In January of this year I was in Berlin attending the annual International Military Chiefs of Chaplaincy conference. A time when military Chief Chaplains from across the world come together to talk, discuss common issues and of course to worship.
During the conference’s main act of worship I had the privilege of carrying a Cross of Nails through the church – a moving moment in itself for any Christian. When I add that the church in question was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church in the centre of Berlin, changed beyond recognition during a bombing raid in the Second World War, and that I was in full Royal Air Force uniform, it is not hard to see why the event was especially poignant.
What makes it possible for a man to walk as a guest, through a reconstructed place of worship that men wearing the same uniform once destroyed? The answer lies, of course, in the symbol that I held. On the grounds of common humanity, one can see the empathetic attraction of an object from one war-damaged church being carried through the site of another. We know, however, that the cross is much more than that, it is the ultimate symbol of reconciliation. The cross of nails is not simply a found object which symbolises common human suffering – rather it points us to the God who stepped down among us, and dealt with our sins and conflicts and griefs once for all. As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5: 19, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself through the cross.
At the time of writing these words I find myself, like so many others, ‘working from home’ as the world is facing conflict once again, this time with a virus that respects no borders. The resilience and resolve of our societies is being tested in a way unknown for decades, and
we can only speculate what the world may look like in the months and years ahead. We can still draw hope, however, from the message of the cross as we seek to make the journey that lies ahead.
Both Coventry Cathedral and Kaiser Wilhelm Church elected to build new structures alongside the old, a stark reminder of the ‘new creation’ that is Paul’s theme earlier in 2 Corinthians 5; the ‘new creation’ that is every Christian. Thanks to the cross, we can look not back simply to the past in reconciliation but to the future in hope, trusting in the God who loves us, redeems us, and has our future in His hands.
Revd David Richardson, Wing Commander, Royal Air Force (St Clement Danes Church)