With Easter fast approaching I feel an uncomfortable flush slowly, but unstoppably, colouring my clerical countenance as I recall an Easter occurrence that has left its mark indelibly etched upon my memory.
Each year, in a bid to present a united front, the churches of our fair parish combine forces to partake in a Good Friday ‘Walk of Witness’.
Between you and me I had become increasingly uncomfortable as to the nature of the witness that we were in fact delivering. I could not help feeling that our sombre and silent procession along the lengths of the High Street did little to connect us with the very people we had been charged with sharing God’s love to and instead had the net effect of causing them to feel somewhat aggrieved by the inconvenience we were inflicting upon them.
I do not feel that they appreciated one little bit that not only were we causing traffic gridlock but our cursory glances into their cars as we processed past seemed to also carry with them more than a little of the air of condemnation for them daring to venture out into the commercial heart of the town on this of all days.
Knowing full well the inherent intransigence of the Walk of Witness Organising Committee (it took five hard-fought years to persuade them to allow children to accompany their parents lest the non-negotiable ‘no talking’ rule be inadvertently broken), I hit upon the idea of a companion event for Easter Sunday, but with smiles and joy being the order of the day.
Having circulated details of this new venture to all the churches in the locale I eagerly awaited the arrival of Easter Sunday.
Whilst the march on Good Friday had been its usual solemn reminder to the town that we were still there, (like it or not!), the day was blessed with the most glorious warmth and sunshine. As I inched passed the snarled traffic (avoiding the gaze of the irritated incumbents) my spirits were lifted by the thought that in two days an altogether more joyful representation of the church would be displayed.
As I drew back the curtains of the manse master bedroom on that Easter morn I could not believe the sight that lay before me. Gone were the verdant fields graced by the bloom of spring flowers and in its stead a heavy white blanket of snow as far as the eye could see.
Ignoring the advice of my good lady wife that perhaps I would do well to call the event off (her less-than-convincing excuse for not accompanying me being that she was suddenly feeling a little ‘woozy’ after her Lenten fast from lemon curd on toast), I donned suitable attire for the rather unseasonal weather and ventured forth to the pre-arranged meeting point outside St Cliff’s.
As I rounded the corner it soon became apparent that not everybody shared my enthusiasm for another Eastertide ‘march’ (lemon curd on toast fast or no).
What met my eyes were but three folk primed for the ‘Jaunt of Joy’ (which I had chosen to name it) and a half a dozen men and women of the local constabulary, one who appeared to be holding some form of weapon, though unless the Walk of Witness Organising Committee had taken umbrage with me I am not sure what resistance he thought the good folk of the local churches might be up against.
Having thanked the three attendees (two adults and a child in a pushchair) for their faithfulness in showing up I quickly discovered that the only reason they were there was because their young son was presently teething and they hadn’t slept a wink all night. They were hoping that the bracing wintery conditions might send him to sleep and, that being the case, they would be returning back home, posthaste, to get some much needed sleep.
It soon became clear that this was indeed the sum total of our number and it did not escape me that there appeared to be more than a little sniggering coming from the direction of the officers of the law.
I did suggest that, in the event of the low turn out, such a strong police presence was not really necessary, but they were having none of it. I suspected that this would be fodder for coffee break back at the police station and they did not want to pass up the opportunity of having a laugh at my expense.
There was nothing for it but to proceed as if all was well. Raising the ‘Jaunt of Joy’ banner which I had produced for the occasion (I do hope the St Cliff’s play group do not notice that I have all but drained their supply of poster paints), we set off in the direction of the High Street.
How I wished that I had chosen to wear a scarf. At least I could have wrapped it around my visage to cover the increasing reddening shades of embarrassment.
I could not help feeling that my fellow marchers were also sharing the ignominy of the occasion and it did not go unnoticed that they very soon overtook me and appeared to be giving the pretence that they were in fact simply window shopping and not part of the debacle.
Just when I thought things could not get any worse a latecomer crept in behind us.
Having nutured all the while the fear that the ‘icing on the cake’ of this tortuous procession would be one of our number breaking into song, the nightmare was fully realised.
With a voice that would awaken the dead, (and then wish themselves deceased once more) this lady launched forth into a cacophonous rendition of ‘He is risen’.
Whilst this song and its sentiment has long been an Easter favourite of mine this was no longer the case.
Contrary to the impression that they were trying to give me, I do not believe for one moment that our police escort were simply keeping themselves warm by employing a brisk motion of their upper body. Rather, I am convinced that they were unable to contain their mirth a moment longer and were veritably guffawing inside at the comedic outcome of the occasion.
With Easter once more looming large and the remembrance of all that Jesus achieved for us on the cross it is with gratitude that the burden of my sin no longer afflicts me.
That cannot be said for the mental anguish that is stirred up when I recall that less than uplifting, unfortunate Easter day.
Onward and upward