Worshipping together again : our Church is a Holy Cave

The text below was written for the weekly e-news sent out to my congregation at the Church of the Holy Cross, Davidson’s Mains, Edinburgh. There are some things in it which might be of interest to others.

Holy Cross, Davidson’s Mains

“I was recently reading the ‘Commentary on the Divine Liturgy’ of St Germanos of Constantinople (I have unusual tastes!) It is a meditation on worship in the Greek Orthodox Church and one passage, printed below, made me think of our Church of the Holy Cross, especially as a group of us have recently been cleaning its stone walls in preparation for the day we can worship there together again. In commentaries like this, parts of the Church and the Liturgy recall parts of the life of Christ or aspects of the Christian life. If we listen to this teaching even the stones of our Church will teach us about Jesus.

“THE APSE REPRESENTS THE CAVE IN BETHLEHEM WHERE CHRIST WAS BORN AS WELL AS THE CAVE IN WHICH HE WAS BURIED, AS THE EVANGELIST MARK SAYS, ‘THERE WAS A CAVE HEWN OUT OF THE ROCK, THERE THEY PLACED JESUS’ (Mark 15:46).”

The apse is the East end of the Church and, like the rest of our Church of the Holy Cross, it is made of rough stone like a cave. Our beautiful East window by Christopher Webb is of the nativity of Jesus so it gives perfect expression to the teaching of St Germanos. We look East, see the stone and the window, and our hearts are drawn to Christmas and the story of Jesus’ birth. We see the animals, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds and Magi and the angels above. We are in Bethlehem.

We are free to play with these associations, one part of the Church or Liturgy can mean many different aspects of our faith. St Germanos thus moves from the first great Mystery of our faith to the second: the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, the Paschal Mystery. The Incarnation and the Cross together contain the whole of Christianity. From one cave we move to another. This cave is at the other end of human life, it is a place of tears but it is the site of the rebirth of hope. At Holy Cross we have no great Crucifixion on a Rood Screen like other Churches to remind us of the Passion, but in the middle of the bare stone wall, below the window, is a small metal door with a cross in the centre.

This is the aumbry where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, the consecrated bread and wine which is Christ’s Body and Blood. It is the prime site of Christ’s presence in our Church. St Paul said of this sacrament, ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:26). The aumbry is the cave of Golgotha where Christ was buried, but he is not dead, he is risen.

As we prepare to return to Holy Cross to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together, it is worth remembering that during the time of our exile, when I have been offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice alone, Jesus has remained in our Church in its symbols and in his power and real presence. He has remained in this cross-shaped building at the heart of Davidson’s Mains, waiting to welcome us home. Many have said that the Church is the people not the building, but that is a rather drab half-truth. The Church includes us, as well as the angels and saints, but our Holy Building by its very stones expresses who we are.”   

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