Cathedral spires and towers are built to point people to God. For centuries church bells have rung a call to prayer and worship.
In these days of devastation in Christchurch we have witnessed the collapse of many structures. Buildings that now lie in ruins, only days ago housed our families and sheltered our work. The two Christchurch Cathedrals have lost spire, towers and bells.
In this modern age we shy away from ancient symbols calling us to ritual worship. Yet our devastated Cathedrals are speaking in these days with a new voice.
So many citizens tell with shock of witnessing the Anglican Cathedral spire fall to the ground. Others struggle to deal with the reality of the collapsed towers of the Catholic Cathedral. All of us are affected by both losses.
In their fallen state, our city Cathedrals are reminding us to look to where they once confidently pointed, rather than to focus on their passing physical beauty. Our Cathedrals pointed us to God.
Yes, both the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and Christ Church Cathedral were magnificent buildings. But there is something more. They were built to lead us to God. And as they lie in part ruin, they remind us again of the fundamental human desire for the full life of God.
Our buildings may now appear destroyed, but our God is alive.
Even for Cantabrians who might never enter these holy places for prayer, these Churches are vivid symbols of much that is stable and sacred.
The Cathedral builders founded their lives on the conviction that God was real and tangible in earthly events and personal encounters. Our Christian ancestors knew that God loved them. They constructed their Cathedrals to be physical, visible and audible signs of the beauty of earthly and eternal life with God.
The name “Cathedral” is given to the Church that houses the chair of the Bishop of the diocese. From this chair (‘cathedra’ in Latin) a bishop speaks of the life-giving relationship of love between the human reality and the reality of the life of God. The two Christchurch bishops have spoken in these days expressing this reality:
The Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews writes “People are suffering terrible anxiety. There are still many people who have been unable to make contact with members of their family and with their closest friends.”
Catholic Bishop Barry Jones promised his “prayer for those who have been killed and injured, and also for those closest to them who never imagined when they last saw them that anything like this would happen.”
Without the usual central city spires towers and bells calling us to live in love of God and neighbour, what signs and symbols do we have to direct us to what is essential?
Fortunately, these painful hours have been marked by outpouring of love and support. Locally, neighbours are reaching out to strangers. From the ends of the earth practical support and assurances of good-will are reaching our region. These actions speak powerfully of the love of God.
In these days we are seeing anew what is essential. The new plasma screen and fashion clothes are forgotten as we realize that we are created for love of neighbour, stranger and even the enemy. We are created for love of God. Where there is love, there is God.
On Wednesday evening of this week, just 30 hours after the devastating quake, Bishop Jones led parishioners of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch in the celebration of the Mass at Our Lady of Victories Church Sockburn. Without the central city Cathedral reminders pointing us to God in prayer, we still gathered as people of faith. At this celebration of the Mass we prayed from the ancient ritual:
God our Father
you set the earth on its foundation
Keep us safe from the danger of earthquakes
and let us always feel the presence of your love
May we be secure in your protection
and serve you with grateful hearts.
We make this prayer
Through Christ Our Lord.