Last night we sailed the Seine. A gentle breeze blew as we took in the breathtaking vista of Parisian history, sailing under twenty four of the thirty seven bridges that cross the river. As we passed by historical buildings, our audio guide casually announced - 'to your left is where Rosseau had his residence' - 'to your right the Hotel -Dieu, Paris' oldest hospital founded in 651 AD'-'there is La Conciergerie, once a royal palace and later the prison where Marie Antionette was imprisoned before being guillotined.' This was history in a heartbeat. Across the river from Marie's prison stands Notre Dame Cathedral. Construction began in 1163. It took over a century to complete. Road distances to and from Paris are still calculated from this famous church, the official centre of the city. In China 'kilometre zero' is measured from Tianamen Square; in Jerusalem the measure is taken from the Jaffa Gate in the old city walls, but in France the measure begins at the place where the Christian faith was preached. This is ironic, since today the church in France is largely irrelevant, separated from the life of a thoroughly secular society and marginalized to the realm of tradition. And yet France seems unable to throw off the influence of Christian witness. A ceremony called 'republican baptism' has been established for people who don't believe in God yet who still desire to have their children blessed by the state.
Measuring distance in France from the church caused me to ponder. What if the world measured meaning and purpose from the Word, discovering the problem of the distance from grace is bridged by the Gospel? The Christian vision is of Christ at the centre of the city; of slaves transformed into sons; salvation history flowing like the Seine. 'There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.' (Psalm 46:4)