we approach the beginning of spring, many people are
relieved that winter is finally over. It's no accident
that the Easter season begins at this time, because
it's a moveable feast, tied to the first day of spring.
Why can Easter come any time between the end of March
and the end of April? Because Easter is always the first
Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
How's that for a pagan dating of a Christian festival?
theme of these two events - spring and Easter - is,
of course, rebirth. For a preacher, Easter Sunday's
sermon is traditionally considered the most important
one of the year. I always felt that if I could find
just the right illustration to build a sermon around,
I would be halfway home. I'd like to share one of those
Shoemaker wrote a piece entitled "A Tale of Two
Cathedrals." In it he told about the Nazi preparations
during World War II for the invasion of England. Many
ancient cities were bombed, Durham and Coventry among
them. Coventry was destroyed, but Durham was saved.
is home to a great old 12th century Romanesque cathedral.
It is the burial site of St. Cuthbert and the Venerable
Beade, and figures prominently in the Scottish wars.
When the German bombers approached, a mysterious mist
settled over the town. The residents proclaimed the
next morning, "God saved the cathedral!"
boasted one of England's premier cathedrals, begun in
the 13th century. The city was known as England's Detroit,
a center of automobile and airplane manufacture. This,
of course, made it a prime target for the Luftwaffe.
On Nov. 14, 1940, the cathedral died along with much
of the city. No mist protected the people and the buildings
that night. Why was Coventry destroyed while Durham
morning after the raid, the cathedral caretaker walked
through the ruins. He found two charred beams from the
ancient roof and fastened them together in the shape
of a cross. Placing the crude cross on a pile of rubble,
he created a tiny Calvary. One of the priests found
some old handmade nails which had fallen from the roof,
and fastened them into tiny crosses. In time, hundreds
of these crosses were sent around the world as symbols
of forgiveness and reconciliation. After the war, German
young people came to help with the building of the new
cathedral. St. Michael's, Coventry, has become a powerful
center for peacemaking around the world.
I visited Coventry in 1963, a year after the magnificent
new church was completed, the ruins of the old cathedral
were still attached to it. Behind a simple stone altar
was the same burned wooden cross. And behind the cross
were the words, "Father, Forgive."
saved Durham but he allowed Coventry to burn. Why? Because
from this great tragedy arose an even more powerful
experience of love and forgiveness. Our rebirth can
only happen after something in us first dies.
John W. Sloat 2005