A small little girl, proud in her pink jacket, walks down the Nave aisle carrying a sharp, and all too real, crown of thorns. And I find myself wondering why does so small a child need to know of such things?
An older child asks me very directly: Is it true Jesus died of drowning when on the cross? She has done her research all too well and the answer is a heart wrenching, yes. And I find myself wondering why a child needs to think about such things?
In the silence we keep at the foot of the cross a toddler cries out, unhappy wanting to be comforted – followed shortly by the giggle of happiness only a toddler can give. Her responses echo around the building and feel strangely appropriate.
The truth is whilst we in our churches approach the cross in solemn silence, the original site of crucifixion would have been anything but a place of silence. It would have been full of raucous laughter, jeering and abuse. Some might have rushed by with just a sorrowful glance at the suffering on display, others would have stopped for their few moments of sport. The sheer commonplace nature of the event would have meant others would have just chatted to a passing neighbour or friend, almost oblivious to where they were. Children would have run in and out of the gathered adults, the signs of suffering just another part of their childhood, toddlers crying and laughing and, children being children, asking question.
Whilst in the privileged West we try to protect our children from such sights, many, too many, children, still grow up in the midst of poverty, violence, war and see things that really no child should have to see, and be faced with realities we would not want our own children to face.
Later the choir move us with their singing of the Reproaches and their final notes are left hanging in the air: Why what have I done to you? Answer me. There is no real answer as to why we treat people the way we treated Jesus or why still children, and adults, have to live in fear, amidst violence or among the ruins of war. We know it is wrong yet we seem helpless to change it. We wring our hands but the suffering goes on.
Is there an answer to all this pain hurt and suffering? There is only one answer I know although others will think it inadequate, unrealistic or may be too idealistic. The answer lies with a man who lived a life, 2000 years ago, to show us what God is like, to reveal the depth of divine love that not even death could destroy, who accepted the mocking crown of thorns, and embraced a death, strung up on high, and drowning in his own bodily fluids, rather than deny Love. This thing that looks too much like failure reveals itself, with a folly the wise will not understand, as victory.
For those wanting a quick sound bite, a ready fix for the world’s ills this scene will not satisfy. Yet as I kneel in the safety of a cathedral before the cross, I know that somehow here lies the answer, in power made perfect in weakness, in love amidst the pain, in the wholeness that comes from brokenness. It will take all my life to fully comprehend it yet, half hidden, and almost beyond my grasp, lies the answer the world needs. Not all will understand but this is the Saviour of the World.