The Falling Cross
I was glad when they said unto me,
"Let us go into the house of the LORD!"
Holy One, Thank you for the mystery of our faith and the ways in which you are alive in our church. Amen
It had probably started weeks or even months before, with movement no eye could detect - tectonically slow – perhaps about as slow as your fingernail grows. And maybe on some days it moved more than others. But it was slow. No one imagined it would move as it did. The engineers who know about these things specified materials that were stronger than they needed to be, but even they might say, because they are engineers, that sooner or later gravity wins.
The cross suspended in the sanctuary after the chancel was renovated in 2002, was placed to reflect both the earlier design as well as to call forth what was new. Always a sacred place for worship, the chancel now had a sense of free space. It was accessible to everyone regardless of any physical limitation. One could wonder if it was now more accessible to the Holy Spirit. The cross itself was a combination of the old and the new, and it was very heavy, enough so that the cable that supported it was passed through the ceiling and fastened directly to the steel beam that is the ridge of the roof. At the lower end, inside the cross itself, the fastening was similar to that used in elevators and construction cranes – a metal ferrule that binds the cable back on itself. It was designed to last for years; possible to be taken apart, but definitely not to fall apart.
Except that it did fall apart. Sometime in the night on July 3, 2004, the cable that had been slipping slowly, very, very slowly through the ferrule, finally reached the point where there was nothing left. The downward motion of the cross had to have been slow for a quick instant. But then, free of all its support, it fell, perfectly straight. Down. Down, snapping the two light tethers that had kept it from swinging in the lightly moving air in the church. Straight down.
The empty chancel flower container still shows the marks where the base of the cross first struck. Then, for what must have been a second or two, at least, the cross stood on its own in the near dark of the night before it fell forward, landing first on the communion cup that rested on the communion table. The noise would have startled anyone. Finally, the cross tumbled to the floor.
These days, the cross is suspended as it was, but with new cable, much stronger than the engineers first specified. On the face of the cross, near the right side, is a circular dent in the wood where it struck the top edge of the communion cup as it fell forward. The surface of the communion table also bears a dent, left by the communion cup as it bore the brunt of the falling cross. As for the cup itself, which was made of ordinary pottery, it was not broken.
It was a phone call that brought me to see all this soon after it had happened, and the scene remains vivid in my memory. To me, as a former teacher of physical science, it is all so easily explained. But is it? I wonder. A heavy cross and an earthen communion cup unbroken - the fall during the night when nobody was injured. Is mere coincidence overrated? I treasure the mystery. Sometimes the questions alone are gifts of the Holy Spirit.