CITY WITH A HEART?
Soon after the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake Prime Minister John Key, spoke of the ‘resurrection of Christchurch’. He meant the rebuilding and regeneration of the city. But what could ‘resurrection’ mean for the planning of the future city?
To get at what’s involved, five words sum up what the New Testament means by the resurrection. Each throws light on the resurrection of Christ and, at the same time, opens vision of the future of a city in ruins. They are: standing, touching, communicating, remembering, prophesying.
First, standing. The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis. It refers to someone who is ‘standing up’ or ‘standing up again’ – meaning that Jesus is the One who remains standing - not lying down dead or giving up - after his trial and suffering. His was a victory, not a surrender. But what did he stand for? Who did he stand with? What was he concerned to with stand?
To get the full meaning of his standing, we have to grasp that he was a co-passionate person. He shared human suffering to the full, ‘the heartache and all the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to’. At the same time, he had an even greater passion for life, for liberation, for healing. He was on the side of the victims because he was one of them. But his overriding passion was to give life in all its fullness (John 10:10). This is what he stood and stands for.
Switch to Christchurch. Suppose you build a new cathedral. Will it be symbolic of what the whole city stands for? The key question is: does a city in resurrection mode have a heart, and is this heart the co-passionate Christ? Or are we content to see it as a loose collection of suburbs, businesses, hospitals, recreational facilities and so forth? It will be that, but could it be more? A cathedral that stands with the co-passionate Christ would be one that is open to all in the community who suffer and, equally, to those who, in many different ways give life to others.
Touching. There are people in Christchurch who are hurting. Can we talk resurrection with them in mind? A key moment in the resurrection of Jesus was whether the disciples – a shattered and rather helpless lot – dared to touch the crucified/mutilated body of Jesus, the one still carrying the marks of the crucifixion. The story of Thomas illustrates this (John 20:24-29). It was dangerous to touch – or be in touch with – the crucified body of Jesus, for had not he and all he stood for just been condemned by the authorities? Did the disciples dare to stand with him, the co-passionate Christ?
For a city in resurrection mode this has implications. A city with a heart, the heart of Christ, is one that cares; cares for all who can’t care for themselves, who need care. One way of gauging the health of a family or community is how it cares for the weak, the vulnerable, the ageing. Paul hits the nail on the head. ‘We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves’ (Romans 14:7ff; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15) – by which he meant that the whole ‘Christ thing’ – if we take it to heart – will always lead us to be there for others just as Jesus was, in Dietrich Bonheoffer’s words, ‘the man for others’. In this spirit, which is also the ANZAC spirit, we glimpse, I believe, a city with a heart, with a humane and sustainable future.
Move on to communicating. The living, standing, risen Christ spoke and spoke often – was in the business of communication. He calls Mary Magdalene by name – Mary . He greets his bewildered disciples with his word of peace – Peace be with you. He gives words of encouragement to a bunch of disciples who have been fishing all night and caught nothing. ‘Don’t give up’, Cast your net to the right side of the boat …
Communicating , then. There’s a danger that this word gets hijacked by IT, by Broadband, free WiFi and all the rest. That’s OK as far as it goes, but what does it displace or leave out? Jesus communicates from the heart, from the heart, that is, it is of God. Where is there space in people’s lives for communication of this depth to happen? How can the ordinary person develop a spirituality where they can be in touch with their deeper self and the overflowing life of God?
So where are the sacred spaces for people to find themselves, learn to meditate or pray, refresh their spirit? Will the Churches be the spaces where we can commune before we communicate? And what about the way we design houses? Suppose I want to pray or paint a picture, write poetry or compose music, how can I get away from the TV or the busyness of the kitchen? Perhaps we’re talking of the good old Kiwi ‘shed out the back’. But this raises a question: Are we just planning for a Christchurch without a heart, a city given to consumerism, suburban sprawl, spectatorism (in sport and entertainment), and the packaging of the city as a Mecca for tourists?
Remembering. Lest we get carried away with heady talk of resurrection that spins around like a flywheel driving nothing, we have to remind ourselves of Jesus’ – the risen Jesus - insistence that it was ‘I myself’ (Luke 24:39) who was – and is! – risen. This is symbolized by the marks of the Passion still on his body – like the scars and marks on our bodies from the accidents, the operations and other things we have undergone in life. This is what makes us real, the real person that I am. The message of this kind of remembering in resurrection mode is twofold: first that we have to own and remember who we are and where we have come from – our history; but also that this very history – with all its ups and downs – constitutes the richness of our humanity, the core of what we have to offer, what it means for us to be alive. Could our identity as a city be: Christchurch, the earthquake city in life, death and resurrection?
To remember means to prize the real history of the city in way that is truly faithful to its forbears. The first inhabitants, the pioneers, had a wonderfully inventive and future-oriented sense of reality. Maybe they had no option! Can we recover some of their spirit? Could it speak to us now as we seek to make a creative response to challenges we face? Might we rebuild the city, for instance, in a way that responds to the demands of global warming? Will the new city attract people who are concerned about what is going on in our world? Isn’t this the city that Christchurch has always been? Could a new pioneering spirit be brought to life by the earthquake and its aftershocks?
Lastly, prophesying. In the early church the Resurrection was likened to cockcrow, the loud and piercing cry of the rooster. In that way resurrection was associated with the early glimmerings of dawn, when after an appalling night of betrayal and death, something new and unheard of emerged and was proclaimed. The true prophetic voice, in other words, is heard in the ‘time’ of the resurrection; that is, not only before the world has woken up to begin another day’s work, but also at a time when the general assumption is that ‘today’ will be basically the same as ‘yesterday’, that there is nothing new under the sun or moon, that ‘as things are’ so they will remain.
Not so, says Christ by his very being: resurrection is the time when God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5), when ‘we shall all be changed’ (I Corinthians 15: 51).Innovation – Kiwis are good at that – ‘thinking outside the square’. Could that be ‘the spirit of Christchurch’ for the future? Yes; but so long as we realize that ‘resurrection’ is not just the sum total of all our bright ideas so much as something even more fundamentally innovative: an innovation that is rooted in the resurrection of Christ itself. That is to say, it has something Christlike about it; something in which one or more of these elements that define the resurrection of Christ is present: standing, touching, communicating, remembering, prophesying.
These ‘resurrection’ insights first came to me in the ruins of Auschwitz, specifically in the big empty space at the back of the site where the cremated ashes of the 1.5 million people who perished there are scattered. Was this just an empty space, a place of absence, at best of memory? But then my mind leapt to another empty space, the Empty Tomb of Christ. Had not this become the place of maximum and continuing life? Might it not be somehow similar with Auschwitz? And how about the great empty space that is now opening out in the centre of Christchurch as demolition proceeds? Could this be for us the very place of resurrection? As Paul so beautifully puts it, ‘where sin increased – or, if you like, catastrophe, [there] grace – rebuilding, regeneration, resurrection - abounded all the more’ (Romans 5:20).
The Rev Dr Raymond Pelly is Priest Associate at St Paul's Cathedral, Wellington