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Hallo again to all.

She survived; her neighbours did not.Not long ago, a church we know was vandalized on a Saturday night. The fair linen on its altar was cast aside, and the cross above the holy table was stolen. A copy of the holy scriptures was torn in half and thrown on the floor. Candlesticks were knocked over, and a fire extinguisher was torn from the sanctuary wall. One candlestick was missing. The person who broke into the church to commit these acts of sacrilege set off an alarm system, which in turn alerted local police, who in their turn phoned the parish priest himself well before dawn.

The next morning—Sunday morning—another dimension of the damage came to light. Four of the church's stained glass windows had been shattered. This parish was at the forefront of the American inheritance of Tractarianism, and its attractive windows had inspired the following lines:

Soft through the windows fades the dying day,
And half in light, and half in pensive shade,
Calm, pure and beautiful, the twilight wanes.
And in the silence and the shadowy glooms,
A stranger among strangers as I kneel,
Our evening prayers that bear our hearts to Heaven
Come softly to my ear, I am at home.*

The monetary loss caused by the damage to these windows is so far incalculable. The shock involved for parishioners is well known to anyone whose own house of worship has been violated in such a way. Just this week, we've read of similar news from the Diocese of Montréal. And almost every week we read a news story about church vandalism from the UK, where the rampant theft of lead from church roofs—as in this recent instance from the Diocese of Gloucester—seems to have no end.

The vandalism of this church inspired its people to a radical message of forgiveness. Through social media, newspapers, and television reports, the church's lay and ordained leadership have said that in the midst of their sorrow and shock, they reject the feelings of vengefulness that are an easy and natural response to vandalism:

We have an opportunity to be different. Even the person who committed this vicious act is welcome here. Do we truly believe that? How would we greet that person? Our faith challenges us. I like to think from what I know of this community that we would be open to that. We have a choice as the people of God. As children of the light, we have a choice to pick up our shattered faith, to pick it up and put back the pieces together, to truly allow the light of God to enter into this place and to the world.

A week after the break-in, the person who stole the cross and candlestick returned them, anonymously, on the church steps in a bag. We may never know the reasons for the vandalism and theft in the first place. The thief may have discovered that these items had very little resale value. The church's message of godly forgiveness in the midst of its pain may have reached through whatever channel the heart of the person who broke the windows and desecrated the sanctuary. He or she may have even felt a stirring of that repentance which is the fons et origo of the season of Lent. If you have read AO for very long, you will know our affection for the Leonard Cohen song Anthem, and its powerful, always-more-true line

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

The windows are still broken; the Bible still torn; the fear experienced by people in a violent city is still fresh; the slivers of coloured glass are still turning up in the nave as they will for some time. But here in a wonderful way we have seen a holy mystery of trespass followed immediately, uncannily—as it does in the Paternoster—by forgiveness.

For cracks in everything, and for the light that shines through them, because of them, we give thanks as we push on toward Easter. The broken windows are a chance to rebuild, to forgive, to repair, and to be salt which has not lost its savour in the world—which are all, after all, at the heart of the good news in Christ.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 10 April 2011

Once upon a time.See "Evening Services at St. Paul's, New Haven, Preparatory to the Holy Communion" in Caroline L. Jackson, Wood Mosses: Poems (New Haven: Thomas J. Stafford, 1867), pp. 73-74. The poem is oddly prescient:

A few, alone, and yet not all alone,
For, through the aisle and round the chancel fair,
I seem to hear the sound of angels’ wings,
Like a sweet benediction.
Soft and low,
Now rise in gentle, earnest, pleading tones,
The prayer for pardon and the prayer for peace.
And now the prophet’s plaintive, touching strain,
Mourning a city beautiful, yet doomed;
Mourning the faded glories of his land;
And now the searching words of earnestness,
Lest one among the little group should come
Without a wedding garment to the feast.

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