Cathedral spires and towers are built to point people to God. For centuries church bells have tolled a call to prayer and worship.
In these eighteen months of devastation in Christchurch we have witnessed the collapse of many structures. Buildings that now lie in ruins or are marked for demolition, only months ago housed our families and sheltered our work. The two Christchurch Cathedrals have lost spire, towers and bells. They face an uncertain future.
In this modern age we shy away from ancient symbols calling us to ritual worship. Yet our devastated Cathedrals are speaking in these months 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 and tourists who might never enter these holy places for prayer, these Churches are vivid symbols of all that is ultimately 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. On the day of the February earthquake, the two Christchurch bishops have spoken in expressing this reality.
The Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews wrote: “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, the painful hours and months following the quake were marked by outpouring of love and support. Locally, neighbours reached out to strangers. From the ends of the earth practical support and assurances of good-will came to our suffering 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, 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:
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.
Now, twelve months on, Bishop Barry Jones concluded the ‘two-minute’ silence at the (Ash Wednesday) Hagley Park memorial service, by leading our city in prayer, praying:
O God whose mercies are without number, and whose treasure and goodness is infinite, graciously increase the faith of your people that all may grasp and rightly understand by whose love they have been created. Your Son Jesus has taught us to open our hearts to you in sincere prayer,
today after one year,
we commend to your love and mercy all those whose lives have been changed forever by the earthquake of 22 February 2011. those who lost their lives in that terrible time.
those who were evacuated in great stress
and who have since departed this life Grieving and distraught families, friends and workmates
entered thereby into a time of sadness,
loneliness and heartbreak. Have mercy on them all O God. We commend also to you those living survivors
who bear wounds and scars and injuries
both visible and invisible from the earthquakes which have continued to oppress us. May their trust and confidence in you never fail, but rather grow to be strong and life-giving for themselves and for those close to them.
Your Son Jesus
showed himself to be the physician of souls.
May those burdened by fear, anxiety,
Many of our people Lord carry painful memories of building and structures falling, and persons being crushed and trapped. Have mercy on them and grant them peace.