I have the silent ‘No!’ of a total stranger ringing in my head this morning and I am surprised to find that it is dominating my thoughts after this year’s Good Friday Walk of Witness.
I was unprepared for what happened yesterday when, to my surprise, I was invited to again help carry the heavy cross through the streets of Tring. There had been no specific request for ladies to help this year but Revd Jane was there, ready at the back and looking out for other volunteers, so I joined in. It may be simply the passage of time but it didn’t seem quite so hard this year, perhaps because there were more, and taller, men in front taking even more of the weight. So, once our strides were in step and we were into the long straight section of our journey, I occasionally looked up from the ground and observed some of the reaction to this annual local event. Most people out and about on Good Friday, seeing that the traffic has been halted and catching the sound of the approaching drum with its sombre single beat, repeated like a heavy footfall, stop and watch in respectful silence as we pass by – a crowd of witnesses following after a large heavy cross. But this time there was a bus, halted in its journey by the yellow-clad marshals. There were only a few passengers but one caught my eye as he sat there, stony-faced and shaking his head repeatedly from side to side, almost as if he could not believe what he was seeing.
What were you thinking? Perhaps you were simply annoyed at the delay to your journey, but it seemed to be more than that – the ‘No’ much more than a dismissive denial. What were you thinking? Were you surprised to see women helping to carry the cross? Or were you disapproving of my failing to be dressed in the appropriately funereal dark clothing of the others who together took the part of that first, perhaps less-willing ‘volunteer’, Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross towards Calvary? Did you even perhaps think – seeing the concentration on our faces, misconstrued as anguish – that this was some sort of church discipline being enacted along our high street: a group of ‘sinners’ being publicly humiliated in some way as a punishment? That shaking head has made me look at what we do each year through the eyes of a stranger, and to wonder what it might look like to someone less familiar with the story of Easter week. What were you thinking? Were you perhaps reflecting, as we had been doing just an hour earlier in church, on the thoughts and feelings of Jesus as he hung on the cross in agony on that first Good Friday? Were you thinking about yourself and what was done for you on that day so long ago – or were you simply annoyed at the delay to your bus? What were you thinking – and will your ‘No’ become a joyful, hopeful, celebratory ‘Yes!’ when tomorrow dawns?