As a child, Good Friday always meant no TV, no radio, no friends, lots of work around the house and church services. And, as much as I disliked it, by the time I realized I disliked it, I also understood why we did it.
My kids, I thought, were not old enough to understand it, but I did it any way and, well, they never cease to amaze me. We began the day with no TV and some major cleaning projects. To my amazement, the three of them worked together on picking up all of their toys.
At 10 a.m., we headed down to a local church to take part in a multi-denominational Cross Walk. The event began at a Methodist church, processed to a Lutheran church, a Baptist church and ended at a Catholic church. Over 300 people attended.
The event has been going on for some time but I've always been a bit chicken to tackle the three hour event with the kids. This year, after my Boot Camp Lent, it seemed only appropriate to give it a try.
The morning was very cold. The boys were complaining about not having gloves before we began. I was nervous about the trek and knew it would be physically and mentally tough for me. We began with some songs and scripture verses and then the Methodist minister gave us his thoughts and sent us on our way.
Everyone attending was asked to bring their own Crucifix to carry. When the crowd took off I was amazed at the sight of so many people with so many crosses. The kids each had their crucifix, but I figured the stroller would suffice for mine. The kids were quiet. We began the walk but the weight of the double stroller, which is 45 lbs. without the boys and over 100 lbs. with them in it, caused me struggles from the get go.
We made it out of the church grounds and then had to go down a curb, across a busy 4 lane road, and up another curb. I held up the crowd behind me trying to maneuver these obstacles. When I finally got them up and onto the other sidewalk, I became very self-conscious about holding everyone up.
The sidewalk we travelled had us walking along a busy road. Some drivers actually stopped their cars. It brought tears to my eyes. I don't know what it was - the weight of the boys, my self-consciousness, the idea of what we were doing or the culmination of Lent finally reaching it's peak. In some small way I could feel what Jesus must have felt as he struggled under that Cross.
On this sidewalk there was a driveway every few feet. That meant a bump to go over every time. Something about the weight in that stroller made it come to a halting stop at every bump. It was getting harder and more frustrating for me to keep it going. People were scooting past me, showing a bit of frustration.
I was really walking with Jesus. I asked him how he did it. How did he bear that weight and not break down sobbing uncontrollably? How did he not scream out in anger to the people making him do this? How did he keep going? I hit a curb and stopped again. As I struggled, holding back a few tears, I saw a young man running up out of the corner of my eye. He grabbed the front of the stroller and lifted it up. I have never been so grateful. More tears welled up as I looked up to see the face of the former student who was helping me.
After a very long block or two we turned the corner and finally got to walk on the street. This would be easier, I thought, as I finally choked down the tears. Then I looked up to see that for the next four blocks we were headed up a steep incline. My arms started to shake. Two people told me that they would take the stroller if I needed them to but I declined their offers. This was my cross. I wanted to carry it.
The further up the hill we went, the more my arms shook. I work out a lot and have been running to train for the 5K this weekend, but I was tired and winded. I'm sure the day of fasting had a lot to do with that, but the bottom line was that the stroller was heavy and the hill was big. I was struggling - really, physically struggling. I didn't think I was showing it much in my movements, but if you could have seen my eyes through my sunglasses, I'm sure you would have seen it in my face. Again, I got emotional, as I shared in Jesus' walk.
The hill seemed to grow steeper with each step, but I was determined to do it. I was going to carry this cross if it killed me. I reminded myself that I asked for a hard Lent. I reminded myself that Jesus did SO much more for me. It still hurt. And, just when I thought I might really lose my battle, a friend walked up and took the stroller from my hands. He didn't offer to help - he did it.
He, I am convinced, was my Simon. I didn't want to give up my cross. I didn't want to ask for help. I was very, very grateful he took over, but I still struggled to let go. I was humbled to walk beside him as he bore my burden. My heart was pounding. How did Jesus feel when Simon was pulled unwilling from the crowd? I have never really considered this. Was it hard for him to have help? He was the Son of God. How did it all play out under that cross - the two of them struggling together?
Right before we reached the second church, the man left as quickly as he had come. We conquered that hill together and reached the second stop. After more scripture, songs and words from the Lutheran minister, we set off on the second leg of the journey. This leg took us through some of the most feared neighborhoods in the city. Neighborhoods known for their criminal and drug activity.
I'm sure Jesus walked through sections of the city like that too. How aware he must have been of the trash around him. How the smells and dust must have nauseated his empty stomach. How the sin must have broken his heart. How it must have, had to have, been the thing that kept him going. How did he love those people for whom he was making this journey? How did he still love us?
By the time we reached the Baptist church, I was tired. The kids were tired and ready to move on. I was so busy tending to them, providing snacks and making bathroom trips, that I didn't hear much of what was said. I did, however, manage to stay focused on the event.
The final leg of our journey took us along a busy highway. By this time, the stares of the drivers didn't bother me. I was focused entirely on completing the journey. The boys were bumping along in the stroller. So much so, in fact, that they were losing their juice boxes and yelling, "Whoa!" At this point I was so in tune to the journey and so worn out emotionally and physically that the sudden stops and difficult ups and downs didn't bother me so much.
When we turned the corner and finally were able to see the Catholic church ahead, the road rose one more time in front of us. This time, a total stranger walked up and insisted on pushing the stroller. I could have done it myself. It was almost over. I also knew that this was the same man who had offered his help at the very beginning. I knew he had watched my struggle. I knew he had seen the other man take my burden for a time. I knew he really wanted to help me. And, I knew that I needed to let him have that opportunity for his sake more than mine. You see, God gave me a second chance to understand that whole Simon thing.
We entered the church for the Stations of the Cross. It was quiet and dark. Each minister took a turn reading the meditations. For each station they showed an image from The Passion of the Christ. It was moving and nothing short of miraculous that I sat IN the church WITH my kids. The pictures and turning the pages of their books kept them interested, but the thing that caught their attention more than anything was the image of the bloodied Jesus hanging on the cross.
Mackenzie's eyes widened and became teary. Aiden gasped and said, "Eww, he's gross Mama! Why did they do that to him?" I was teary myself and so grateful that the day was beginning to make an impression. It was a graphic image for children so young but an important one too. It will be a long time before it leaves their minds and, I believe, that is a good thing.
We finished the stations, piled on a bus, rode back to our car and went home. I had planned on making the Veneration of the Cross at our parish at 3 but it was already 1:30 and with no naps and three hours of quiet time already, I feared it would be asking too much. And then, I remembered that image. I remembered my walk. I wanted - needed- to kiss his feet.
(Tune in for Part 2 tomorrow!)