Micah 4:1-4; Phil 4:6-9
St Barbara’s 08.11.15
Rev Tulo Raistrick
The day after the Coventry bombings, which had left the medieval cathedral in ruins, the Cathedral’s stone mason took from the debris two charred oak beams that had fallen across one another and tied them together into a cross. A replica of this cross is still found amongst the ruins of the old cathedral today.
Another person found in the rubble three medieval nails and fashioned them into a second cross. This cross is now to be found in the centre of the main altar cross in the cathedral.
The day after the bombings, the leader of the cathedral Provost Richard Howard was walking amongst the smouldering ruins of the cathedral, and picking up a piece of chalk, he wrote on the crumbling walls: “Father, forgive”. These words can still be found there today.
The two crosses, one to be found in the ruins of the old, the other to be found at the centre of the new cathedral, and the words “Father, forgive”, have come to be very powerful symbols in the life of not only the cathedral and the churches of this area, but of the city itself.
The crosses speak to us of many things.
They are a symbol of immense suffering and pain. At their most literal they are a symbol of extreme torture and punishment, the first century equivalent of the electric chair or water boarding. The cross reminds us all of the pain and suffering in our world, the suffering that we are only too acutely aware of on days like today.
The cross stands too as a symbol of how far we all fall short. For the cross reminds us that it was human hands that nailed Christ to the cross. God sent his own son Jesus, and we refused to acknowledge and respond to the love that he brought into the world. The wrongs that caused the horrific sufferings of the second world war and the conflicts before and since, are reflected in that most shocking of acts, the killing of God himself.
The cross symbolises too the supreme act of sacrifice. Remembrance Sunday is an opportunity for us to give thanks for all those who sacrificed their lives so that we may enjoy freedom. The Bible tells us that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one friends”. But the extraordinary truth of God’s love is that on the cross, He laid down his own life for his enemies. Whilst we were still sinners, enemies of God, seeking to deny him, disown him, kill him, the Bible tells us, God died for us. At the heart of our city stands a cross that reminds us not only of the sacrifice of others, but most profoundly, of the sacrifice made by God himself. It is the sign that he would stop at nothing to show us the true extent of his love for us.
But the crosses fashioned out of charred wood and ancient nails are empty, and there in lies our hope. For the cross was not the end; it marks the beginning. It is not just a reminder of suffering, or our failings, or of sacrifice. Christ did not remain dead, nailed to a cross or decaying in a tomb. He rose from the dead, defeating death’s power, and offering to all the hope of eternal life.
As we remember those who have died, as we perhaps ponder our own mortality, the cross is more than anything a symbol that death is not the end, not the final word, or the full stop at the end of our lives. For in the cross, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is the offer of life beyond, a life of peace, of joy, of a better world. How we need that vision, that hope, that the prophet Micah expressed in the reading we heard earlier, a day when nations will beat their swords into ploughing implements, when no nation will go to war against another or train for war again. A world of peace. the cross assures us of what is to come.
And finally those crosses that have become such a potent symbol for this city, leave us with a final hope and challenge.
The cross is the place of forgiveness, the place of reconciliation. When Provost Howard inscribed those words on the wall of the cathedral ruins “Father forgive”, he intentionally did not write “Father, forgive them”. It is not just our enemies who need forgiveness. We do too. We all play some part in the brokenness of our world, whether it be through our broken relationships, our anger or envy of others, our indifference to those in need. When we pray the Coventry litany of reconciliation that we prayed earlier, it is difficult not to own our own part in the mess of this world.
And yet, we can turn to God and know forgiveness. And having been forgiven, we can find the strength to forgive others.
Jesus told a story of a man who owed thousands and thousands of pounds. One day his creditor called him in, and the man feared the worst. His debts would be called in, and unable to pay, he would be thrown into prison. The best he could hope for was an extension of the payment deadline. Instead, much to his amazement, his creditor wiped the slate clean.
The same is true for us. God wipes our slate clean. He forgives us no matter how large we may feel our debt is.
But the story goes on. On his way back home, celebrating his good fortune, the man bumps into someone who owes him a paltry sum, a fiver in today’s money. He demands payment, even getting him thrown in prison when he can’t pay. The creditor, on hearing this, responds with anger and incredulity: “Is that how little you value what I did for you?”
We have been forgiven much. Let us reach out and live lives of forgiveness with one another ourselves. Let us work for reconciliation, in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our church, in our world.
As we drive into our city we pass signs welcoming us to the city of peace and reconciliation. May we be known as people of peace and reconciliation.