Church architecture is always a tough project – there are so many different ideas about what makes for a beautiful worship space. A couple of time in the last two weeks people have asked me if I agree with them that isn’t it a shame that churches have become so “modern” – or some other description – all the while complementing our church and wishing that all Catholic churches could be similar.
But over the years I have found that I am pretty open to the many varieties of worship environments. The grand cathedrals of Europe are wonderful. Our own Sacred Heart is a rare gem. But, a couple of boat sails strung between jacaranda trees on the shores of Lake Victoria forms a space for worship as well as the grand cathedrals of Europe. Oh sure, I have my own preferences, but…. I will tell you I seem to be a bit particular about crucifixes. When I enter a church – my gaze settles on the cross.
I have to admit, ours is a little hard to spot – but there it is, right above the tabernacle. It’s nice, but a wee bit lost among all the rest of what makes our church awe-inspiring. There is a church up in Purcellville, VA which has a cross and corpus carved in a primitive, back wood style that just suits the worship space located at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains. A large suburban church I know that has what is called a resurrection cross – meaning there is the cross but there is no corpus. The cross reminds us of Good Friday, the lack of the body reminds us He is risen. Unfortunately, it looks like curtain rods to me – but it works for the community that worships there. Lots of architecture, lots of crosses….
For me there is no cross more stunning, more captivating that the crucifix at St Rose in Gaithersburg, MD. The crucifix is in two parts. The cross is suspended from the vault of the ceiling and is the normal wooden cruciform we expect. The corpus, the body of the crucified Christ is suspended independently from the cross – forward of the cross – in mid air. The body of Christ almost seems to be in free fall. The angle of the body is as though Jesus had begun to fall forward into death, yet the back is arched and chin lifted up towards the heaven. The arms are slightly raised as if they are reaching heaven ward, raised up for the Father to reach down, grab a hold of him and lift him up. Where the body shows the ravages of the scouring and the marks of the cross, the face is expected, sure, hopeful — the countenance of trust in his Father. All will be according to God’s plan.
I have sat in St Rose many a time contemplating that cross. On one occasion, I began to think of my friend Joanne. We had gone to grade school together and high school too. She went to Florida State and was part of the FSU Circus. During her last two years in Tallahassee she was part of the trapeze act. In trapeze there are catchers and flyers. She was a flyer – that daredevil who is hurled through the heavens in those moments that stop our hearts, make us catch our breath – in moments that thrill and entertain us. But such daring is a learned skill. When you first train on trapeze the beginning period of training is really a catcher-to-catcher handoff. There is no point at which you are truly flying, free of the safety of the catcher’s firm grip.
But eventually you are ready to fly. Joanne said that the hardest thing to learn is to learn to be caught as opposed to grabbing on. What often happens is that the flyer and catcher are both grabbing and all that happens is that both grips are knocked clear. And the flyer then plunges earthward into the safety net. The flyer needs to learn to be caught. Needs to learn to completely, thoroughly trust. Joanne said that she had to learn to fly with her eyes closed.
Joanne showed me pictures of her days as the trapeze flyer. She is suspended in mid-air, free. Her back was arched, her arms up-raised heavenward, and eyes closed. Her faith in the catcher was complete. Like the Jesus at St Rose, Joanne’s face is joyful, trusting. Both will be caught, both will be raised up, all will happen according to plan.
Isn’t that a lot like Pentecost? To be a Pentecost people one needs to be joyful in the Spirit, arms raised in holy praise – all the while knowing, trusting that we will be caught, lifted up, and that all will happen according to God’s holy plan.
The apostles of Pentecost are alive in the Spirit, and just as the Fathers sent Jesus, so are they sent. They are flying into mission, propelled by the Spirit, the life of fishermen behind, the unknown world as apostles and missionaries lays ahead. And will forever lay ahead of them the rest of their days. They are flyers. Their faces filled with the joy of God, their arms raised upward in worship – certain that they will be caught, certain that they will be raised up according to God’s plan.
We are Pentecost people gifted in the Spirit: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God. So what is your gift? And once you realize your are indeed gifted, comes the hard question. Will you choose to remain earthbound and never fly in the spirit as we are meant to be? Will we be people who reach and grab – at all the wrong things and all the wrong times – forever falling earthward. Or will we be people in the free fall of parenting, work, ministry, play, and all the activities of life. Will we allow ourselves to be propelled by the Spirit the rest of our days? Will we be flyers – joyful, trusting, our arms raised to be caught and lifted up.
Just as the Father sent Jesus so too are we sent – to fly in life and be raised to everlasting life.