Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
I watched the footage of the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and I almost cried. The summer before my fourth year in college, I happened to make a lot more money than I expected, so I bought a plane ticket to Europe. I landed in Amsterdam and worked my way from there through Germany, where I met Clare as she came too before starting a study abroad program in Spain. We worked our way down and spent, as lovers do, some time in Paris. When I saw the roof burning I thought of our time there—buying bread and cheese and eating by the river, kissing on the bridges, and going to a mass at Notre Dame, where I wrestled with the question of whether it would be fair to the Catholics if I went up for communion or not. I have a memory of sitting far in the back of the nave, wondering if I should commune until I finally thought, “No one knows I’m not Catholic,” and then simply feeling elated that I did take communion and mad that the priests did not offer wine. But that memory lies deep in my mind, so deep I’m not sure if it is a memory of a real event, or more like the compost of many memories, layered and decaying into one another—the memories of the love I shared with Clare, the thrill of exploring Europe on my own and in my own way, and the spiritual wrestling of what to do and the best way to love God. That’s what I felt when I saw the burning of the cathedral—I had been there, where prayer was answered, and it was a part of my life going up in smoke. It is an 850-year-old building—in 1944, Charles de Gaulle came with the whole of France to celebrate the liberation of France from the Nazis. And that’s just one of the moments it celebrated. Kings were crowned there. Every day, people like me went there to pray and to worship. Notre Dame held no weddings, no funerals, just Mass every day, so that people from every part of the globe could worship together. It was both a museum and a parish. No wonder the whole world wept when it burned.
We attach so much to the works of our hands—the cathedrals and the humble churches like our own. Our own building, this strange and beautiful building, is a place where God has answered prayer. This has also been the room of quiet triumphs and bitter tears. Almost a century of songs have been sung here—for almost a hundred years, someone has proclaimed God’s Word here every week. Sometimes, more often than that. Thousands of people have walked into these doors seeking something—somebody, some flash or moment that would open the world to them in a new way. They came because this was a church, and church is where you’re supposed to be able to find God.
In all the smoke and tears, the tales and the traditions, one thing remains the same: you will find God when you find God’s people at the table with Jesus. I believe that in a flash of elation, I found God at Notre Dame. I believe the men and women who walked into the churches in Louisiana found that their prayers had a home. But it wasn’t the walls or the spires that carried God or held God for them. God carries himself to us in the humble things—the bread, the wine, the water, the Word, the people. God carries himself to us in a promise, that when we share the bread and the cup, Christ is in the midst of us. God carries himself to us in the promise that in our service to one another, we communicate the touch of God.
Scripture calls the human body the temple of the Holy Spirit. Your body is the cathedral of God. In baptism, your body becomes part of the body of Christ, just as in communion the body of Christ becomes part of our body. We sing tonight that love consecrates the humblest act, and believe me, in the washing of our feet, even your humble feet, God speaks to you, and when you wash the feet of another, you communicate God to another.
Love consecrates the humblest act—even the act kneeling and washing feet. Each one of us is holy and precious because God’s love has consecrated us, no matter how worthless or unholy we may feel. God’s love consecrates us just as it consecrates the bread and wine we share tonight. Every cathedral and church may burn, all relics may decay into dust, every culture may dwindle into dusty pages in lost books, but the love of God, the eternal love of God, consecrates you and me and never forgets us.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack