IN my travels through Spain, Portugal and many other European countries I’m often told of some famous church I should visit in the vicinity, “Built in 1566!” says the guide. “Fascinating!” I tell him, “And what happened in the church?” “There are many statues of kings, tombs of famous people and relics of saints!”
“No, no,” I repeat, “Did anything famous happen in that church?” “Yes, a king was buried next to the first woman he loved!” “You’re talking of a church right?” “Yes, yes, a famous church!” “And in this famous church all that happened was that a king got himself interred next to his lover?” “Yes, yes! Aren’t you keen on seeing the grave?”
“I would like to see a church where a revival took place! A church where people felt the presence of God, a church from where the gospel travelled out into the world!” And the guide looks at me, shakes his puzzled head and walks away.
Poor man, because it’s not just in his country that such monuments they call churches exist, it’s also here: A few years ago I visited the managing trustee of a historical church in Mumbai to ask him whether a famous choir could sing Christmas carols in his church for Christmas.
“No!” “What do you mean sir?” I asked. “No!” he said, “Have you seen the historical marble tombs in the church?” “Sure,” I said. “Outsiders will spoil the marble! They will sit on the marble window sills, they will scrape their feet on the old British marble flooring, they will…” “Sir!” “Outsiders will dirty…” ”Sir!” “Yes?” “Would blood stains on the marble upset you?” “Blood stains?” he asked shrilly, “Where? In this church? What are you talking about?” “You are the managing trustee aren’t you sir? Do you believe this church was built to speak about a man whose blood was shed for you and me, that those carols that will be sung will spread the wonderful story of a Jesus who came down to earth, to live and teach and die for us! Sir the gospel based on those blood stains is what you should be guarding, not the marble flooring and sculptured tombs!”
I got the St Thomas Cathedral for the choir that Christmas. But it’s time we took the fight to other churches, that those stones should come alive with the message of a living God, not hide the bones of mere mortals. That those walls should resound with praises to the King of Kings, not echo the silence of tombs built for dead ones and their lovers..!