We all have moments or events in our lives that we look back on and realise they were significant, life-changing even. Occasionally we are aware of their significance at the time. A few years ago on a visit to Barcelona with friends, I went to La Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic Basilica still under construction. It was our last morning in the city, and I'd have been happier to have simply enjoyed the cafe culture in the October sunshine. Being far more cultured than me (and less lazy), my non-church going companions dragged me along with them.
As I stood outside with other tourists looking up at the intricately carved Nativity Facade, I was struck by the solemn happiness in the faces of the carved statues representing the people involved in the story of the Incarnation. They seemed more like real people who might step down and walk away at any moment than mere stone reminders of ancient history. There was a welcome on the door of all faiths and none, of all people from any background and tradition. There was a sense we were being invited into the family home.
Then I walked through the Door of Christian Love, from the early morning warmth and sunshine into the lightness of a stone forest of magnificent trees with branches curving high above, their pale grey trunks dappled in jewelled dancing lights from the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. I stopped in awe to try and take it in.
It felt as if I'd walked into a part of heaven and, judging by the reactions of people who'd walked in with me, it seemed as if I wasn't the only person who felt this way. Those feelings of wonder and awe have not faded for me even though this experience is a few years old.
I have never been made so aware of how beautiful and magnificent and approachable God is.
Yet all this astonishing structure does is to tell the story of Jesus and his purpose in coming among us using visual imagery and text as well as telling the story of his disciples who responded to the commission given to them by Jesus in Matthew 28: 19 - 20: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Moving around La Sagrada Familia, you couldn't help but be aware of how vital the disciples were to God's involvement in His world and that this includes ALL disciples, ancient and modern, from all church traditions and none. The story of Jesus includes all those who are part of God's family and the story hasn't ended but continues to be written as we walk it and tell it.
This unexpected experience remains alive in my memory, providing me with an anchor when I grieve the ugliness of life, a visual aid when I need to picture a God of wonder and inspiration when I need reminding of the greatness of God. Above all, this is a place I am not ashamed to take people who do not believe. There was no coercion to believe, no guilt trip laid on anyone, no judgement proclaimed. It was quite gloriously and unashamedly a proclamation of the love of God for all that was so compelling it's the only church my friends want to return to. I don't know how to tell the story of Jesus as well as the architect Gaudi has managed to but just knowing it can be done, inspires me to keep trying.
Revd Alison Griffiths
Director Pastoral Care: South