Monday, July 21, 2014
Good Shepherd, Berkeley 4/20/14
Last year at this time, we worshipped in the blackened shell of our old church. There was barely enough light to see, but there was just enough. The smell of smoke was still strong, and the sheer tomb-like blackness of the space was over-whelming. The grief we feel for Jesus’ death every year was mixed with the grief we felt for our beloved church. The church was dark in mid-day, as was the sky on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Today we have before us the cross that has stood as the highest peak of this church for almost 138 years. It is damaged, broken, lying on the floor for us to reverence. I was told that the cross was so weatherworn and wounded that it was surprising that it had not come completely apart and fallen off the steeple. I was told that the wood of the interior of the cross was completely corroded, and the cross broke open when the contractor pulled it down. One of the four gold ornaments on the cross had fallen off and long ago been replaced with the gold-painted ceramic lid of a jar.
As the workmen began to strip the paint from the cross they went through quite a few layers, until they saw that the original cross was all gold- gold leaf in fact. The first people of this church had had that beacon shining from the steeple’s pinnacle for a very long time. It must have lit up the neighborhood, even in the dark.
When the cross lay on the worktable, the craftsmen began to take it apart to see how much was salvageable. When they did, they saw that there had been a hole in the very heart of the cross, right in the center. And in this hole, a swallow’s nest was still in evidence. There was even the remnant of eggshells from a long ago baby swallow.
When I first asked the contractor to bring the cross over for us to reverence for our Good Friday service he said, of course- in fact the timing will be perfect. By that time it will be stripped, repaired, repainted and the gold ornaments will be good as new. It will be perfect. I had to explain that I thought it was beautiful the way it was, that we were remembering Jesus damage, Jesus’ brokenness, Jesus’ pain. As it happened, it turned out that the cross was too damaged to keep, and most of it will have to be entirely rebuilt. So we have our dear, damaged broken cross to reverence today.
For me, the damage makes the cross more lovable, perhaps helps us see and forgive our own damage somehow, perhaps even makes us see and forgive our own betrayals, our own dark places in the heart. And it reminds us, as the swallow would demonstrate, that new life inevitably comes from those dark places.