The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Ezekiel 2.1 - 3.4; Galatians 1.11-24
On the night of the 14 November 1940 the city and people of Coventry suffered a one-off but relentless blitz
My mum was a little girl then, nine years old, living on the edge of Leicester. That evening my grandparents took my mum and her brother and sister out and they stood on the Spion Kop, the name of the railway bridge close to their house, and watched the night sky change colour as Coventry was bombed. This was blitzkrieg as the Nazis named it, lightening war. They stood and watched with horror as the night sky became red and from that distance away they could hear the sound of bombing.
The mediaeval Cathedral was left in ruins as was much of the city. In the clear light of day the clergy went back into what was left of the cathedral. Two of the roof beams had fallen in the shape of a cross and three medieval roof nails were found and out of them a cross was made – the cross of nails. That cross, made of those three nails that survived the bombing, is on the high altar of Sir Basil Spence’s new cathedral that stands alongside the ruins, like a phoenix that rose from the ashes.
Very quickly other churches and bodies wanted to stand alongside the people of Coventry and the Chapter of Coventry Cathedral. Two words of Jesus had been written on the walls of the ruins, ‘Father forgive’. Those words had been uttered by Jesus from the cross as three nails, driven home, held him to the wood of the cross. ‘Father forgive’.
In the 80 years that have followed, the Community of the Cross of Nails has been established and is now made up of over 235 churches, charities, peace-building centres, and educational and training organisations around the world, who are inspired by the Coventry story of destruction, rebuilding and renewal, and are active in reconciliation in their own ways.
Today three more churches began their journey into membership of this worldwide community – the Cathedral in Brussels, our link cathedral in Bergen and we ourselves each received a replica of the cross in a service held this morning in Coventry Cathedral. Next Sunday the Dean of Coventry will be here to admit us formally to the Community.
The cross will be placed on the altar of the Chapel of St Francis and St Elizabeth in the retrochoir and Bishop Christopher will, later this year, designate that chapel as a place of prayer for those who have died as the victims of violence.
This is an exciting time for us as we join this community that’s committed to the work of reconciliation. Each of the members commit to the three guiding principles of the Community of the Cross of Nails: Healing the wounds of history; Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity; and Building a culture of peace. Those are three principles that are already deep within the heart of this cathedral but we’ll be able to live them out in this great and ecumenical community.
The First Lesson for this evensong spoke of the commission of the prophet Ezekiel to his task.
I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.
Just as we heard in the Second Lesson that Paul was called to proclaim a message, so Ezekiel had this task as well. And whether people listened or not he and Paul and the church should proclaim it again and again and again. And that message is as simple as the words that were written on the surviving walls of that Cathedral, ‘Father forgive’.
The church’s commission is to tell the tale of God in each generation, to each generation, whether or not people are eager to hear it. It’s this message of the reconciling, forgiving, embracing love of God that we see nailed to the cross and active in the church.
As we approach the end of this month and the final day of our membership of the community that is the family of nations of Europe, a family that was born from the ashes of the Second World War and a community that has brought years of peace and justice to the people of Europe, we need to embrace this ministry of reconciliation. That is a huge task for all of us, but within the Community of the Cross of Nails we can engage in it with others who will speak the truth whether people listen or not, and be the prophet among them.