I was saddened to hear Bob Parker announce that Christ Church Anglican Cathedral “will be rebuilt.” Without a doubt the mayor’s intention is to convey that our city has a future, and that rebuilding some badly damaged buildings must not be considered impossible.
Yes, the Cathedral may well be rebuilt. But today such unfounded dreams are powerless to give us the comfort we need.
My sadness is that the beauty and meaning of this Anglican Cathedral is being misread. The first Anglican Christians of Christchurch City built this Cathedral for one purpose only: to give glory to God. They placed the spire atop to point the people of the city to God. This cathedral was truly an icon: a window through which people glimpsed the beauty of divine life. The building was an icon of God.
Whether or not this Cathedral continues to stand at the centre of our city, in no way affects the degree to which God will be present among us. In fact a Cathedral that is reconstructed to be a secular symbol and a Godless icon is a confusing counter-sign. A Cathedral is not a Cathedral if built (or rebuilt) to satisfy nostalgia.
In the mind and language of many, the Cathedral is seen as little more than as an icon of the city, a symbol of who we are. When people speak about the Cathedral they usually do so without mentioning God. The sacred has been reduced to the secular. We have missed the point our ancestors were making in building “to the glory of God”.
A Cathedral (and any Christian Church) stands to be a window (icon) through which we see the divine more clearly. A Cathedral is not essentially a symbol of a people, but a sign that raises the mind and heart of needy people to the Almighty and generous loving-God.
This is especially important for the people of our region in these days of suffering. The overwhelming outpouring of support and love shown among friends, neighbours, strangers and even enemies is real love. But it is not simply this. Such love is also a vivid sign of God’s love for us and God’s presence among us.
It would be the greatest tragedy if this sign was left unread, especially in these days.
If we see a Cathedral simply as a secular symbol of a people and their city, we will also see the generous love among people at this time as nothing more than a group of people at their loving best.
The fact is a much greater treasure: a Cathedral points us to God. Where there is love between people lived in practical and generous ways, there is God.
People, and the Cathedrals they build, are signs that point to God and lead us to God. On this journey together, human life is liveable, even amid destruction and death.
If we begin to think that these signs are the destination, the journey is over, and we are left floundering and rudderless in the struggle of present human existence.
Let the Town Hall, the Civic Chambers, the Arts Centre and the Avon river be symbols of our city and images of who we are and what we can achieve. A Cathedral is much more: not a symbol of what is human but a sign that directs us to God. A Cathedral is a symbol of all that God can achieve in us if we are receptive.
It is this ultimate and divine reality that provides us with hope and meaning in these days of distress.