorer,” he said.

A new spire is being designed, a faithful reproduction in oak and lead of the one built in 1800’s. This project is restoring people as well as a building. Villeneuve tattooed the spire on this forearm, and says he himself will be rebuilt when Notre Dame is finished.

The people working on this project never dreamed they would be part of history in this way. Just like the original cathedral which was financed by donations of ordinary people, likewise, it is many small individual gifts that have been raised to rebuild this time as well. Many hands and people are bringing Notre Dame back to life. From the ashes of the old, a new spire will rise.

Building a New Life

As Christians, we must learn to live in the new, looking toward the future, rather than living in the past. Resurrection means that creation isn’t finished. We aren’t finished. We are called to transformation.

From despair and death, new life emerges. Where are you seeing this? What is ending in your life? What is beginning? What are you called to let go of? What cracks are revealing something you need to see? Where are the resurrection stories that you can tell?

As Christians, we must learn to live in the new, looking toward the future, rather than living in the past.

Resurrection means that creation isn’t finished. We aren’t finished. We are called to transformation, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this ancient symbol of resurrection is a deep held belief that we will find more abundant life on the other side of pain and loss.

Easter means that God ultimately is and will be victorious over death, even if we can’t see it right away.

As the prophet Isaiah reminded the people of Israel, God says:

I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;

the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;

One of the prayers assigned for the Easter Vigil says, in part, “Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

May we be witnesses to the resurrection emerging all around us. For Jesus Christ is risen today! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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