By John Grinvalds
Inhabiting a new building comes with some quirks. For now, the chancel furnishings stand curiously asymmetrical, with one side’s altar rail missing: the product of a devastating misremembering on the part of our contractor. Some doors don’t always latch properly. This week, sweaters and winter coats became the unintended uniforms of the LC lounge; our intensely advanced ventilation system was not prepared for a Siberian winter, leaving many parts of the building between 50 and 60 degrees.
These quirks—these happy little quirks—root us in reality. Every minor frustration is another fold in our building’s origami-like personality.
Inhabiting a new building comes with shifts in culture. The geography of The Lutheran Center has changed. Many spaces, while cast in the footprint of our former building, strain recognizability. Our community—partly in awe of the building and greatly concerned with the ongoing pandemic—devotes itself to fastidious cleaning.
We’re also in a state of preparation. Come Lent, we plan to worship on Sundays in person. We have chairs set exactly six feet apart from each other. We will stop students at the door with a thermometer check and a reiteration of our social distancing rules. This will mark the first in-person worship of the new building’s history, a worship that will bear the scars of a world in crisis.
But there are some beautiful elements of our preparation. One subtle but meaningful aspect was an aesthetic change in the sanctuary.
Earlier this week, Adam eagerly brought me into the sanctuary. He wanted me to play a game of Spot the Difference. I had been in that sacred space dozens of times, so my eyes searched for something new, something out of place. I looked and looked, my view partially disrupted by the light bouncing off of the large brass cross adorning altar. I assumed that was merely the effect of our new windows, which allow much more light in than the old building’s sanctuary windows. But as Adam soon explained, the cross was the change. Adam had blackened three rags to polish it.
Now, light dances on the cross, which glows with an almost glassy clearness. But more than this cosmetic shift, the cross serves a theological purpose. The cross doesn’t fix attention to itself with a dull, brassy tone. It isn’t the end of vision, a dead end on a road. It doesn’t exist for its own sake.
The cross reflects back upon the congregation. We see each other in the cross. Light. Bodies. Masked faces. We see our neighbors in the cross.
In a year when hope seems choked by the weeds of weariness and grief, a cross that beckons us to love our neighbors is perfect. Like the quirks of our building stretched by growing pains, our reflective altar cross roots us in the reality of our mission—in our vocation to love and serve.
God is making all things new, even in the midst of the sullen drudgery of the pandemic.