Forgiveness and Reconciliation
The importance of forgiveness
by Janice Ross (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation by using the example of Coventry Cathedral.
Preparation and materials
- Have available the following videos and the means to show them during the assembly:
- ‘Air raid sirens followed by the all-clear’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erMO3m0oLvs (3.43 minutes long)
- ‘Air-raid montage’, available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06v60bz (1.44 minutes long)
- Have available the following images and the means to display them during the assembly:
- Coventry Cathedral after German bombing raids in 1940, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y6ezn2mk
- the altar with the charred cross, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y4xkgnbv
- the cross of nails, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y2rj54rl
- You will also need three large nails.
- Optional: you may wish to show a virtual tour of Coventry Cathedral, in which case you will also need the means to do this. A virtual tour is available at: http://www.coventrycathedraltour.org.uk/
- As the students enter the room, show the ‘Air raid sirens followed by the all-clear’ video.
Explain that the sounds that the students can hear are the sirens that were used during the Second World War to alert people that there was about to be an air raid. People needed to take immediate action in the hope that they would be kept safe in the bombings.
- Show the ‘Air-raid montage’ video.
Explain that these sounds and sights were familiar in the UK during the Second World War. Draw attention to the sound of the air-raid sirens, the bombing and the all-clear siren.
Many large UK cities such as London, Liverpool and Coventry were bombarded night after night by the Luftwaffe (the German air force).
- After an air-raid, people emerging from the safety of the shelters were often confronted with scenes of utter devastation. Those in Coventry experienced this on the night of 14 November 1940 when bombs rained down on the city, leaving its city centre and cathedral blazing.
- Show the image of Coventry Cathedral after German bombing raids in 1940.
Churches were important to people during these difficult times and a decision to rebuild Coventry Cathedral was taken the morning after this disaster. Rebuilding the cathedral was not intended to be an act of defiance, of fighting back, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world.
- The Provost of Coventry Cathedral, Dick Howard, made a national commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation. Speaking from the cathedral ruins on Christmas Day, he vowed, when the war was over, to work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’
- Shortly after the destruction of Coventry Cathedral, a stonemason noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. These two timbers were set up in the ruins as a sign of hope and faith. Later, they were placed on an altar made of rubble. Next to them was an inscription with the moving words, ‘Father, forgive.’
Show the image of the altar with the charred cross.
Optional: you may wish to show a virtual tour of Coventry Cathedral. The charred cross is found to the left of the Sanctuary area.
- A local priest found three medieval nails lying amid the debris and fashioned these into another cross.
Show the three nails and then show the image of the cross of nails.
- Coventry Cathedral’s worshippers took these two crosses as a sign that God was calling them to take the message of forgiveness and reconciliation across the world.
- The rebuilt cathedral was consecrated on 25 May 1962. Five days later, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, which had been commissioned to mark the cathedral’s consecration, was premiered. (A requiem mass is a church service held to pray for the rest of the souls of the dead.)
Britten’s War Requiem took the standard text of the requiem mass and combined it with nine poems written by Wilfred Owen, a soldier during the First World War. The poems portray the desperation of a man at the forefront of the battle. Wilfred Owen was killed one week before the war ended.
War still holds the world in its grip, and the War Requiem still has immediacy.
- After the Second World War, the cross of nails became a symbol of what is now a worldwide ministry of reconciliation, the Community of the Cross of Nails. Today, the Community of the Cross of Nails is an international network of over 235 organizations in 45 countries.
- Reconciliation means restoring good relationships between people, or becoming friends again. The Bible encourages us to be reconciled first to God through faith, and then to one another.
The three nails remind Christians that Christ died on a cross so that we might be forgiven. We should therefore forgive others who hurt us or wrong us in some way.
- In many countries where there has been war, nations have risen against their own people, and friends and neighbours have risen against each other.
When peace is established, there is always a great need for forgiveness and reconciliation, which takes time and commitment. The Community of the Cross of Nails has developed as a place of hope for this work.
Time for reflection
How do we overcome war, whether it relates to national or international conflicts, or to disagreements within our own homes?
When he was dying on the cross, Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
Forgiveness and reconciliation begin with us and our relationships.
How can we work to build a kinder world where forgiveness and reconciliation play a significant role?
Pause to allow time for thought.
How can we work to build our school or homes into places of forgiveness and reconciliation?
Pause to allow time for thought.
You love light and peace and justice.
We pray for countries and people who are at war today.
We pray for those who work to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to all who have known grief, sorrow and loss as a result of war.
May their work bring hope, peace and freedom from anger and bitterness.
Optional: you may wish to play an extract from Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, which is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=625WOYzdvFw (1 hour 26.10 minutes long)