To say that the land around Saint Paul's is flat for miles is a bit of an understatement. The result of the flatness, though, is that the bell tower of St. Paul's is the outstanding feature of the landscape for miles. I took my usual noonday walk - a mile down church road - and when I turned around and glanced up, there the Church and above all the tower stand. It looms over the corn, the empty fields.
And the tower led me to think about the great bell housed in it. She's written around with Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr - the German Gloria. I think she sounds a G, but I'm not entirely sure. She's a big bell. Not the clangy sort, but the booming sort. And she rings out regularly. We ring her before all services, during confirmations (when we remember!), after weddings, and she is tolled (a hammer mechanism that strikes her side by a separate rope) after funerals.
But it's the before service ring that I was thinking about as I walked home. The one we sing about:
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand
Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in ev'ry land;
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting. (LSB 645:1)
I think of how through these many, many years, the bell of St. Paul has rung out, calling people to come and receive God's gifts, to come and live from His proferred mercy, to come and taste the goodness of the Lord and enjoy His unending rest.
And how many times the call goes unheeded. It sounds over homes where people used to come to receive the gifts of God and they come no more. But the bell still rings out, still invites, still summons. I know on the very few occasions when I've been sick and unable to conduct the service, there is a lump that rises in my throat when I hear the bell sound. It calls and its call reaches deep. I can't believe that it doesn't do something similar to those who heeded its calling for years but now choose not to. May the Holy Spirit use the Church bell as He uses so many other things to call His lost and wondering children to come home:
Grant, then, O God, Your will be done,
That when the church bells are ringing,
Many in saving faith may come
Where Christ His message is bringing:
"I know My own; My own know Me.
You, not the world, My face shall see.
My peace I leave with you. Amen." (LSB 645:5)