Pondering the importance of Signs, Symbols and Gestures

The reaction to the recent terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena is very moving and thought provoking.
The outrage, anger, grief, mourning, sorrow and pain have been channelled into a massive display of signs and symbols in St Ann’s Square, situated near to the Arena. Men women and children have come in great numbers to stand in solidarity and defiance with those who mourn, for those killed, injured, traumatised and shocked and for people of Manchester.

They come, bringing bouquets of flowers, ribbons, colourful balloons; they come with children bringing their toys. They come to stand in awe at the evil but in solidarity with each other and in deep compassion. They stand in tearful silence, sometimes hugging one another.

When questioned by media personnel their answers are always much the same. ‘We needed to be here; we needed to do something; we needed to share the pain, to pray, to cry with the people, to defy the terrorists, to deplore the evil, to stand in solidarity with the people of Manchester.’ We have seen many such reactions, in this country and around the world, at road side accidents and in major incidents such as this one in Manchester.

Gesture, signs and symbols are deeply rooted in the human psyche.
They are God given

They are the means through which God, creator of all things, communicates the deep truths of his relationship with us humans, whether we are believers or not. They are the means through which we strive to come to terms with the inexpressible, the horror of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, the brutality of war, the loss experienced at a sudden death of loved ones and in coping with serious illness. They are also the means through which we celebrate the high points and the joys of life, like falling in love, marriage, celebrating special occasion, anniversaries and retirements.

Hopefully, people who have come to St. Ann’s Square, go home with a sense of release or relief, a feeling that they have participated in something that was good, needful and life giving; in some ways discovering it to have been a therapeutic experience.

This latest tragic terrorist attack in Manchester occurred at a sacred time in the Christian world, a period which is richly expressed in symbols, signs and gestures. We call this period Eastertide. As we ponder the sacred mysteries of this season against the background of the Manchester Arena tragedy we call on God for deeper faith and new depths of understanding.

Jesus Christ died for this!

Did he, we wonder, see this tragic sight as he looked down in agony from the Cross? Jesus, we believe, takes unto himself, the guilt of all the sins of us humans  from the beginning of time until the last day. He paid the price for all the evil acts of human kind through his life, death and resurrection and thus opened Heaven to us. He promised to remain with us for all time.

How could this be? He does his through Signs Symbols and Gestures.

The night before he died Jesus had supper with his disciples. He took bread, broke it and gave it to those gathered around him saying “Take and eat, this is my body given for you;” he then took a vessel of wine, blessed it and said, “Take and drink, this is my blood poured out for you. Do this in memory of me.” Mt 26+

The next day, which we call ‘Good Friday,’ Jesus literally and physically, did what he had symbolically done that previous evening; he allowed his body to be crucified and the last drop of his blood poured out by a soldier’s spear, to prove he was really dead.

This profound symbolic action, of course, is on a very different level from the St Ann’s Square event. Christians believe that when an ordained priest in a Eucharistic Service which we call ‘The Mass’ takes bread and wine and repeats the words of Jesus, Jesus Christ becomes truly present in what was before, simply, bread and wine. Thus he fulfils his promise to be with us always even to the end of time.

This Sunday  4th June the Christian world celebrates the feast of ‘Pentecost.’ That name comes from the fact that it is the fiftieth day after the death of Jesus. This feast commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. This time the symbols are tongues of fire which rested on the heads of the apostles and disciples and a mighty wind that shook the buildings and brought the people out into the streets and squares.

This gift of the Holy Spirit was electrifying! It empowered those anxious, fearful men and women, to fearlessly preach and spread the message of Christ throughout the known world. All the apostles except John along with countless others were martyred for their faith.

Today the Christian Church operates worldwide and that first Pentecost Day is celebrated as the birthday of the Church. Christ we, believe, is thus permanently present in Sacramental form. And Christians around the world are still being persecuted and killed because they will not deny their faith.

Sister Camilla