It would take too much space to give details of the background, but in 2005 I along with a few friends were invited by a german Catholic Priest to do an interdenominational worship event at the city center church in Landsberg, Germany. At that time I was employed as a student pastor and led a small independent bible college. I was (theologically) charismatic and had never had much engagement with Roman Catholics. To be honest, because of my theological upbringing, I wondered whether they were legitimately christians. The invitation to participate in this worship event, for me, had something to do with conversion of catholics sigh. Not on the face of it, I never would have suggested such a thing publicly, but honesty requires me to recognize such intentions. I was a product of a particular upbringing; we all are, I suppose.
In short, this event, and three others in which I participated in the following years, were life changing – more life altering for me than for any of the catholics with which I engaged. The primary reason for such change in me had partly to do with my personal encounters with a priest, Fr Thomas Rauch. To meet Fr. Thomas is to meet a saint. He exuded such deep humility, gentleness of soul, and exuberant joy. A few times over the years he laid hands on us to bless us; something about these moments altered my perception. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was a charismatic and the ‘experience’ of being blessed by God through Thomas touched the deep parts of my soul? Whatever the case I couldn’t simply negate the experience. The walls that separated me from my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters began to crumble; my heart was opened. I recognized the work of God in and through Thomas: a deep love for Jesus, humility, grace, and love.
One of the worship events we did with Fr Thomas took place in a church called the Church of the Holy Cross (photo above). Before it started Thomas took us to see the church. I walked in and – as a pentecostal minister whose church was housed in an old airplane hanger – was immediately struck by the beautiful frescos painted on the ceiling of the church. Thomas took our little group on a visual tour of the ceiling, which contained images outlining the core story of the gospel. Many of the church’s early parishioners would have been illiterate and Thomas showed us how the priests would use the ceiling to preach the Jesus Story. Of particular interest to me was an image of the cross in the middle of the ceiling near the front of the church: the Holy Cross which the church was named after.
I may not have noticed it if Thomas would not have pointed it out, but the Holy Cross painted on the ceiling had a very interesting feature. Wherever a person stood in the church the cross appeared to shift with your sightline, the foot of the cross followed you wherever you stood. I remember standing on the opposite side of the church to Thomas thinking to myself: we are standing on different sides of the church but both standing at the foot of the cross. The position one stood in the church did change the perspective of the paintings around the cross, but the foot of the cross remained visible, available and central to us wherever we stood. What was common in my experience with Thomas in the church that day? It was the cross, Jesus – the center of our faith, the One who draws all people to Himself, the One in and through whom all things live and move and have their being.
The center of the church, not just that particular church, is the Holy Cross. To expand that a bit more: the historical and ontological reality of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Jesus is the pivot. It is in and through Jesus that God altered our ontology – the world is different because of Him.
As I have journeyed the last twelve years in the church, I have moved around to different positions to take a look at the metaphorical paintings around the periphery of the cross. Its given me a view of the things I couldn’t see from where I was previously standing. Some of my opinions have changed, some of my theology has been challenged, I’ve had to take a closer look at the details of the paintings around the periphery. One of the things that has not changed is that the cross is following me, beckoning, open, accessible; the foot of the cross is constantly in my view.
I am also increasingly finding unity with Christians not around the periphery, but in our common focus on Jesus. I feel a sense of conviction that I am called into communion with all those who stand within the Church and turn their eyes to the Holy Cross as the source of life; Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith. When it comes to some people who stand inside the church with me it is clear that we see the frescos around the periphery from a different perspective. I actually do think that what some of my friends see may in fact be wrong. But I want to acknowledge that we are standing under the same roof, looking at the same cross. I want to welcome all those who are willing to fix their eyes on Jesus and meet with me – and I with them – at the foot of his cross. I’ve done this very poorly at times, but there’s probably more space at the foot of the cross than I used to think there was.