“God is on the Loose”

Luke 24: 1 -12 – Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN –

I went to bed on Monday night devastated. The Cathedral of Notre Dame was on fire. It had been burning for twelve hours. It “had” (how horrible to say) “had” one of the oldest surviving wood frames in Paris’ history, comprising 52 acres of trees. Workers cut down those trees in the 12th century and made the beams. Each beam required the wood of a whole tree. The trees at the time were 300 years old which means that they would have sprouted out of the ground in the 8th century. The intricate historic woodwork was nicknamed “The Forest.” And now the forest was ablaze.

It took 300 years to build Notre Dame and mere hours to lose the roof, statues, spire, nave. Those who built the Cathedral over centuries often lived in hovels themselves and were hungry, but their faith erected the extraordinary beauty that was a foretaste of heaven on this hard earth.

The Cathedral was a stage for the coronations of Henry VI and Napoleon. Notre Dame was said to be home to a number of sacred relics including the “Crown of Thorns” that Jesus wore on his head the day he was crucified.  Notre Dame was the subject of Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” published in 1831 which centers on Quasimodo, the cathedral’s bell-ringer. The Cathedral was also the home of a bee hive on its roof. The hive was place there as part of a larger effort to protect biodiversity and prevent bee die-off.

Notre Dame was the most visited monument in France with 30,000 – 50,000 visitors each day, 12 million a year. Notre Dame survived the French Revolution, World War I, and World War II. The President of France said, “It’s the epicenter of our life.”  But on Holy Monday Notre Dame burned.

The Gothic Church took the shape of Christ’s body: the chancel the head, the transepts the arms, the altar the heart. And if the Gothic church symbolizes the body of Christ, to see Notre Dame burn this Monday was to experience Good Friday early. I went to bed on Monday night devastated and it felt like the whole world was grieving with me as Parisians gathered outside the burning cathedral weeping and singing “Ave Maria.”

I’ve been to Notre Dame twice. The first time was with my brother, Hank, in 2009. As we walked out of the Cathedral, my brother said to me, “I am about 3% spiritual.” With wide eyes and a big smile on my face, I said, “3%?” That seemed like a lot for my non-religious brother. He said, “Yes, 3% — you are my sister, you are a minister and so I think that should count for something. I figure I have about 3% spirituality in me.” We both laughed. As I went to bed on Monday night, I remembered with fondness that conversation and I reflected on how much he has changed since then.

As many of you know, this past year my brother was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, a very rare cancer. There is only one surgeon in all of Kaiser Southern California who performs this surgery. The surgeon said that my brother’s surgery was the gnarliest surgery he ever performed. That was in November. My brother was in the hospital for over a month. He is still recovering 5 months later. But life seems to have changed for him a bit – he lingers a bit longer in nature with the warm sun shining on his face. He shares words of affirmation more frequently these days. And he even let me drive his car, a Hellcat. He purchased the Hellcat a couple of years ago. Always said that only two people would ever be allowed to drive that car – he and his wife. After all, he said, it was half her car. But he was adamant no one else would drive the Hellcat. And then just a few weeks ago, as I was about to take him to a doctor’s appointment in Fontana, he said, “Why don’t you drive the Hellcat?” “What? The Hellcat? I thought only you and your wife were allowed to drive the Hellcat.” He said, “Jill, who knows how much longer I have to live…let’s enjoy the Hellcat.” So, I drove the Hellcat. Shaking the entire time to the appointment, but I drove it.

Our 15-year-old nephew, Ian, just got his driver’s permit. Hank congratulated him. Ian said, “Thanks – I now need 60 hours of driving practice.” Hank said, “I will take you out driving. And you can drive the Hellcat.” I almost fell over. “Hank, you are going to let Ian drive the Hellcat?” Hank said, “Sure. Why not? How many other 15-year olds can say that they practiced driving on a Hellcat?” I think there is some truth to Jesus’ words, “Those who lose their life will find it.” It was a resurrection of sorts – not a resuscitation about a resurrection – new life, possibility where there had been none before.

With the news of the fire in Paris, I went to bed Monday night grieving the loss of Notre Dame in its many forms – historically, architecturally, personally. It felt like so much more than the loss of a building. It felt like the loss of a loved one for me.

Only to discover that when I woke up on Tuesday morning, that much of the Cathedral had been spared. The organ, the gorgeous stained glass “rose” windows, the gilded crown of thorns had been saved and carried out of the basilica by a human chain. Five hundred firefighters had been deployed. Just last year the firefighters had been trained on how to preserve artworks in the cathedral – and so they put into action what they learned. No one was killed in the fire. And hundreds of millions of dollars had been pledged to rebuild the cathedral. The president of France said that the cathedral would be rebuilt in 5 years – others say that realistically it will take three times that long – but there is hope. Death, destruction, resurrection, hope all during Holy Week.

In our scripture passage, it is the women who go to the tomb early in the morning. The women discovered that the stone had been rolled away. The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive! They rushed to tell the disciples and the other men. But the male disciples receive the women’s proclamation as an “idle tale.”  The irony here is intense: this is the first post-Easter Christian sermon, proclaimed by Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who were with them – and the men, the disciples, refused to believe it.

On a number of occasions, I was told that I could not be a minister. Why? Because I am a woman. Jesus’ disciples were all men. If he wanted a woman minister, I was told, then he should have had female disciples. In response, some of my female clergy colleagues have posted on Facebook, “In the interest of biblical accuracy, all the preaching about the resurrection this Easter Sunday will be done by women.” I love it! Women were the original apostles.

Wouldn’t you know that the name, “Notre Dame” means “Our Lady.” There were more than 500 churches built named “Notre Dame” over a period of 125 amazing years in the Middle ages, when, writes Matthew Fox, the Divine Feminine last appeared in the West. There is a priority in the twelfth century renaissance for the Divine Feminine, who represented the poor, the outcast, and the marginal ones. That is why she was so popular. Another example is found in the Statue of Liberty given to us by the French. There we read the following, very much in the spirit of Notre Dame: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled mases yearning to breathe free…”

Matthew Fox states that the Divine Feminine is in need of a resurrection. May Notre Dame rise again – not just literally, but metaphorically too.

When the women came to the empty tomb, the angels said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?  He isn’t here!” In other words, Jesus is on the move. Do not waste your time looking in a graveyard for a living, dancing Christ?” God is on the loose. God is out of the box. The tomb could not contain the Divine. “And if God is free, if Christ is risen, then, there can be no forcing of God into any human box at all. No longer can we think that God is Catholic or Protestant, white, black or brown. No longer imagine that God prefers Christians to Muslims or vice versa. God is not on ‘our’ side any more than God is on ‘their’ side…God is on the loose” (Harvey, J. “God is on the Loose” sermon, Eggs and Ashes, 2007). There are those who would prefer a dead Christ in his place to a living one outside of our control. Where would we find Jesus now? He can be found among the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. He is found among the outcast and the marginalized.

As hundreds of millions of dollars roll in to help rebuild the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, people have been inspired to rebuild 3 historically black churches in Louisiana. People said, “All of this money is being donated to build Notre Dame, why don’t we help these three black churches in the South that were burned down because of racism? They need 1.8 million dollars. In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, 1.8 million was raised. The pastors of those churches are thrilled. Resurrection happens. Resurrection is contagious. God is on the loose.  

But there are other cathedrals and churches that need to be rebuilt, too. Let’s save these cathedrals. (Show pictures of nature.) What about the holy land of Puerto Rico that needs help in recovery? What about the holy land of Flint, Michigan who still needs clean water. Or let’s stand in solidarity with asylum seekers who are simply seeking to survive in a harsh world. God is on the loose…through you and through me.

In his sermon entitled “I Deny the Resurrection,” Peter Rollins says this, “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However, there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”

The One who made the sun, the moon, and the stars bursts out not just from the tomb, but from every box in which we try to contain the Holy. God is on the loose – there is no denying it. Let us affirm the resurrection with our words and our actions. For Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Amen.