Stop there for a moment! Look at what’s in front of you. This is the quire or choir altar in Canterbury Cathedral.
- It’s decked in purple, code for repentance and waiting. We’ve been waiting for Christmas, we’ve been repenting, trying to change our ways to be ready to meet Jesus.
- There are four Greek letters, embroidered in gold. Gold for a King. It was one of the gifts brought by the wise men.
- Ά and ω are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. Code for Jesus is before all and comes after all.
- The two other letters, ϗ and ρ, or Chi and Ro tend to get mixed together in different geometrical ways. This is because they represent the first two letters of Kristos, Greek for Christ. Artistic licence turns the chi into different shaped crosses, to represent the Cross of Christ.
- (Sometimes we see ICXC, where the ‘I’ is a Greek ‘J’; ‘C’, is ‘S’; ‘X’ is ‘K’ or ‘Ch’; the early Christians liked this sort of code)
- So the altar frontal tells us to wait for Jesus the king, the first and last.
- On the altar are a crucifix and candles. Christ, risen from death, is the light of the world.
- and there is a Christmas tree. Remember how God called to Moses from the burning bush? You stand on Holy Ground, Moses was told. And so do we.
- At the back, behind the altar, is the chair of Saint Augustine on which Archbishops are seated on their appointment. We stand on Holy Ground. The chair is code for the Communion of Saints, the faith handed down by the shepherds since 597 when Augustine came to Canterbury.
So, call it praying or thinking or day-dreaming, I had a few good minutes in the Cathedral that morning!