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As 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?

The 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 stories here.

Stephen 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.

Durham 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!"

Coverntry 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 was saved?

The 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.

When 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."

God 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.

Posted 3-15-05

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2005