“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
I’m sure you’ve seen the news by now, the harrowing images of the cathedral on fire, the world watching in horror. I heard over and over again on numerous broadcasts: Notre Dame was a church that took generations to build. In fact, no one who began construction on it was alive at its completion. For such history to be destroyed in mere hours....so heartbreaking. Firefighters made a decision as they tried to control the blaze: to let the roof burn (losing centuries-old timber) in order to save the iconic facade and bell towers. In the light of a new day, the fire is out, they are still surveying the damage, but the cathedral still stands.
My friend Ariana and I took a weekend trip to Paris from Germany when we were studying there back in 2007. We had both spent years in music history classes learning about all that had happened in and around Notre Dame Cathedral. (Polyphony was said to have started there, music with more than one independent voice). So, the church was at the top of my list of things to see, right after Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa.
When I saw the news of the fire and saw friends posting about their past trips, it took me back to that time—wandering around Paris, I looked for meaning, wondered where my life was headed.
I remember feeling such longing as I entered the church; longing to feel close to God (who I wasn’t even sure was real), longing to know if all these historical relicts my professors had taught me about still mattered, I yearned to feel valid, good-enough, secure. I was deep within your average 20-something quarter life crisis. I entered Paris with so many questions, and left with some selfies and tired feet.
I don’t look back with judgement on that girl; in fact, I admire her. Those feelings of longing were real and completely founded. I believe they are questions we all ask—no matter our age—and when we let them, these questions can lead us right to God. And so the verse from Ecclesiastes reminds us— God has set our hearts for eternity, something beyond this world. And suddenly it’s clear why it hurts so much to lose even one spire of a church from the Middle Ages.
Just to be alive, to feel the spring Parisian sun on your face as you step outside, to have deep conversations with a friend as you walk along the Seine, having the privilege to stand before the artwork created by and cared for by our ancestors—of course we want it to go on forever. Even in times of pain and questioning or doubt, maybe especially in those times, we yearn for permanence, hoping beyond hope that it doesn’t have to end. All things being beautiful in their time, we want them to stay that way forever.
As a Christian, I believe that we would not have a true longing for something that God does not plan on satisfying. Yet, even when I can convince myself of this reality— that one day all will be restored, eternally—it still hurts so badly to carry this eternal heart around in an impermanent chest, to feel it break at the sight of a falling spire. And in the waiting, I can’t help but ask, as the Psalmist does, “How long, O Lord?”
So we look on Tuesday to what we believe God is doing on Sunday with hope. As uncomfortable as it is in this in-between place, I want to follow Jesus into the darkness, believing that there will be light at the other side of the grave. Easter promises us that there is eternal restoration for Notre Dame and for our weary hearts, too.
Prayer: Eternal God, thank you for the wonders of your creation, for the talent you have so freely given to your people so that generations are blessed by masterpieces that speak of your glory. Thank you for the eternity you have set in our hearts, even when that is painful. Help us to be patient while you work in your time to restore all that is lost. Help our questions lead us to you, as we seek to travel with Jesus this week from “the cross, to the grave, to the sky.” Let us be reenergized, heartened, and strengthened by his endurance, his patience, and his joy. In his name we pray, Amen.