Today, on Good Friday, across the country many churches have left their buildings and made a Walk of Witness through their town or city. This procession, this solemn walking service, allows those who may not attend our churches to witness the great sacrifice made by Christ for our sins, giving us eternal hope – WAIT!
Let us take that lens through which we view the world, as the Church, and turn it around 180 degrees. What do those who do not attend, or had attended church but no longer wish to do so, think of the Walk?
Here the Walk of Witness proceeds through New Street, Birmingham, stopping off at particular points to recall the Stations of the Cross. These Stations offer deep theological moments to reflect upon the journey of Christ to the Cross – I wonder how many people understand their significance? – those along the route that saw the Walk and even for some of those on the actual Walk. I saw a few people recording video of the Walk: one remarked at the length of the procession; but what of its significance? We sang hymns which will resonate with many people: ‘The Old Rugged Cross’; ‘There is a Green Hill Far Far Away’; and ‘When I Survey that Wonderous Cross’. They were sung with reverence, and I wondered whether others had smiles on the faces? I felt that I wanted to say that we have good news but could feel the weight of the cross upon those on the Walk – what would those who witnessed the Walk see?
We stopped again and acknowledged that Veronica wipes the face of Christ. I wondered how many people knew who Veronica was?
At the Council House, next to the Queen Victoria memorial, we stood between the hallowed columns of this fine building and spoke of the next 2 Stations. We repeated the following prayer at every Station:
I love you Jesus, my love above all things: I repent with my whole heart for having offended you. Never permit me to separate myself from you again. Grant that I may love you always, and then do with me what you you will.
We then proceeded to walk, via the magnificent Birmingham Cathedral, to St Chad’s Cathedral.
The grandeur of St Chad’s struck you immediately – as did the many number of people in the building. The Mayor and his wife also arrived and added to the richness of the Walk.
In Sleaford in Lincolnshire the local paper recorded their Walk of Witness in a video but I was surprised at the comments which ranged from “What’s going on?”, “Easter Parade I imagine?” and “What is the cause for this?”: recording their uncertainty why it was holding up traffic.
In Harlington, Bedfordshire, a Methodist Church had erected a “He is Risen” banner. There was much discussion whether this banner was put up too early: surely Sunday is the correct day! Some responded that perhaps this was correct if not 2000 years earlier! A few were quite firm in their disapproval of the banner going up 3 days too early but one response started to shed some light:
I can understand why Christians think this is a bit early….but your banner is outside, hopefully being read by many people who might not normally come to church and therefore might not be aware of the order of Holy Week. If this banner helps folk think about Jesus this Easter time then that’s brilliant. Well done!
I wonder how much of the Easter story people today actually understand. Many Christians want to stress that we should reflect upon the darkness of the journey taken by Christ this week, especially upon Good Friday with the crucifixion, before we emerge into the light of his resurrection on Sunday. Whereas most of the focus, outside of the Church, is on new beginnings, which could have originated with the Queen of the Heavens, Astarte, or a Germanic fertility goddess. So we have Easter Eggs, Easter Bunnies and increasing commercialisation of the holiday.
Perhaps it is time for the Church to re-capture Easter. How?
What does Easter mean to Christians? As we try to articulate this I wonder what those words that we use mean to those outside of the Church? Redemption, atonement, sins and resurrection are not ones we usually can assimilate at ease. Is it time that we, not dumb down our services but at least, explain in language that all-comers could understand?
Perhaps we could try to identify those phrases we hear over Easter this year that newcomers to our Church may not understand unless they were brought up in the tradition?
The Walk of Witness has so much power but only when we fully understand what the Stations of the Cross represent. To leave the building of the Church and walk dour faced through the town or city may not give that feeling to those who have left the church or have never set foot in the church to make that step towards the faith. Yes it is good to understand that Jesus had to die on the cross, whether for us, because of us or because of God’s love (or all 3) but could we at least smile because after 2000 years we know that:
Surely that is what we should be celebrating? Easter gives us that hope that Jesus is still with us, and Jesus walks with us every day, and that we can have the life that God intended for us. It is the pivotal day of the Christian year, it gives hope of life, as the Bible describes it as the Kingdom of God, now for and forever.
What do you think?
It was a special time to walk the streets of Birmingham as a group of many churches, albeit sad that we stopped exactly where the Jehovah’s Witnesses were standing with their literature, and they moved away.
I am calling for inclusion, that message that Jesus proclaimed so often. Our message of Hope that Easter proclaims is for all. We should allow all to join in, understand and participate.
Happy Easter! He is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleuia!
Thanks to Karl Rutlidge for the photo of the Birmingham Walk of Witness