By Dr. Jim Ferguson
I’ve just finished a course of study which focuses on Luke’s account of Jesus’ life and his Easter “Journey to the Cross.” Because I am a follower of The Way, the Easter message is an important one for me, though I’ll admit as a child I much preferred the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas! Like Socrates, Jesus never wrote anything. What we know of Socrates we learn from his student Plato, and our knowledge of Jesus comes from the Gospelers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; and each has a different perspective.
Luke’s Gospel is my favorite, perhaps because I sense in his writing a kindred spirit. Luke never met Jesus, but before writing his gospel he meticulously gathered and analyzed all the information available, just like an internist. If you doubt this assertion, reflect on Luke 1:1-4. However, there were no such things as internists 2000 years ago. As a discipline, Internal Medicine began after World War II. There is evidence that Luke was a physician, so it is not such a stretch to imagine him gathering and contemplating data just as I do in the care of my patients.
As I begin this essay Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral burns. It has been nearly 50 years since I last saw the iconic great gothic cathedral standing majestically on an island in the Seine River. Construction began in 1163 and was finally completed 200 years later around 1350. The builders created a vast interior space within soaring walls which had to be supported by exterior flying buttresses because the technology of rebar reinforced concrete had yet to be invented. I’ve stood in hundreds of interior spaces of great cathedrals which accomplish their aim of evoking in the observer the hymn, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”
I am not Catholic. I am a Christian and attend a Methodist church primarily because I identify with the 18th century philosophy of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Wesley held that we must use reason, observation and tradition in interpreting and understanding the Bible.
For 1000 years there was one Christian Church. The word catholic can be translated as universal. Then, in the ten hundreds the Eastern Orthodox Church separated from the Western or Roman church. And in 1517 a Catholic priest named Martin Luther penned to the local cathedral door in Wittenberg Germany a number of reforms he desired for his church. The result was the Protestant Reformation which again divided Christendom and quickly spread to England where King Henry the 8th refused to obey the Pope. He was excommunicated, but just formed his own Anglican church and established himself head of the church. John Wesley remained an Anglican minister all his life, but his methodical and thoughtful interpretation of scripture resonated with the common man, and Methodism spread to and flourished in America.
You might not be interested in history, but then I would argue, how can you know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been? A corollary to this perspective is discovered by Alice in Wonderland.
Protagonist Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat at a fork in the road and asks him, “What road do I take?” The cheeky cat replies, “Where do you want to go?” Alice admitted, “I don’t know,” whereupon the cat said, “Then, it really doesn’t matter, does it?” I think history is fundamental and many have told me this important perspective is deemphasized in modern day education. Is it any surprise then that history repeats itself, as 20th century philosopher George Santayana warned?
All but the most craven were horrified to see the pictures of Notre-Dame aflame. Though I do not care for Medieval Gothic architecture, replete with flying buttresses, pointed spires and gargoyles, I understand the aim of the builders was to create a holy interior space. Having traveled in Europe a dozen times and having found countless empty churches and cathedrals, I find it ironic that the loss of this majestic church was described by one individual as “a hole in the soul.” Another imagined the burning church as a metaphor for the end of Christianity in largely secular France and Europe.
Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, has vowed to rebuild the magnificent cathedral, but will it be a Christian church or something else? I hope he uses the millions of dollars pledged and rebuild the cathedral. This will be a testament to the resiliency of the faith and perhaps spur a resurgence of the faithful. Macron will have to overcome much resistance if he plans to rebuild a Christian cathedral in secular France where there have been thousands of Christian church desecrations all over France in the last three years.
After the fire I was moved by the now iconic picture taken by Tamar Lapin and posted all over the Internet. The ruined and still smoking interior lit by a single ray of light frames the hanging cross which burns in my mind. To me more important than the loss of this magnificent cathedral, sundry icons and fifty-two acres of roof timber harvested in the Middle Ages for the original construction, is the Cross which still hangs above the smoldering ruins.
This week I heard a comment that “beauty points to something higher.” I agree. The beautiful cathedral burned down during Holy Week, but the symbol of the church persists and transcends any edifice constructed by man.
Through all of recorded history man has embraced and then turned away from God, over and over again. The temple of the Hebrews was razed to the ground by the Romans in 70 AD leaving only the Wailing Wall. Now, Notre-Dame is gone, but the cross endures and my Christ is risen.