There are a lot of churches in the holy land. These churches were built to honor specific moments in the life of Jesus and Mary: the church of the Annunciation and Visitation; the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves, the church of Lazarus, the church of the Holy Sepulcher, just to name a few. Many of those churches were designed by one architect in particular, Antonio Barluzzi, and have a distinct architectural feature that binds the church to the event. Dominus Flevit – where the Lord wept, is shaped like a vessel used to collect tears back in the day. [called a Lacrimarum] At the church of the shepherd’s fields, the ceiling is made to look like the stars in night sky where the shepherd heard the angel chorus. The church of the Beatitudes is eight sided for each of those foundational sayings of the Lord.
It struck me, though, that there was no “Church of the woman caught in the act of adultery.” Maybe there are obvious reasons for that. But I thought: “What a loss. Wouldn’t it be both wonderful and amazing to pray about our propensity for judgment, and our need for forgiveness? It could be the pilgrimage spot for all who have fallen from grace and stand in need of mercy and forgiveness. It could be the patron church for the judgers and the judged alike.”
So, if somehow, Antonio Barluzzi were to have built such a church, what would have been the distinct architectural feature? I thought first that it would be a church in the round, with altar in the middle symbolic of where the woman would have stood. And then I thought the altar would be of clear glass and would have been built on a pile of fist sized stones, so that those stones, never thrown, would be clearly seen as a testament to our sinfulness. Though both of these elements would work, I realized what the distinct architectural feature would have to be.
Mirrors positioned in such a way, that no matter where you sat, you only saw YOUR reflection in them, not anyone else’s. Mirrors which would invite each one to look upon their own faces and the hands clenched around the stones of judgment that we still tend to carry, even though we know we need the very forgiveness that the crowd was at first unwilling to give to the woman.
That is the turning point of the gospel narrative, isn’t it? Jesus was not going to get into a debate with them about the justness or unjustness of the Mosaic law. That would not serve him, or the woman well. Instead, Jesus holds out the proverbial mirror to each member in that crowd. Instead of seeing someone upon whom they could inflict their righteous outrage, an obvious sinner ‘caught in the act’, he invites them to see their own hearts and their own brokenness.
That’s when the stones begin to drop, with quiet thuds on that dusty square. When the ones holding them realized what those stones said about them – how they symbolized THEIR hardness of heart and THEIR failure more than the sin of the woman before them. When they saw that, when the mirror was clear enough for them to see into their own hearts, those stones had to fall to the ground.
And you, this week, what will allow you to see yourself in that same way – holding onto a stone of judgment that needs to be dropped? What mirror do you need to look into to see clearly into your own life and know that you too, need forgiveness and mercy? What will allow you to gaze upon you with the same fierce compassion of the savior’s gaze upon that woman inviting her to “sin no more?”
It is a church that should have been built in some corner of some road over in the holy land – called rightfully “the church of the FORGIVENESS of the woman caught in the act of adultery.” And that honors the forgiveness of each son and daughter who has ever walked the face of the earth, searching, not for judgment and condemnation, but mercy and forgiveness. Perhaps mirrors would be the distinctive architectural feature.
Yet, I wonder if here at St. Ann’s – we have already the distinct architectural feature that might be perfect for that church. It is that image of the cross rising from the hill of Calvary and that stretches from hemisphere to hemisphere, from side to side embracing the entire world. Under the mirror of that kind of love, we are to see ourselves and our sisters and brothers. In a love that embraces the entire world, we can see a savior who says to us: “Has anyone condemned you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”