On Monday, April 15, when the very first sparks caught deep in the forest of Notre Dame Cathedral’s 800-year old oak beams, my husband and I were singing the closing hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” at the funeral of a beloved man. His name was Jim, and he was the father of one of our dearest friends.
The church was packed, full of people whose lives had been touched by this husband of 51 years, father of 4, grandfather of 11, friend to hundreds, and volunteer whose time and contributions touched the lives of thousands through a long list of organizations within his community.
During the homily, the priest told a story about visiting the grave of Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the first person entombed within it. Wren’s gravestone reads, in Latin: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”
Wren’s monument was the entire building. Spectacular, of course, but buildings do fall down.
Jim’s legacy is one of love and connection. It is a baton that has been passed on – and will be – for generations to come.
I was so grateful for the priest’s reminder as I drove home, thinking about people I love – people very close to me – who are currently suffering. Some have been fighting health battles for months with no end in sight. Others are dealing with very emotional issues – facing new realities, changed expectations, and daunting unknowns.
Like a devastating fire, suffering leaves marks on us and changes the way we move forward in our lives.
The temptation is to believe that a happy ending requires that we – like Notre Dame – be restored to some version of a former glory.
We think that with enough rest, medicine, good food, positive words, and advice from experts and well-meaning friends we can shore up our mental and physical strength and proceed as if nothing ever happened.
But what if we’re not supposed to? What if suffering – in all its forms – has a larger purpose?
What if it is supposed to change us forever?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction….” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Our suffering is allowed so that we might be brought closer to God’s face and then, in turn, use our experience to boost others on their journeys.
We are to pass the baton of Love.
So Jim’s life becomes a message of hope to us, just as Jesus’s resurrection – which we celebrate this weekend on Easter – is the tangible sign that with God, even death is not an end but an entryway.
Perhaps the Cathedral of Notre Dame will be rebuilt, but it can never be the same. The story must go on and be fashioned anew.
On Monday, we sat with our grieving friends and remembered that Jim was a man who gave generously of himself. He was beloved, because humans are attracted to the image of God reflected in a kind person.
Easter is coming. Suffering will end.
May Love be our guide to build legacies that last.