A few weeks ago my wife, Liz, and I had day out to Coventry. Our aim was to visit the cathedral where I will be ordained in June.
There are actually two cathedrals in Coventry, they sit next to each other, almost physically joined together. The old medieval cathedral is essentially a ruin: the bombed-out shell of a once magnificent place of worship, built to the glory of God. Destroyed by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe in 1940, its empty remains stand as a victim of conflict, a sign of the pain, suffering and destruction that war brings. A few delicate fragments of stained glass can still be seen near the still standing tower, looking like they could be blown out by the next strong gust of wind.
Next to the ruin stands a new cathedral. Another magnificent place of worship. A remarkable building with many beautiful features, including some beautiful stained glass and an incredibly huge tapestry.
After the old cathedral was bombed, the words ‘Father Forgive’ were written on the wall of the ruined chancel. Provost Dick Howard made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible.
Events at Coventry were symbolic in rebuilding relationships between Britain and Germany after the War, and gave rise to the Community of the Cross of Nails - a worldwide network of churches and other organisations dedicated to peace-building and reconciliation.
I believe that God is the ultimate peace maker and the Cross of Christ, the ultimate act of peace making.
One of the names for Jesus is Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us.’ It is found in the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, part of the nativity story, and so Emmanuel has become a Christmas word and we don’t necessarily hear it outside of the Christmas season. Yet Emmanuel gets to heart of the incarnation. Of God becoming human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus Christ God becomes a vulnerable new born baby, and continues to be vulnerable as a fully grown man. He comes to be with us, not in power, but in weakness. Not to declare war on sinners, but to declare peace and reconciliation with those he loves. It is a dangerous path, one that leads to pain, suffering and death on the cross.
The Coventry Cross of Nails is not about nails that held together roof timbers – even though that is what they are. Yes, it evokes, the painful loss of a much loved building, crucified by the violence of war, but more clearly it evokes the cross of Christ, together with the nails that held him there; crucified by the violence of people in conflict with God, as he cried out ‘Father Forgive’.
But it wasn’t simply the nails that held Jesus to the cross, but love: the desire to be with us and for us to be at peace with him. St Paul writes, ‘God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’
The story of Coventry Cathedral is a story of death and resurrection. And like the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth which it echoes, it reveals something of how peace can be found.
Jesus tells us to love as he has loved us. To love our neighbour, yes, but to love our enemy too. It is in the risk and the desire to love and to forgive, to seek the good of the other person – even when we think they might be hostile – that peace is found.