June 19, 1991
The Strasbourg cathedral in France is a magnificent structure with towers, ornate carvings, and an extraordinary spire, visible for miles. It was first built to honor God and is still a place of worship, just as it was originally intended.
As Bob and I sat bowed before the Lord in a side chapel reserved for prayer away from other tourists, we could almost sense the presence of believers from past centuries who had prayed here before us. Bob whispered, “If walls could speak...”
Those walls certainly housed a long history. Christianity spread to the Strasbourg area of the Rhine valley in the 4th century. While there is no accurate record establishing a date when they built their first worship centre, a large fire in 1176 necessitated the restoration of what was there. Thus construction began on what is now the present building, over 800 years ago. Later, in 1402, Ulrich von Ensingen, a man considered one of Europe’s most famous master-masons, designed the impressive spire.
We noticed huge bells, the oldest of which weighs 9000 kilograms or about 20,000 pounds, and magnificent sculpture. Some of the ancient carvings have been moved inside a nearby museum to protect them from erosion. The immense organ has been replaced a few times. The clock is newer. It chimes to mark each hour with a baby appearing and the angel of death removing an old man. Inside the vast main sanctuary, modern chairs replace whatever people sat upon in earlier days. The side-chapel where we prayed had woven cane seats that seemed a more suitable vintage. Every part of this building, from the crypt to the cross high on the spire, is the work of dedicated craftsmen.
We could not help but think of the heritage that belongs to the Christian faith. To be sure there are stains on the pages, from the Crusades to the recent televangelist scandals; but by far out-numbering the blots and blights are unsung faithful souls who believed in and loved Jesus Christ. This building endures as a reminder to the fact that despite how we mess up what God intended, the content of the Christian faith endures.
In our humanness, we have no inborn ability to hang on to an everlasting faith, yet the One who gives faith, the One in whom our faith is placed, can be depended upon to sustain our trust in Him. Furthermore, He is available to anyone of any era or century who recognizes His revelation of Himself through His Son and who trusts the work of Christ for forgiveness of sins.
Psalms 104:31 says: “The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever...” That means that God simply remains -- beyond this world, its contents, and beyond time itself. Hebrews 1:10-12 tell us: “You, Lord, in the beginning have laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of your hands: they shall perish; but You remain; and they all shall wear out as does a garment; and as a mantle you shall fold them up, and they shall be changed: but You are the same, and Your years shall not fail.”
When the Christians at Strasbourg erected their cathedral, they did it with God’s character in mind. Even though no building can be holy, sacred or eternal like He is, every time it was burned or bombed or eroded, they rebuilt, refurbished and restored because they wanted God’s eternal character to be honored as much as frail humanity could possible honor Him.
That is how we felt too, as we prayed on cane chairs under immense, arching and echoing ceilings and in the light of brilliant stained glass. God cannot be contained in a building but the building reminded us that He willingly offers to live in the hearts of those who trust Him and will remain there forever.