I am privileged to be taking the funeral of Bill Francis, former chorister and server at Norwich Cathedral. But the very special delight is to know that he is the Crucifer in this old railway poster.
To be led in procession through the Cloisters and along the aisles of this cathedral is always profoundly moving. I cannot help but be deeply conscious of the countless generations of choir and clergy who have walked the same path, with my feet walking over the graves of those who have served or worshipped in this place down the centuries. It is a powerful reminder of the great rhythm of worship that has always been at the heart of this great building. It also keeps one’s own significance firmly in its place when measured against nine hundred years of history.
In procession we are led by the Crucifer, carrying the processional cross – we walk literally in the shadow of the cross. Although such processional crosses are often richly ornate, there can be no forgetting the cruel ugliness of the crosses used as an oppressive tool of execution.
To walk behind the cross is to walk in the footsteps of suffering. Life can be full of pain, suffering and hardship. When we hold high the cross we acknowledge this reality of life; the cross expresses our solidarity for all for whom life has become a struggle.
To walk behind the cross is to walk into an encounter with mystery. The cross held high proclaims a God, almighty and all-powerful, who reveals the nature of Divinity by embracing the shame and degradation of the cross, drawing us into they mystery of a power made perfect in weakness. In a world that fates power and influence, God lets his arms be spread wide on the cross to offer us another way. The cross becomes both the end of everything and the beginning of all things, the tree of death becomes the tree of life. Death in all its stark reality, embraces hopelessness to reveal an unlooked-for hope – mystery of mysteries, the grave become the place of new life.
To walk behind the cross is to be called to walk the path of love. The cross stands in profound contrast to the traditional, pink, sentimentalised heart emblem so often portrayed as representing love. Here is a love that will never let us go, that embraces pain, hurt, rejection but which not even death can sever. And having witnessed this love in and through the cross of Jesus, we are called to reflect it in our lives.
Each time I walk through the Cloisters in procession, the image of that railway poster comes to my mind, and now I will think of Bill carrying the processional cross.
But to walk in procession behind the cross is a reminder of the importance of walking in the footsteps of Him for whom carrying the cross was all too real an undertaking.
May the shadow of the cross be our protection amidst the storms of life, when we see its shape may we be reminded of a love that is as strong as death, a passion as fierce the grave. And may its story draw us into the mystery that lies at the heart of creation.