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“Even When Steeples Are Falling”

Even in the midst of falling steeples, in the face of the crucified Messiah, in our own baptismal drowning we are assured that the church won’t fall.

Like many people around the world, my social media feed has been filled with images of the burning Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France. Knowing its history and having been privileged to visit it many years ago I was saddened by its partial destruction and can understand the grief of those with closer ties. As I watched the video of the falling cathedral spire the words of this hymn came to mind:

“Built on the Rock, the church shall stand
Even when steeples are falling.”

Today, our family celebrates my daughter’s baptismal anniversary; dying and resurrection. This week the Christian church around the world is journeying through Holy Week.

The steeple burns. The cross kills. We are drowned in the waters of baptism.

As worshipers, leaders, and pastors, it’s important to know that many who gather this week and every week do so having experienced grief and loss. That loss can be a beloved icon of the faith, a building, a person, a dream. It can be large or small. It is just as important to name those things and weep for that loss as it is to journey to Maundy Thursday through all the darkness of Good Friday. For it is only when that grief is felt, when the profundity of the cross is felt in the very marrow of our being, that we can truly experience the Easter resurrection.

You see, even in the midst of falling steeples, in the face of the crucified Messiah, in our own baptismal drowning we are assured that the church won’t fall. As we go to worship and call people to worship this week and every week, we need to stand and declare in the face of all loss and grief that we stand on the Rock, Christ himself, and that Rock gives us hope.

In our baptism we are joined with Christ in both his death and resurrection. This gives us the hope and assurance we need when real and metaphorical steeples fall around us.

Built on the Rock, the church shall stand
even when steeples are falling;
Christ builds his church in every land;
bells still are chiming and calling,
calling the young and old to rest,
calling the souls of those distressed,
longing for life everlasting.

—Nikolai Grundtvig, 1854; tr. Carl Døving, 1909, alt. (#503 Psalter Hymnal 1987)

May all of us journey through this Holy Week with that assurance, declaring that we believe in the “resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” Nothing, not even falling steeples, can change that.