St Barbara’s 10.11.2019
Rev Tulo Raistrick
On 14th November 1940, almost 79 years to this day, the city of Coventry was devastated by German bombs falling on the city. Over two-thirds of the city was damaged or destroyed by fire, including most of the historic medieval buildings and the cathedral. There are people in our congregation today who lived through that terrible night as children and remember the aftermath. Pictures that could be of Syria or Iraq are pictures of our very own city, within people’s living memory. It is a reminder of how devastating war can be.
The following day, a stone-mason, Jock Forbes climbed the spiral staircase of the cathedral tower that was remarkably still standing to survey the damage. As he looked down on the total ruins of the cathedral he saw that two of the enormous medieval roof timbers that had burned and fallen to the ground had fallen in the shape of a cross.
He came back down the steps and with wire and nails fixed the two beams in the position they had fallen and set them up in the ruins, a cross of charred wood.
It was an act of remarkable significance.
The cross has always been a reminder to us that God in Christ uniquely understands and identifies with us in our suffering. That whether it is the trauma of war, the sadness of bereavement, the pain of poor health, the despair of loneliness and depression, the hurt of being disliked or bullied, Jesus knows what it is like, he can identify with us, because he himself has suffered. The cross speaks to us not of a God who is distant and removed, but of a God who comes alongside us and understands our pain. On this day, it is good to remember and pray for all those who suffer, that they may know God is with them.
The cross in the rubble of the cathedral ruins that day also spoke of forgiveness. On the cross Jesus cried, “Father forgive them”. He died that we might all be forgiven, that we might all be made right with God. Forgiveness is not an easy thing. As the words “Father, forgive” were scrawled on the wall beside the cross in the ruins, and later to be carved into the wall, they were not written lightly. Forgiving those who wrong us requires love and courage often beyond us. But those words remind us that we also need forgiveness too. This is a good day to forgive those who have wronged us, and also to seek forgiveness, for those times when we have wronged others.
And thirdly, the cross speaks of hope. For Jock Forbes, for others who saw it standing upright in the rubble over the next few weeks and months, it gave hope that something new was possible, that out of the charred rubble of the old would rise a new cathedral. For the cross is the ultimate sign of hope, the hope that out of death will come new life. Christ died on the cross but rose from the tomb to eternal life. Today we pray that out of the horrors of war and conflict around our world may come hope, life and peace.
This charred cross, which today stands in the new cathedral, holds one final piece of symbolism. This cross, which came to mean so much to the people of Coventry, was not discovered and put up by a vicar or politician. It was put up by a man who otherwise would be unknown to everyone but his family and friends. It is a reminder that whoever we are, young or old, we can be used by God to bring about peace. I wonder, how will you work for peace today?