The more I live and learn, the more I realize that the ruins are inevitable. We are mortal and fallible. Death and failure attack each of us. My heart is heavy with the news of two deaths in the communities I have served, and many more I know struggle with the death of dreams as jobs end and friends seek out new roles and callings. Death, both physical and metaphorical, brings into question the faith we hold dear. It hits us with the reality that we are not in control. Although we pretend to have it all together, it just takes one blow to shake our foundation, leaving us sifting among the ruins.
During my recent sojourn at Virginia Theological Seminary, I heard the story of their ruins. After a fire in 2010 destroyed their chapel, the worshipping community had to discern what to do. As the fire was accidental, the insurance company provided funds towards rebuilding, but because the old building was historic, the city demanded that the old chapel would have to be rebuilt as it had been. The cost was prohibitive for replacing the old structure, and the old footprint and layout weren't conducive for the functions of the space. Finally, a compromise was reached. The remaining chapel ruins were left as a memorial garden space. The walls were taken down to knee height around the perimeter and the bell tower was left in place. Grass grows where the pews once stood, and there is no roof to block the view of the sky. There is an altar table in the space, reminding you of the sacred nature of the ground on which you stand.
In the space, you are surrounded by the noise of rebuilding as the new chapel goes up adjacent to the old chapel grounds. For me, it is a fitting metaphor. We will occasionally find ourselves in the ruins and we have to decide where to go from there. Will we be buried within them? Will we allow something new to be built from the ashes? Will we mark the sacred space as a memorial, much as our biblical ancestors took the rocks of the ground where they stood and built altars in the places where they encountered God?
I've loved the phoenix of Greek mythology, which rises out of the ashes, reborn. I just learned that the bird was also a symbol used by early Christians. And it makes sense--our Gospel is based on the truth of the resurrection, the idea that new life can come from death. What if we were able to face death and change with hope instead of fear? Could we see the potential of new life; mysterious, uncertain, yet eternal?
I believe in resurrection. I've seen it too many times not to.
May we all be renewed by the reality of resurrection as we face our own ruins and start to build again.