Reach for the sky...
Cathedrals began to rise up across European landscapes during the middle ages. This was a period of time spanning from the 600’s to the 1600’s A.D. Walk through any medieval European town today and you will find at the center – at the heart of most every city - a cathedral, the focal point of community life.
The market was usually near the cathedral. Townspeople often conducted business inside the cathedral itself. At the cathedral of Notre Dame, the labor exchange met in the transept, the crypt sheltered pilgrims and the sick, theatrical productions were often staged on the cathedral steps.
The purpose of the cathedral served many functions. Its primary purpose was worship. The historian Philip Schaff writes, "The great cathedrals became a daily sermon, bearing testimony to the presence of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The soaring interior spaces filled with sunlight as the sun shined through multicolored stained glass rose windows. Paintings and sculpture became the lessons and Scripture of the common man. Medieval cathedrals were often called a "poor man's book." The written word of the Bible, the Word of God, was reserved for the priests.
The Protestant Reformation arose in part as a protest to the worship of the medieval cathedral and church. Not satisfied with an allegorical, symbolic Bible in stone, the Reformers sought to return the written Bible and worship to the people. Many hundreds of cathedrals remain in Europe today – most of them now empty shells – stone monuments to days gone by. Some have burned.
We watched in horror this past April as a fire spread for over fifteen hours through the cathedral of Notre Dame. This 860-year-old medieval cathedral was at the center of our attention for several days. The roof collapsed. The timber spire reaching 295 feet in the sky above the crossing crumpled and fell like matchsticks. Firemen battled the blaze for days after trying to contain the overwhelming destruction of this ecclesiastical monument - this place of worship at the center of a city.
We are reminded by the Apostle Peter,
“But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7, NASB95).
“Our God is a consuming fire,” says the writer of Hebrews (12:29). Too often, people put their confidence, their comfort, their hope in the physical things of this world. Security is found in our homes, our bank accounts, our church buildings, our monuments, sometimes even our personal relationships. The reality is - all this will pass away (Matthew 24:35). “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Our Triune God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. It will never pass away (Psalm 145:13; Daniel 4:3).
Our eternal existence is going to be indescribably greater and more exciting than anything we could ever conceive today. No medieval cathedral with its flying buttresses, soaring vaulted ceilings or upward reaching spires could ever approximate the glory that is the New Heaven and the New Earth. Whatever our minds could imagine it cannot begin to get close to what eternity is going to be like in the presence of God.
The construction and placement of those medieval cathedrals attempted to capture eternity in a single moment. So, our worship each Lord’s Day, is an attempt to capture that time in eternity when God will be forever in the midst of His people. Then that promise will finally be fulfilled: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Jeremiah 7:23).
The fragility of earthly structures, the destruction of man-made monuments like Notre Dame, ought to remind us that heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God lasts forever. For those who are trusting in the one who has been through the flames and experienced the pain of hell on behalf of his people, "there is now no condemnation" (Romans 8:1).
Are you reaching for the world or are you reaching for the sky?