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Dear Friends,

I hope that you had a good Easter! In some ways I like a later Easter as it enables me to have a wee break during the school holidays and be back in time for Holy Week. We spent the first week in Aberdeen where we were able to spend some time with the girls. Anna and Matthew have bought a house in Pitmedden, north of Aberdeen. Anna graduates this year and starts work in Aberdeen in June. Zoe finishes her second year and has 2 years more of studying theology.

During Holy week and Easter the news was dominated by the fire in Notre Dame and the dreadful attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. I would like to share some of my reflections on the fire that I used in my Maundy Thursday reflections at Fenwick.

I would not want to minimise the historical significance of the building or the importance of the contents. After all, we take great pride in the history of this building and in the artefacts connecting us with our rich history. However, it does seem to me that for some people the building itself has become more important than the spiritual reality that it is meant to signify. That’s not universally true. There have been people more closely involved who have been quick to affirm that the church is not the building but the people and that what really matters is a living faith

As I reflected on all this earlier in the week it reminded of Jesus’ response during that last week with his disciples when they drew his attention to the splendour of the temple in Jerusalem in Matthew 24. “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” That was fulfilled in AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman general Titus. Very different circumstances to the devastation that has taken place in Paris, and unlike Notre Dame the temple was never restored.

We get a further insight to what lies behind this from the end of the passage on the triumphal entry that we read on Sunday:

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming among you.’” (Luke 19:41-44)

That is a sober warning for every one of us. Do we fail to recognise the time of God’s coming among us? Do we give more attention to the buildings and other material things than we do to the truths to which they point? We can even let them become a focal point for our identity and a connection with our history and yet remain untouched by the spiritual reality to which they point.

I was already well underway with this sermon when I heard on the news yesterday morning that structural experts have said that Notre Dame was only half an hour away from total collapse. Others have already highlighted the picture that has gone viral of the cross lit up in the ruins, and the hope that brings even in the midst of destruction. The hope secured in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

I would not want to take away from the courage and commitment of the firefighters who risked their lives to save the building from total destruction, but at the same time I do believe that we see the hand of God on the situation, that he has saved the building from collapsing.

I sense that God is speaking through this. I am sure that he is saying other things to other people, but my personal conviction is that he has an important word for the Church of Scotland. We are faced with problems of decline. I only need to say the words “Presbytery Planning” without any further comment. Our church nationally and locally is being ravaged by the flames of unbelief, disobedience where we do not take God’s commands seriously, idolatry where keeping tradition is elevated above the need for a relationship with the risen Christ. Our Christianity has become more about meeting our own needs than seeking the glory of God. The walls are still standing, but we are in a precarious position. The whole thing could collapse on us at any time.

I believe that God is calling you and me to be firefighters. He wants you and he wants me to stand firm for the truth of the gospel. He wants us to live that out on a day to day basis that we may be salt and light as Jesus commanded, that we may be living proof of the resurrection and the new life available in Christ.

Like the destruction of Jerusalem, the fire at Notre Dame presents us with a warning. We must take God’s word seriously and return to his ways, but it also brings us a word of hope. He has not abandoned us.

I also feel constrained to say that perhaps there is a more personal word for some people. Perhaps you are struggling to hold onto your faith. Maybe you feel that it’s not very far away from total collapse. It could be that there are things in your life that are troubling. God seems distant and you can’t understand what he’s up to. Come with Jesus to Gethsemane this Maundy Thursday – Jesus who was sorrowful and troubled, whose soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.

The tragic events in Sri Lanka were all the more shocking for the congregation in Fenwick as they have a link with a congregation there and visits have taken place in both directions. We were relieved to hear than none of the congregation were among the casualties. However one of the bombs went off only 150 yards from the church during their Easter Service.

Much more has been written elsewhere. There is much that gives us cause for concern. However for me it reinforces the wonder of God’s love that he should willingly choose to share in our humanity, to take our punishment on himself on the cross, to rise victorious over death and give us the certain hope of an eternity where all wrongs are made right and sin, sorrow and death are banished forever.

May we each know the reality of that Easter hope!

Colin A. Strong