cathedral bells toll 041719 vpx
CNN
cathedral bells toll 041719 vpx
Now playing
02:00
Cathedral bells toll in solidarity with Notre Dame
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow on September 29, 2019. - Thousands gathered in Moscow for a demonstration demanding the release of the opposition protesters prosecuted in recent months. Police estimated a turnout of 20,000 people at the Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow about half an hour after the start of the protest, which was authorised. The demonstrators chanted "let them go" and brandished placards demanding a halt to "repressions" of opposition protesters. (Photo by Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP) (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images)
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow on September 29, 2019. - Thousands gathered in Moscow for a demonstration demanding the release of the opposition protesters prosecuted in recent months. Police estimated a turnout of 20,000 people at the Sakharov Avenue in central Moscow about half an hour after the start of the protest, which was authorised. The demonstrators chanted "let them go" and brandished placards demanding a halt to "repressions" of opposition protesters. (Photo by Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP) (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Now playing
02:09
Alexey Navalny 'close to death,' press secretary says
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: The Duke of Edinburgh's coffin, covered with His Royal Highness's Personal Standard is carried to the purpose built Land Rover during the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 in Windsor, England. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born 10 June 1921, in Greece. He served in the British Royal Navy and fought in WWII. He married the then Princess Elizabeth on 20 November 1947 and was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich by King VI. He served as Prince Consort to Queen Elizabeth II until his death on April 9 2021, months short of his 100th birthday. His funeral takes place today at Windsor Castle with only 30 guests invited due to Coronavirus pandemic restrictions. (Photo by Adrian Dennis/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Adrian Dennis/WPA Pool/Getty Images
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: The Duke of Edinburgh's coffin, covered with His Royal Highness's Personal Standard is carried to the purpose built Land Rover during the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 in Windsor, England. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born 10 June 1921, in Greece. He served in the British Royal Navy and fought in WWII. He married the then Princess Elizabeth on 20 November 1947 and was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich by King VI. He served as Prince Consort to Queen Elizabeth II until his death on April 9 2021, months short of his 100th birthday. His funeral takes place today at Windsor Castle with only 30 guests invited due to Coronavirus pandemic restrictions. (Photo by Adrian Dennis/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:29
See memorable moments from Prince Philip's funeral
ITN
Now playing
02:10
Princes Harry and William seen together at Prince Philip's funeral
Getty Images
Now playing
00:55
CNN anchor: We saw a Queen grieving
Getty Images
Now playing
03:00
The end of an era has arrived in Cuba
Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro talking with parents of some of the American prisoners held hostage for food and supplies by the Cuban government after the abortive emigre invasion at the Bay of Pigs, January 1963.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro talking with parents of some of the American prisoners held hostage for food and supplies by the Cuban government after the abortive emigre invasion at the Bay of Pigs, January 1963.
Now playing
05:37
Remembering the Bay of Pigs invasion, 60 years later
Myanmar Bago killing Hancocks pkg intl hnk vpx_00002309.png
Myanmar Bago killing Hancocks pkg intl hnk vpx_00002309.png
Now playing
03:39
Eyewitnesses recount bloody crackdown in Bago, Myanmar
MAY LEWIS via Reuters
Now playing
00:49
Here's why this river turned white
Hong Kong national security education day Lu Stout W&T intl hnk vpx_00013016.png
Hong Kong national security education day Lu Stout W&T intl hnk vpx_00013016.png
Now playing
01:42
Hong Kong police showcase 'Chinese-style goose-stepping'
brazil coronavirus jair bolsonaro rio de janeiro Darlington pkg intl ldn vpx_00003012.png
AFP
brazil coronavirus jair bolsonaro rio de janeiro Darlington pkg intl ldn vpx_00003012.png
Now playing
02:43
Last week, coronavirus killed 3 people every minute in Brazil
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: U.S. President Joe Biden announces new economic sanctions against the Russia government from the East Room of the White House on April 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden announced sanctions against 32 companies and individuals that are aimed at choking off lending to the Russian government and in response to the 2020 hacking operation that breached American government agencies and some of the nation's largest companies. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: U.S. President Joe Biden announces new economic sanctions against the Russia government from the East Room of the White House on April 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden announced sanctions against 32 companies and individuals that are aimed at choking off lending to the Russian government and in response to the 2020 hacking operation that breached American government agencies and some of the nation's largest companies. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Now playing
06:49
Biden imposes new sanctions on Russia
CNN's Becky Anderson speaks with Fatima Gailani, an Afghan women's rights activist and government peace negotiator, about her views on the planned withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
CNN
CNN's Becky Anderson speaks with Fatima Gailani, an Afghan women's rights activist and government peace negotiator, about her views on the planned withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
Now playing
03:49
Afghan negotiator: I'm worried about withdrawal without peace
screengrab afghanistan taliban
AFPTV
screengrab afghanistan taliban
Now playing
03:50
How Taliban may run Afghanistan after US troops withdraw
screengrab japan fukushima daiichi
IAEA
screengrab japan fukushima daiichi
Now playing
02:31
Japan plans to release treated Fukushima water into sea
SUEZ, EGYPT - MARCH 29: The container ship 'Ever Given' is refloated, unblocking the Suez Canal on March 29, 2021 in Suez, Egypt. This morning the container ship came partly unstuck from the shoreline, where it ran aground in the canal last Tuesday, and later resumed its course shortly after 3pm local time. The Suez Canal is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and the blockage had created a backlog of vessels at either end, raising concerns over the impact on global shipping and supply chains. (Photo by Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images)
Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images
SUEZ, EGYPT - MARCH 29: The container ship 'Ever Given' is refloated, unblocking the Suez Canal on March 29, 2021 in Suez, Egypt. This morning the container ship came partly unstuck from the shoreline, where it ran aground in the canal last Tuesday, and later resumed its course shortly after 3pm local time. The Suez Canal is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and the blockage had created a backlog of vessels at either end, raising concerns over the impact on global shipping and supply chains. (Photo by Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images)
Now playing
00:57
Egypt seizes Ever Given ship, asks for $900M in compensation

Editor’s Note: The Reverend Richard Hong is the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey. Their historic sanctuary was destroyed in a fire on March 22, 2016. The views expressed here are his. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN) —  

As I watched the reports of the blaze engulfing the Notre Dame Cathedral, the event triggered memories of the fire in 2016 that destroyed the sanctuary of the church where I serve as the pastor. Like the Notre Dame fire, ours happened during the week before Easter, which Christians refer to as Holy Week. Although nothing compares to the magnificence of Notre Dame, our church was fairly large (700 seats), locally historic (about 150 years old) and also contained a recently-restored pipe organ. Our pipe organ, our Tiffany stained-glass window and the sanctuary where so many were married and baptized were lost.

Rev. Richard Hong
c/o Englewood Presbyterian
Rev. Richard Hong

The destruction of our sanctuary just five days before Easter made that Easter even more meaningful to us. Easter is a day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It represents life after death. It represents recovery from tragedy. In the aftermath of the fire, the coming of Easter helped us focus not on what we lost, but on what we could become.

We were reminded that a church is the people, not a building – the Greek word that ultimately became “church” was ekklesia, which means “assembly.” It was never meant to refer to the structure in which the people gathered. The structure is meant to serve the people, not the other way around.

Because Notre Dame is a work of art itself with works of art within, the damage it has sustained is a stunning loss to the world. And while the two are not entirely separable, (because God gifts individuals with the ability to create great art and God created a world of great beauty and called it very good), there is a distinction between the building’s function as a sacred space of worship and the building’s beauty as a work of art.

The sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood after it suffered a fire during Holy Week in 2016.
c/o Richard Hong
The sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood after it suffered a fire during Holy Week in 2016.

As tragic as this fire was, we must be reminded that the purpose of the church is not to celebrate the works of humankind, but to celebrate the works of God. Our faith is in the eternal, not the temporal. As the apostle Paul writes, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

One of the more interesting observations I made after our fire is that while strangers were sending me messages about how devastated they were upon hearing about it, our members were not devastated. Our members set about the task of continuing to be the church. We lost our building, but we still had our church – because we still had each other, and God was with us. God still is with us.

We are now close to breaking ground on the rebuilding, but the new sanctuary will not look like the old. Our purpose was not to recreate what we had, but to create a space that would serve the people long after we are gone.

Our hope is that in 50 years, or 100 years or more, people will be experiencing faith within that space. But we also know that it will not stand forever. It will meet its end – whether by fire, wrecking ball, or even the ravages of war – and there will be sadness. But the people will still be the church, even after the building is gone.

Likewise, the people of France will still be the French, and as a community may they become stronger through this. As their cathedral is rebuilt, may they be drawn to the beauty that is God-inspired.

During Holy Week, we descend to the depths of the crucifixion on Good Friday, but that is followed by the joy of the resurrection on Easter. Our Christian hope is that God is with us – alive and active, and caring about those who weep, mourn and hunger for goodness in the world. The Christian church, inspired by Christ’s act of reconciling us with God, is focused on sharing this good news with others, thus building God’s community on earth. It is also focused on the future, when the fullness of this building effort will come to pass.

Get our free weekly newsletter

The loss of what Notre Dame Cathedral has been cannot be calculated. But as we approach Easter, in faith we can dare to say that Notre Dame’s best years may still lie ahead.