Hope and Redemption

The world watched on April 15 as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. No one was killed in the blaze, but the cathedral’s spire collapsed, and the wooden interior was consumed. The damage was calamitous. People across the world expressed their sorrow and have contributed to the rebuilding effort.

The flames have been extinguished, but it is still worth considering how an accidental fire in one building without any loss of life could capture the world’s attention.

Notre Dame Cathedral has countless merits. It holds a central place in French culture. It is a beautiful representation of Gothic architecture, with medieval towers and flying buttresses as well as a nineteenth-century spire. Its stained glass has dazzled visitors. Many events of historical consequence have unfolded there since its cornerstone was laid over 800 years ago, such as Napoleon crowning himself emperor.

But the interest in the cathedral exceeds interest in French culture and history or architecture. For millions around the world, it is a symbol of the faith which at the same time was observing its holiest week.

The fire took place during the week Western Christians like myself know as Holy Week, when we commemorate the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It begins with Palm Sunday, the remembrance of his entrance into Jerusalem, and ends with Easter Sunday, the celebration of his resurrection.

It is the central event of the Christian faith. It is so important, in fact, that a priest rushed into Notre Dame Cathedral as the fire still burned to save an ancient relic associated with the event, a crown of thorns traditionally held to be the one pressed down upon Christ’s head before his crucifixion.

Not every Christian believes that Notre Dame’s crown of thorns is the original artifact, but it nevertheless is a powerful symbol of the terrible burden placed upon Christ to redeem humanity and his subsequent triumph over death.

Easter gives Christians hope – that through the death and resurrection of Christ our sins are forgiven, that we are redeemed, and that we may be given everlasting life.

It is a hope that is expressed in grand cathedrals such as Notre Dame and in the deeds of men and women such as the priest, firefighters, city workers, and church caretakers who saved its treasured art and relics.

This time of year also holds deep meaning for people of the Jewish faith as Passover is celebrated, this year from April 19-27. Passover, too, is about a redemption – the redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

It has its origins in the story of the tenth plague found in Exodus. Moses repeatedly told the Pharaoh of Egypt to let the Israelites go, and Pharaoh’s refusals were met with plagues upon his land, of which the final would be the death of the Egyptians’ first-born children. In preparation, God told the Israelites to mark the doorways of their houses with lamb’s blood so they would be passed over by the curse. After this final plague, the Israelites were freed.

Passover is important to the story of the Jewish people, and it is to Christians as well; after all, the Gospel of John describes Christ’s last supper as a Passover meal.

People around the world will gather in places of worship and with their families to celebrate these two holidays, just as they have for generations past. These celebrations have continued over the centuries and wherever people of these faiths live. They are a good reminder of the permanent things.

The fire at Notre Dame reminds us that not even Gothic cathedrals last forever. Despite the sadness of seeing such disaster befall this grand house of worship, however, the hope that its builders had, that its worshippers had, remains.

I would like to offer my best wishes to all celebrating at this time of year.

For questions, contact the office at (276) 525-1405, the Christiansburg office at (540) 381-5671 or visit www.morgangriffith.house.gov.


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