ULS President’s Newsletter | Spring Term 2018-19
Volume II, Issue 8
“Built on a rock the church shall stand, even when steeples are falling.”
From “Built on a Rock” ELW 652
Text by Nicholai Grundtvig 1783-1872; Translation by Carl Doving 1867-1937
Watching as fire and smoke engulfed the Cathedral of Notre Dame, my heart broke. This sanctuary has been a pilgrimage for the faithful for nearly a thousand years. My own family had visited the Cathedral in 1990’s. Construction on the site began in 1160 CE and was completed a century later. A line in Matthew Gabriele’s Washington Post article stood out to me, “This building took 100 years to construct and was undone in less than a day.” This building that stood through the French Revolution and the First and Second World Wars, has borne witness to historical events and everyday life in Paris, and held a millennium of prayers. This building has gone up in smoke. Dr. Gabriele’s article ran under the web title “Fire was the scourge of medieval cathedrals. But they rebuilt from the ashes.”
Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem also caught fire on the same day as Notre Dame, though the damage was less extensive.
This week, officials in Louisiana also added hate crime charges for the suspect accused of burning three historic black churches in St. Landry Parish, where my family had recently visited. The people of St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church watched ashes and rubble mark the places that grounded their spiritual lives. The places where they had encountered God at funerals and weddings and baptisms and Sunday services were intentionally set ablaze by someone motivated by racial hatred and fear. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Pastor Gerald Toussaint said to reporters, “It started off a dark moment in our lives, but with the rebuilding process you’re going to see some things … that are going to be very bright for our churches.”
Pastor Toussaint knows what you know and what I know: God makes a way out of no way. Our God who created humanity from the very dust of the ground will keep on creating from the ashes. We know that our God brings resurrection and new life from the destruction the world brings. Our church will outlive our buildings every time. Our faith is not destroyed when our buildings fall.
Nicholai Grundtvig, quoted above, uses his hymn to contrast the temporality of our buildings with Jesus Christ our Redeemer who is yesterday, today, and forever.¹
As United Lutheran Seminary looks ahead to our future, we know that there have been times in the combined histories of Gettysburg and Philadelphia where we have felt like our seminary was aflame. But we join with many others in witnessing to the miraculous power of Christ’s resurrection. What looked like death will not be the end. The cross still stands in Notre Dame. The steeples in Louisiana will be rebuilt. The power of Easter calls us to rise up out of the ashes.
Wishing you and yours a blessed Holy Week,
United Lutheran Seminary
Sustaining and Comforting God, send your peace to those who despair in Paris, Louisiana, and Jerusalem. Knit our communities together in ways that transcend the physicality of our buildings. By your grace, may we worship within their walls again soon. Remind us of your unfailing presence not in our buildings but in your people and through the power of the Risen Christ, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The ELCA Church Council met at the Lutheran Center in Chicago April 4-7. Read about the actions here. Of special significance is the action declining to consider the document “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God,” mentioned in my last newsletter.
¹ Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 501-502