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Joy from the Ashes.
By Ken Russell in All Sorts
evidence of the ability of Easter to summon joy from the ashes of sorrowLife and Death, Joy and Sorrow, Pain and Pleasure, Despair and Hope, are twin opposites that co-habit human existence. They are the ingredients of the Easter story. They don't come in equal measure nor do they always visit contemporaneously. But almost inevitably, when one intervenes in a human situation, it is not difficult to perceive whispered evidence of the other not far away.
There was not much joy or hope for Parisians this holy week as they witnessed the "unbelievable" images of their beloved Notre-Dame Cathedral being consumed -"unbelievable" because it had stood there for 800 years resisting every conceivable force that might have done it harm. Even the Nazis, with all their malice, left it virtually untouched, its priceless assembly of relics, statues, artworks, stained glass and assorted memorabilia among France's most prized possessions.
Along with millions of others captivated by the images of the Cathedral halocaust I grieved for France, its troubled cosmopolitan people, and above all the Catholic community. I heard President Macron describe Notre-Dame as "part of us" and sensed the total despair gripping the nation. I wondered what possible whisper of hope could make itself felt from among the ashes, and please God, let it not be too crass or corny.
Was I so conditioned by the close proximity of Easter that the gospel's tiny whispers of hope leapt out at me. First was a report that a brave fireman had let himself into the sanctuary where the relics are kept and rescued the portion of Christ's crown of thorns of which the Cathedral has played host for centuries. I am no believer in relics, positively sceptical in fact, but in a rare moment of empathy I found myself wondering what that piece of news could do for the grieving Catholics of France. Of all things to be rescued, the Crown of Thorns, and only four days before Good Friday! Methinks the symbolism could hardly be lost. Not unlike, I should say, the image for Methodists of young John Wesley plucked as "a brand from the burning" at Epworth.
And then there was the singing among the spectator crowd, low-key, spontaneous, which it is said lasted well into the night. Not for the first time, when words were choked and opinions seemed not to matter, songs of faith and hope find ready voice. So it was at Notre-Dame on its darkest day. The legacy of that quiet hope-laden singing will sustain for many a month as the assessors and planners go about the grim business of deciding what can be restored from the smouldering ruins, and the clergy are left wonder what can be salvaged of the faith community that called the Cathedral their house of God.
And then again - as the first images were shown on screen of the charred interior. I was gobsmacked to see something I did not expect to see in such sorry scene. Right above the place of the high altar was a bright shiny cross. It had escaped the fire. It was not a crucifix but a protestant empty cross, gleaming while surrounded by smoke and blackness. It was to me, a spectator on the other side of planet Earth as powerful an Easter message as ever I could wish. The gleaming symbol of the risen Christ in the smoking ruins will not have gone unnoticed. I can see it now in my mind's eye, a resurrection experience for Notre-Dame and its people if only they have eyes to see, as surely they will.
Our own national tragedy, only five weeks ago, has left a legacy equally as capable of conveying death-life choices into the future of our small island nation. As television continues to play its role of rehearsing those awful scenes, and their aftermath, there are surviving images we should continue to cherish. There was the dignity and courage of our Moslem community even when they were grieving deep inside. Equally, the remarkable outpouring of the non-Moslem community towards a people whose religion and language they did not understand, and whose customs and appearance were perceived as alien. The wall of flowers said it all. Barriers were broken down. Ties of kinship were established with a speed
that only such as the terror of the Mosque shootings could have prompted. And many other factors, not least a Prime Minister moving with aroha amongst the stricken community, hugging touching and reassuring at will, a Christ-like figure, a woman of quiet authority and grace, whose hour has truly come.
By the grace of God, the same marvellous ability of Easter to summon joy from the ashes of sorrow is abounding as we meet in our small corner so soon after France's day of fire. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!