For me today’s Memorial Service in Hagley Park was unexpectedly powerful.
I knew that it would be a good gathering of tens of thousands of Cantabrians. I knew too that dignitaries would speak and artists would perform.
I did not expect the service to be so explicitly and powerfully sacred. I did not expect it to serve to lead us so strongly into a new stage of life in our devastated city.
The 14 minute video that began the service showed scenes that only few people have seen: the devastated CBD. From the opening scenes of our Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, to the closing images of the Cathedral in the square, every frame revealed a scene of destruction, a place of suffering, and the rubble that has caused so much death.
After these images, the next two hours were filled with significant readings, reflections, speeches and music.
I did fear that the gathering would be little more than a telling of the stories of what had happened to us. My fears were unfounded. We all knew what had happened, now we needed a new story to carry us into the future. We needed a story of hope. And this hope was the powerful theme of the service. The highlights for me included:
- The Governor General reading from the Roman philosopher Seneca.
- Dave Dobbyn singing “Loyal”
- Ralph Moore (ChCh Search & Rescue leader) reading Psalm 23 “The Lord’s my Shepherd”
- Malvina Major singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone“
- The ‘lighting of the flame’
- Gathering prayers led by Bishop Victoria Matthews, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.
- The reading of Romans 8:37-39 ‘nothing…..can separate us from the love of God.
- Hayley Westenra singing “Amazing Grace“
- The reading from the Gospel of John 14:1-3,27
- Prayers led by representatives of the Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Baha’i.
- Singing of “Pie Jesu“
- Prayers of blessings
- Choristers (Anglican Cathedral) singing “The Lord bless you and Keep you“
- The people’s singing of “How Great thou Art” and the hymn that is our National Anthem.
Commentators will evaluate today’s Memorial Service over the next few days. But as I sit here this evening I am filled with gratitude to those who organised and led such a dignified and hope-filled liturgy of hope.