You may have already guessed that tonight’s post is about the horrific fire that almost destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris earlier this week. This iconic building was constructed over a period of approximately two hundred years and parts of it date back more than 850 years. Throughout its history, this Catholic church has undergone a number of renovations and upgrades to keep it up to standard throughout the ages. And it is suspected that it was due to an accident connected with the most recent $6.8 million renovation that a fire broke out in the cathedral several minutes after closing time this past Monday.
Millions of people visit this church each year, from all over the world, and it hosts more people per annum than the Eiffel Tower, arguably one of the most famous structures in the world. When I was 17 years old, in 1970, I was one of those visitors to Notre Dame. Earlier that summer, I traveled to London on July 1st aboard the Pan Am Clipper Intrepid on its second flight from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. That in itself was quite an experience but that’s not where the story ends.
After spending several days in London, I flew to Munich, by way of Stuggart, Germany on the 4th of July and spent the next six weeks or so working in a factory, living with a family, in a small town named Pfronten in the middle of the Bavarian Alps. I was able to spend the the summer working and taking side trips around the countryside, including a rail trip to Zurich. I would return each Sunday so that I could work the following day.
As I was nearing the end of my time in Germany, I returned to Munich, caught a flight to Paris and stayed across the street from the Louvre Museum. I walked the streets taking in the sites and eventually found myself in front of Notre Dame. Of course, I went in and toured this magnificent place. I still have photos that I took including the stained glass windows and other notable relics inside the cathedral.
In 2011, Janet and I took a cruise around France and the British Isles. We actually traveled to Paris and had lunch along the Seine River across from Notre Dame. We didn’t have time to go in, but the cathedral looked timeless, the same way that I remembered it from my youth. And while I know world travelers who have been in Paris many times, I have only been there on several occasions.
During the fire earlier this week, groups of people were singing hymns, 400 firefighters fought the blaze and French officials were already vowing to rebuild the structure. Thankfully, parts of the church were saved from total destruction. This included the huge pipe organ, a large stained glass window, priceless works of art and a crown of thorns supposedly worn by Jesus on the cross during His crucifixion.
But one of the most striking things was to notice how Notre Dame has been a part of the Paris skyline and major historical events for the better part of a millenium. Napoleon had his coronation there, French President DeGaulle attended mass there at the conclusion of WWII and years later his funeral was also held there. Kings ordered restorations and held their ascension to the throne there. Countless acts in history were permanently woven into the fabric of the church.
But in fact, many people don’t know the history of Notre Dame. They take for granted that the church always has been there and will always be there. Yet, in a flash, it was, for the most part, gone. People grieved the loss of this structure that had graced the Parisian skyline for hundreds of years. Now, several days later, more than $1 billion has been pledged to take on the rebuilding project. Money has been flowing from almost every imaginable source.
That is all well and good, but why does it take a tragedy to bring people together? Remember 911? It brought the country together. But why couldn’t we get along before or after the memory of this incident started to fade into the background? And that’s the whole point of this post. Something so important as Notre Dame has been taken for granted for more than 800 years and the outpouring of love and giving is occurring after the fire.
That’s not so different from our own lives. The people we love and care for are a part of our lives but sometimes we take them for granted until tragedy strikes and it is possible that they could be gone. Paul, the apostle, knew better than most of us how important people are. There are multiple verses that let us know how Paul continually prayed for and interacted with many people. Our verse for tonight confirms that Paul didn’t take people for granted. We are told, in 1 Thessalonians 3:9, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”
Paul was a man who knew about joy in the Lord and how people in his life played into that joy. My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to appreciate one another and take time to engage one another before it’s too late. My prayer is that we will all learn a lesson from the disaster at Notre Dame and not forget or take for granted those folks who have been woven into the fabric of our lives for so long, even if they have be hidden in plain sight. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…