November Pastoral Letter
Forgive me for mentioning again my love of North Yorkshire and of yet another visit to Ripon Cathedral, which Debbie and I made last week whilst on holiday. I’m always drawn to the cathedral and this time was no exception. It has been the backdrop to some memorable sights and images for me personally over the years. Walking around again I was approached by one of the guides who started to tell me something of the architectural history of the place. It was, however, the recent decoration of the sanctuary which most caught my eye.
With the approach of Remembrance it was, as you can imagine, arrayed extensively with poppies. From the ceiling above the Alter there were streams of what were hand-knitted or crocheted poppies, numbering easily over two thousand. From the top of the copper-enshrined pulpit there was another wave of poppies flowing down to the ground, and from other various points there were exquisite floral designs, accompanied with the words,” We shall never forget.”
I recall another previous visit to the cathedral about seven years ago, and it was every bit as impressionable, perhaps even more so. On that occasion there was a huge wave of buttons that spread out across the floor from north wall. In the middle of this sea of buttons there were three large clear cylinders standing about four feet tall, and they were filled with white buttons. The number of buttons totalled six million, and every button represented a life killed in the Holocaust. The significance of the cylinders of white buttons was that they represented the life of a child also lost. These visual images provide very poignant moments which remain firm in the memory, as does the lines of gravestones in war cemeteries, or the names of the fallen listed on war memorials.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of those who died in war, and forget that each one represented a life, someone’s loved one. When we reflect on the sacrifice of Christ for the whole world for all time it is every bit as difficult to comprehend, but it is every bit as personal. Some people find it easier to accept that God loves the world, rather than to accept the rest of the truth that God loves them. This point was once brought home to me when someone said, “If you were the only person in the whole world who needed God’s love and forgiveness, then Jesus would still have taken that journey of sacrifice to the cross for you.” It’s humbling and challenging, because it calls us to try to reflect that love the way we live each day.
Grace and Peace