A book series I treasured reading to my young daughter was the compilation - “Fancy Nancy.” Nancy was a precocious little girl with a big personality who liked all things fancy – over the top – extraordinary.
She was always dressed for a party with boas and pearls and lots of feathers. In the A, B, C, book in the series that teaches children the words that match the letters – E is for Esoteric – and I for Iridescent.
I have a favorite picture of my daughter heading out the door to her Episcopal pre-school one day in her put together Fancy Nancy costume. How time flies.
I’ll bet you can guess, then, what extraordinary, extravagant, and sparkly city Fancy Nancy believed was the best city on earth – not New York – the other one – Paris.
Which is why when Dorothea was 13 she and I went. By then she had outgrown the books - but we had been reading and talking about seeing Paris together for years.
So what a gift it was when in 2018 as a part of my sabbatical she and I were able to go.
“I” is also for itinerary and I put together a full one - Starting day one! We landed in the afternoon – dropped our bags at our hotel – on rue de l’Hirondelle of all places, and following the advice to not give into napping and jet lag, headed right out to get coffee. We had tickets for a boat ride down the Seine, with a guided tour of the Eiffel Tower in a few hours – so we needed to do something to stay awake!
When you need to pass time in a city do you know where you can always go? Church! And in Paris not just any church - Notre Dame cathedral happened to be in the same arrondissement as our hotel. So, after espressos and hot chocolate – off we went.
Now, what I remember most about Notre Dame, I am hesitant to tell you – I’m worried it will sound somewhat disrespectful – perhaps you had a very different experience – so I am just sharing mine.
Truly, I was underwhelmed. It was not fancy. I’d stared at the Monet paintings – I’m sure I’d seen the inside in a movie or two – but Notre Dame did not have that feeling I expected of magnificent transcendence that cathedrals tend to inspire in me.
It was cold and cavernous. It felt like a museum. And that feeling would repeat itself in my travels. Not in every church I visited during the sabbatical – which included a day in Florence and time in Assisi, Italy so I visited a lot of churches. Beautiful buildings to be sure – many of them felt empty feeling inside.
Fast forward a year to Holy Week 2019 – and back in Baltimore I watched along with the world as Notre Dame cathedral, the roof, some stones at least 800-year-old topple to the ground. And this morning’s gospel is what came to mind.
Watching online, I could hear Jesus shouting, which perhaps he did to the disciples – do you see this building? Do you see this spire? Do you see these large stones? No matter how long they stand and have stood – inevitably temples, cathedrals and churches will and do come down.
It was this gospel that fueled my Easter sermon later that week – reminding me that Easter – resurrection – new life – doesn’t come through a building – it comes through the working of God – working and partnering and empowering God’s holy people.
New life – began with people on their knees weeping on a Paris street. More engagewd and present and aware in loss – than the throngs of people I shuffled through that Cathedral with – assuming I suppose – it will be there forever.
New life begins when the old is gone and something sparks prayer – prayer of help – prayer of now what – prayer of God what to do? Hope and possibility start in the not knowing time.
This chapter of Mark is known as the “Little Apocalypse” because Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple – which the author of Mark would have lived through.
For many of us, the word “apocalypse” conjures thoughts of the rapture and destruction, a not-knowing spent in fear of a vengeful God or an evil Santa Clause – checking his list and plucking up the good ones. But that is not what the word means - though I’m pretty sure using it that way sells more books.
Apocalypse rightly defined – is not a punitive – but a hopeful framework. The Greek in its original context – like in Mark – means to uncover or unveil- to reveal something new.
The hard part - is not knowing the timeline - when? When will it be? When will we know? What are the signs? The disciples want to know - of course they do.
The author Neal Donald Walsh – author of a series very different than Fancy Nancy called – “Conversations with God” – wrote –
“Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.”
I agree - but how? How do we live in the not knowing time of in-between? How do you make room for what has not yet been revealed?
P is for Patience. This is what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews encourages. Reminding us that the way Christ made for us - was a new and living way. This is not an answer that takes away our unknowing - and yet it is the full assurance of our faith. This is what gives confidence. This is how we hold fast to the confession of our hope - without wavering. Even though - Jesus said, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
I love Jesus so I’m not going to give him too much flack for using a metaphor he didn’t know anything about - but - I’ll take him at his word - knowing a thing or two about those pangs - and - they aren’t easy. They do end – and something wonderful is born.
Jesus doesn’t promise - the way, the truth, and the life - will be easy. Jesus is the promise – God with us.
There were churches and cathedrals in my travels that trip where I felt that sacred space. Every time it was a church I had never heard of - like Saint-Pierre Montmartre - next to the famous Sacre Coeur – which I got up early one morning to visit by myself.
I just happened upon the smaller chapel. It was closed - but I could step inside the vestibule and look into the sanctuary. Which was simple, small – very ordinary, not at all fancy – older than Notre Dame – and built as an abbey for praying monks long before it was a church for the people.
There was a vacuum cleaner in the aisle. Yes, stones will topple down - new ways will come in and replace the old – and I don’t know what it was about seeing the vacuum cleaner with it’s long cord connected to an outlet far away – but what can I say – it was hopeful.
It’s not the fancy buildings – it’s not the fancy programs – all we need to do in the betwixt between times – is approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith – holding fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. So let us continue to consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another – as followers of the Way have done for centuries. Amen.
Thanks to Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations on Apocalypse for context and inspiration.