Many years ago I studied Theology and Liturgy at Lincoln Theological College in England. It was a joint Anglican-Methodist college situated under the shadow of Lincoln Cathedral which stood at the very top of the hill and could be seen for miles in every direction.
Wherever you were on the flat Fens Countryside you could see the spires of the Cathedral and hear the bells calling us to worship. Built over hundreds of years in such a strategic and visible location the building speaks volumes about the faith it represents. Some hundreds of years later it still draws people from all over the world for the beauty of its architecture and for the message its architecture carries of the Christian Faith. Yes, buildings speak!
Every morning in the Abbey on the Scottish Island of Iona the service of morning prayer begins with a series of opening responses: (responses I still used in morning prayer today)
The world belongs to the Lord
The earth and all God’s people
How good and how pleasant it is
When people live in harmony
Love and faith come together
Justice and peace join hands
If the Lord’s disciples keep silent
These stones would shout aloud!
These sentences carry powerful messages from the Bible, but it’s the last response that I want to draw your attention to. Taken from the gospel of Luke this verse tells the story of Palm Sunday where the Pharisees told Jesus to tell his disciples to stop praising him, and Jesus replies, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’
In the context of Iona the stones refer to the Abbey Church rebuilt from ruin in 1910. It is an indication that buildings carry a message – they speak to us. At St John’s we have inherited a very prominent and beautiful building and over the years families have added to its beauty in gifts of stained glass windows, many of which hold their grief and deep sense of loss in sons who died on foreign soil in times of war.
Last Sunday I participated in an Anzac Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in Queens Park and I was struck by the contrast between the Cenotaph and the memorial windows at St John’s. The Cenotaph is a national symbol intentionally seeking to honour all who served their country in every sphere of war. At St John’s the stained glass windows are particularly personal, remembering members of the congregation who died, and so also speaking of the love and heartache of their family who mourn their deaths. Our windows are not a glorification of war.
Instead they represent people who were loved and then lost – and lost so young. This Sunday our journey through Easter coincides with Anzac Day. Our Easter readings speak of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who cares for those who are lost. We have two windows of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, which says a lot to me about the mission of our congregation both to follow the Good Shepherd, but also to be an embodiment of Jesus’ compassion and care in our own day and in our local community. Our mission strategy is to turn and face our community and provide a Hub (a place) where connections and compassion may find practical expression, where our buildings may speak of God’s welcome and love for all.