We carry a cross around town on Good Friday. It isn’t an historical pageant. No choreography. No bedsheet robes. No Roman soldiers enjoying their roles just a little too much. No memorized lines. Just a small—sometimes very small—group of people taking turns carrying a rough-hewn cross, maybe five feet high.
From time to time, we stop. A prayer is said. Someone else lifts the cross, and we walk some more. We’ll stop perhaps a half a dozen times on the trek, and the pace is slow, partly out of reverence, and partly because this is a group that includes the old and the very young, the robust and the not so steady.
The places we stop are chosen, for the most part, by the children of the church. We ask them, “Where does Jesus suffer now?” These kids know suffering. Some of the stops—the WIC office, the nursing home, the police station—are regulars. Some capture the kids’ attention some years but not others. Some we visit one time only—the house where a small boy died in a fire, the corner where drugs have been on sale a little too publicly lately.
The community notices. Even though we’ve never made an announcement more public than that at a community midweek service where we invite people to join us, they expect us. And we are watched for and welcomed even in those places, like Puff's cigarette store, where we are praying rather explicitly against the spirits that seem to occupy them. People come smiling out of King Kruller’s Donut Shop to hear us pray that those who gossip there will have their hearts changed by love so that their conversation will be blessing and not curse.
There are a couple of places where no denizen has ever noted our presence, and I wonder if that’s a matter of timing or of divine protection. One is a local bar and heroin emporium with a distinctly surly clientele—even before noon. The other is the church that gave up its fifty-year-old tradition of hosting community-wide Good Friday worship when their Easter candy fund-raiser got big and they were too busy with the latter to bother with the former.
Sometimes someone—sometimes someone visibly deranged—will join us along the way and carry the cross for a spell. That’s fine. It’s a small community. We know one another. Some people on the fringe carry the cross with exquisite tenderness. Others carry it like it’s their own personal banner, which of course it is.
And even among the regulars, we know that we are fragile. One of our kids first carried the cross when he was five. Not very far, but he knew how to carry a cross. I remember noting that then: little kids shouldn’t be quite so good at this. Now he’s fifteen, and we still hope that he’ll make it, but there have been times when it seemed that the forces of evil, including those in his family, would swallow him whole. He knows where Jesus suffers.
You do too.
So where does Jesus suffer on your campus? Can you name the places? That in itself is an expression of love. Are you responsible for some of them? Have you ignored others out of misplaced politeness, or out of worry about what you might stir up? Can you go there bravely with your board, with your president, with anyone who has a heart to join you, and pray? It doesn’t need to be heralded. It doesn’t need to be choreographed. Can you trust that the cross is the power of healing?
Where does Jesus suffer in your life? Is there a trusted saint or two you can take there, trusting that you will all be safe as you travel in Jesus’ name, trusting that there will be welcome, trusting that things can be different, trusting that after the cross comes new life?