Normally, on Good Friday, I write about the crucifixion. And make no mistake: the fact that Jesus died is an important fact on which to meditate, and for which to give thanks in worship today. (You can do so at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, at 10:00 a.m. if you are able!)
But a big event from last Monday prompts me to go in a different direction.
Last Monday, a serious fire occurred within Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
The outpouring of emotion on social media was palpable. To be sure, it is profoundly sad that this icon of religious architecture would be nearly destroyed by fire. It appears that the structure may be saved, and French leaders, with large donations from wealthy people, are vowing to rebuild what has been lost. (That in itself has caused no small amount of controversy.)
What I’m left wanting to ponder with you, though, is the reality that though a building may be destroyed, the church is not.
The church is not a building: the church is people.
Every time I say or hear that, I am reminded of a very old radio ad I used to hear as a child for Dofasco, a steel fabrication company in Hamilton, Ontario. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the commercial itself, but the tagline has stuck with me for well more than forty years: “Our product is steel. Our strength is people.”
The company knew that while they would be known for producing steel products (among those with which I’m best acquainted are the side frames for Canadian-built locomotives), they could not produce those steel products without the employees who make it happen – everyone from the people who heat the molten material to the people who sweep the floors to the people who keep the books in the office.
The same is true of the church – almost.
When we think of the church as bricks-and-mortar, we have only an imagined product. A church building in and of itself is only a tool. The building does not preach the gospel. The building does not care for the sick. The building does not feed the hungry. The building does not advocate for justice.
It’s the people who do that. We are the church.
So yes, be sad for the significant damage done to a magnificent church building which has stood for almost nine centuries as a testament to the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But be resolved to be the church. Some of the most effective gatherings of God’s people in the world do not worship in an architectural masterpiece; some of them don’t even have a building to call their own. And while people may be inspired by the incredible architecture of great church buildings (and there are many), let your inspiration be channeled into a deep and abiding faith in Jesus, who died and rose again for us, that we would be his hands and feet in the world – preaching the good news, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and advocating for justice.
When the church loses these characteristics, we ought indeed to mourn.
But you and I aren’t going to let that happen, right? It doesn’t matter if we have a building or not: we are the church.
Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18.20, NLT).