Dec. 1, 2016

Dear Advent Pilgrims,

If you ever find yourself inside any of a number of cathedrals in Europe, you would best look up as well as down.

Look up, and you may notice a dazzling painting of sun rays, all surrounding a hole in the middle of the ceiling, revealing the sky above. Look down, and you might notice a line running along the marbled floor of the sanctuary. There might appear no immediate reason for the line; it neither runs down the center aisle or fits symmetrically with the architecture.

But at noon, when the sun is uniquely positioned over that hole in the roof, you would notice a shaft of light piercing through the darkness and the dust, crossing a specific point on that line. And if you look closely alongside of it, you would notice tiny inscriptions, marking solstices and zodiac symbols and Roman numerals. And then it might occur to you:

You are not only standing in a place of religious worship. You are standing in a solar observatory.

That is the subject of a fascinating article published last month in the online journal Atlas Obscura, titled “Why Catholic Churches Built Secret Astronomical Features into Churches to Help Save Souls.” Despite its famous spat with Galileo, the Roman Catholic Church was historically a center for astronomical discovery. Such “architectural astronomy” helped human beings realize their small place in the vast cosmos, and opened their eyes to a God who was far beyond their understanding.

The hole in the ceiling and the line on the floor also served another purpose: to align the church’s worship life around the orderly, regular, and clockwork faithfulness of God. The article states:

Understanding the structure and rhythm of the cosmos through direct scientific observation was thus not antagonistic to Christian worship at all. It was an essential expression of human piety: an earnest attempt to synchronize human religious activity with the divine and invisible clockwork of the universe.

From that meridian line, Christian churches across the empire could observe holy days like Easter in uniformity, even without the use of the modern Gregorian calendar (which was still working out its kinks.) People could enter the sanctuary, with all of the turmoil and chaos of their personal lives, and find comfort in a God whose presence was constant and whose love was faithful. And they could emerge from that worship experience back in line with God’s purposes for them.

But today, there is a problem with many of those cathedrals.

Those meridian lines in the floor don’t work anymore.

Across Europe, centuries-old sanctuaries have been showing signs of age, with many of their foundations shifting and even sinking into the ground. The cathedrals have literally moved away from their previously fixed positions, rendering those old meridian lines no longer reliable. So if you go into one of those cathedrals today, you’ll still see the hole, and you’ll still see the line. But don’t expect them to do any good.

I not only found the article fascinating, but also timely. As we approach the second Sunday of Advent, I cannot help but connect these ideas to the perennial words of John the Baptist, the subject of this Sunday’s sermons. He bursts onto the scene, as he does every Advent, with a surveyor’s tripod in hand, and says to all of us, “Get back in line, people of God! Your foundation is floundering, your structures are shifting, and you have moved away from the center line of God’s will! The Kingdom of God is at hand, the sun is nearing its apex, and the Son is coming! And when he comes, you will need to get your life in line.”

There is good reason for John to be a standard feature of our Advent journey. He calls us to a deep exploration of how far we have strayed, and urges us to be vigilant of the coming of Jesus into our midst. This Sunday, we continue our worship series “A New Day Dawning,” with a sermon titled “Watch.” Join us as we look up, to watch for the imminent arrival of God’s love revealed in Jesus, and look down, to re-center our lives on the way and will of God.

Grace, Hope, and Peace,

Magrey CC

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

We are grateful for the more than 400 individuals and families who have turned in their commitment cards containing their pledge toward the 2017 budget. While the response so far has been very positive and encouraging, there is still a sizable number of people who have pledged in the past but have not yet turned in a card. If you would like to make a commitment, cards are available in the pew racks and all throughout the campuses this Sunday, or you can quickly make your pledge online here.


Pin It on Pinterest