THE MINISTRY OF
2 Corinthians 5:17-20
Coventry Cathedral in Coventry, England
of the most unique church buildings in the world. It’s
actually two church buildings linked
together, a medieval cathedral built out of local sandstone in the 13th
and 14th centuries, and a modern cathedral completed in 1962. The reason there are two church buildings
today is that the first cathedral was destroyed during the Luftwaffe
blitz of England
Second World War. On November 14, 1940,
German warplanes bombed the cathedral, along with the rest of Coventry,
setting the ancient oak roof on
fire, and shattering the beautiful stained glass windows.
Only the church Tower and Spire, almost 300
feet tall, escaped destruction.
The morning after the bombing the people of the
gathered to survey the damage. They were
heartbroken. Their once-beautiful
year old church was in ruins. The roof
and windows lay strewn and smoldering on the cathedral floor. Some of the exterior walls were still
standing, along with the Tower and Spire, but the carved wooden pulpit
the other contents were reduced to ashes and rubble.
In the midst of the devastation, the
cathedral stonemason noticed that two of the charred medieval roof
fallen into the shape of a cross. He set
them up in the ruins, where they were later placed on an altar of
rubble. Then a local priest found three
nails that had been used in the roof, and he fashioned a cross out of
three charred nails. The cross of burned
timbers and the cross of nails were signs of hope.
A decision was made that morning, after the
devastation of the night before, to rebuild the cathedral.
was then engaged in a
life-or-death struggle against Adolph Hitler and the mighty forces of
Germany, in a war that would last another five years.
But even then, at the outset of the war, with
the nightly bombings continuing to devastate their homeland, the
Provost of the
Cathedral began to lead the people away from bitterness and hatred
forgiveness and reconciliation.
Eleven years after the end of the war, in 1956,
Elizabeth laid the foundation stone for a new cathedral at Coventry.
But instead of demolishing the ruins of the old cathedral, a
was made to incorporate the ruins into the new structure.
The new cathedral would rise adjacent to the
ruins, physically connected to the old sandstone walls by means of a
that would tie the two structures together.
It took six years to complete, but in 1962, twenty-two years
old cathedral was destroyed, the new cathedral was consecrated, with
cathedral remaining alongside as hallowed ground.
When Michele and Mark Miles and Linda and I toured
Cathedral a few weeks ago I was struck by the parallels between that
our own. Our church building also was
by fire, not from enemy bombardments, but from some electrical wiring
malfunction. The morning after the fire I
several people that it looked like a bomb had been dropped on our
church. Although the building was
destroyed, like Coventry,
some of the
brick walls remained standing after the fire was extinguished.
There was another parallel.
Knowing nothing at the time about Coventry,
I took a couple of charred timbers from the old roof of our church
put them together to form a cross. On
Good Friday that charred cross stood in the ruins of the church
it remained on the slab for several months after the fire.
Katie Smith took a picture of the charred
cross that hangs in my office. Like the
people of Coventry,
the people of Village made a decision to rebuild, almost immediately
fire. And we made a decision to rebuild
on this site, incorporating the old church into the new building by
much of the original foundation and some of the exterior brick walls,
as repairing and reinstalling the stained glass window from the old
sanctuary. The more I learned about the
history of the Coventry Cathedral, the more I found parallels with our
But what inspired me most about Coventry
was not just the new cathedral, but the new mission and ministry of the
at Coventry. I mentioned that the Provost began to lead
the people away from their feelings of hatred and bitterness, even
war was raging and the church lay in ruins.
When that cross was fashioned from the charred timbers and set
rubble altar, these words were inscribed on the sanctuary wall,
forgive.” Already the people of Coventry were
to forgive those who created such devastation.
Long before the new cathedral was built, the cross of nails
symbol for Coventry’s
ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Even during the dark days of World War II the people of Coventry made a
commitment not to seek
revenge, but to seek reconciliation with their enemies.
Today at Coventry
there is not just a magnificent church building standing alongside the
the old church, but there is also an International Centre for
Reconciliation. The International Centre
works for peace in some of the world’s worst areas of conflict. The Center works to reduce religious tensions
around the world, and to find peaceful solutions to age-old animosities. Today there is an international network of
peacemakers, known as the Community of the Cross of Nails, with local
organizations in 60 countries, including the U.S.,
all committed to
reconciliation. The cross of nails has
become a symbol for peacemaking and reconciliation.
Africa, Cross of Nails
Centres have worked to reconcile races and heal the wounds and painful
of apartheid. In Nigeria and Burundi,
Cross of Nails workers
seek to reduce intense interfaith tensions and conflicts.
In the Middle East, Centres in Israel
are promoting mutual understanding between Jews and Arabs.
In Northern Ireland Cross of Nails Centres
are seeking to foster understanding between Protestants and Catholics. In Europe there are reconciliation projects
in Slovakia, Bosnia, Belarus,
where ethnic and religious rivalries have a long history.
You see, it wasn’t enough just to build a new
Cathedral at Coventry. The Christians who survived the devastation
of World War II discovered a greater mission than simply constructing a
building. They committed themselves to a
ministry of reconciliation. As Paul
wrote to the Corinthians, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to
and God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” It’s not enough to be reconciled to God
through Christ Jesus our Lord. We who
have been reconciled to God must become reconcilers ourselves. The call of Christ is not just to be
reconciled to God, but to become instruments, and agents, and
reconciliation to the world.
The news is filled with a lack of reconciliation. The various factions in Iraq
unable to agree on a new constitution by the appointed deadline and
still are seeking
to resolve their differences. Age old
rivalries between the Sunnis and the Shiites fuel ongoing attacks
against the U.S.
and against Iraqi civilians. How the
people of Iraq
need the ministry of reconciliation. The
dismantling of Jewish settlements in the Gaza
strip has Israelis pitted against each other, not to mention the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The
continuing specter of terrorism is a daily reminder of religious
conflicts that threaten our peace. Every
time I got onto a subway train in London
ten days ago, I noticed all the people with backpacks and suitcases and
big enough to carry explosives. How we
need the ministry of reconciliation in our world today!
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. And we who are in Christ are called to a
ministry of reconciliation. We are
called to an active ministry of helping and healing a sin-sick world. We are called to seek peace in the midst of
tumult, to work for harmony in the midst of chaos, to practice love and
forgiveness in a world that too often lives by hatred and revenge. Most of all we are called to share the love
of Christ and the peace that only he can bring.
Off to one side of the main cathedral in Coventry is a
smaller star-shaped room called
the Chapel of Unity. The windows in the
Chapel were donated by evangelical churches in Germany
as a gesture of
reconciliation. Beneath the central
glass altar of the chapel is a mosaic of the dove of peace. Around the circumference of the room are
discs on the floor representing all the inhabited continents of the
earth. Our guide pointed out to us that
the floor is
actually saucer-shaped, sloped toward the center, so that round objects
roll toward the center when placed on the floor. As
we stood on different continents, she gave
each of us a golf ball, and we placed our balls on the floor and they
rolled to the dove of peace. It was a
graphic symbol of the hope that one day all nations will come together
The Coventry Cathedral is a beautiful place, but I
the most moving example of reconciliation at lunchtime in the basement. Downstairs, next to an underground chapel,
there is a small café run by the Cathedral, offering sandwiches,
hot lunches to visitors and employees.
We placed our orders at the counter, then found seats at a table
waited for our food to be brought out to us.
While we were waiting, I noticed that some of the servers
food from the kitchen to the dining room appeared to be mentally
challenged. One young lady, in
particular, seemed to relish calling out the number of the order so
appropriate customers could identify themselves and be served. Apparently this young woman had been
instructed to call out the order number in a loud voice so that she
heard, and this mentally challenged woman had learned her lesson well. When she came out of the kitchen with a plate
of food, she yelled at the top of her lungs, “number 21, number 22,” or
whatever the order number might have been.
It would have been impossible not to hear her, so loudly did she
proclaim the number. I got a chuckle
watching another customer cringe every time this server shouted out
number. Not just this one woman, but at
least three of the servers appeared to have Downs Syndrome, or some
disability. Yet, there were all
extremely conscientious and diligent in fulfilling their duties. I don’t think it was just coincidence that so
many of the wait staff had mental disabilities.
I think it was a deliberate decision to hire workers that
would likely be unemployed. It was a
simple yet specific and meaningful expression of the Cathedral’s
Last Tuesday, another champion of reconciliation,
Roger, founder of the Taize community, was stabbed to death by a
during a worship service in the Church
of Reconciliation in Taize, France.
His tragic death was a sad reminder that
making peace is never easy. The ministry
of reconciliation is costly—it requires mercy and forgiveness and
self-sacrifice and love. But isn’t that
what Jesus was about? God was in Christ
reconciling the world to himself. And we
who are in Christ must be about reconciliation too.
Bruce Salmon, Pastor,
Church, Bowie, Maryland
August 21, 2005
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