Homeward bound from our French holiday along the M58. Then at junction 5, Christ Church appears some 8.4 miles ahead. “Well, at least the church is still standing!”
One of the main features of our church is its visibility. The tower being 120 feet high (if you include the turret) you can see Christ Church at some distance and from some unexpected places. George Thomson, my old form teacher, proudly showed me his view of my church from his house in New Brighton.
And of course, if you can see Christ Church tower from a distance, standing on the tower you can see into that distance: Snowdon, the Scafells, Pendle Hill and Skelmersdale beacon. Tomorrow see for yourself, at our annual tower open day, from 2.00 – 4.00 pm.
But why have a tower? It certainly added to the building costs nearly
125 years ago, when those building the new church for this part of Aughton ran out of money. The whole project was delayed by eight years. After all, towers were not a part of Christian churches until about AD 600, when they were adapted from military watchtowers. That may give us a clue.
The conventional answer is that a church tower is somewhere to hang the bells. But this does not apply to three of our four neighbouring parish churches – those in Aughton, Halsall and Ormskirk. They each have a 14th century octagonal spire. beautiful to look at but with no obvious function. (The accompanying tower at Ormskirk is 16th century – to hang their newly acquired bells from Burscough Priory).
For all that a spire does is to make a statement. It is fascinating to note that the word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for spear. In other words it proclaims a martial power as it points us to the heavens. “Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth!” This is a high profile message, literally. And for controversially, this is for everyone.
Just like the cross of Jesus, for as the apostle Paul explains,
“(Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:17)
For the whole point of crucifixion is that this cruel and lingering death is in the public gaze, a form of execution for as many people as possible to see. Jesus himself saw this as he spoke to the crowds at the Jerusalem festival: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ (John 12:32)
It’s fascinating that the one event from the story of the people of Israel that Jesus draws on to urge our response to his crucifixion only works by being high profile. So we read in Numbers 21:9; “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”
Obviously the higher this bronze snake, the more snakebite victims could be healed. All you need to do is turn and look.
So Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’ (John 3:14f) The cross of Jesus is an invitation to everyone to turn and see, even at a distance, afar off. Only then do we access his healing, his forgiveness, his Shalom.
This is a bold message for a pluralist society. In fact, I wonder if we could get planning permission to build Christ Church as it is today. For the tower of Christ Church has a powerful message, not only that Jesus is Lord of all but that he claims your allegiance, whoever you are and however far away you may be!