It is a day that we long awaited. The azaleas and dogwoods are blooming, trees are leafing out and it seems the last gasp of winter has been taken and spring has truly arrived. Augusta is a truly beautiful place in the spring.
Our story takes place today outside a local church. Five men are gathered near Lumpkin Road, off the Burns United Methodist Church property where the Good Friday cross walk will begin at 10 a.m. Four of them have been co-workers at a construction company for some time. Believer, who is one of the men, invited the other three to join him just to watch the cross walk get started. None have agreed to join the walk, but out of respect for Believer did agree to come for a little while and see this activity that he thought was so great.
They are a mixed group like many work groups. Their names are Undecided, Skeptical and Mockery. Believer also invited their wives and, as the three arrive, he asks them about their wives. Undecided said that his wife almost came but at the last minute backed out - maybe next year after she has talked to their pastor about it. Skeptical said his wife thought few would show up and the walk might be canceled. Anyway, she really wanted to go to the mall for the Easter specials. Mockery said his wife just laughed at him and said "No way" - even though she would have liked to have seen the spectacle, she wasn't about to risk the possibility of being shown on television or in the newspaper amid a bunch of radicals and have to explain to her co-workers Monday.
AS THE FIVE men stand and watch, the three guests don't question not being introduced to the fifth man. Introductions are not a big deal in construction; they don't care so much who you are as what you can do or what you say. He wasn't saying anything, so they figured he didn't have anything to say.
The crowd begins to increase; people of all ages, families arriving in cars, trucks, on foot, some with strollers. Some bring their own small crosses and others are picking up larger crosses at the church. The four men stand talking among themselves about what seems to be happening. They say to each other, "Aren't these the same crosses we have seen around town? Early in the morning, even in the dark. On the highways. They look like the same crosses; bet they are the same people. Wonder if these people ever lose their jobs doing this stuff? Why do they do it? What does it prove, anyway? Wonder if they even have jobs, or is this all they do? What difference does it make?"
The crowd continues to gather; you can feel the air of somber excitement even across the distance that separates us. It is almost as if the World Series or the Super Bowl is about to begin. Even the little kids are enthused.
"They say that they are going to walk for a mile and a half through a pretty rough section. Wonder why they didn't find a better area to hold it, a more scenic route. Do you think the old people can walk that far, and what about the little kids? May get hot by the time they finish."
ABOUT THAT TIME, the music starts. We can hear praise songs like Lift High the Cross. As the words float across the distance, the crosses are in fact lifted high and everyone's attention becomes riveted.
Since none of this is making a lot of sense to the three guests, Undecided turns to Believer and asks, "What makes this day different from any other day?" Believer turns and looks towards the fifth man, acknowledging that he can't answer as well, and introduces his friends to the man who is named Truth.
Truth has been standing next to them the entire time silent, and as they look at him they can see in his eyes a peace and serenity, clarity that they've never seen. In a quiet voice, Truth asks, "Do you really want to know? If so, I will tell you." Undecided, Skeptical and Mockery are so taken aback, they can only nod their heads in unison, acknowledging that they want to hear what he has to say.
With that, Truth stretches out his hand and begins telling them of his own eyewitness account of the first Good Friday, and the man named Jesus who was being nailed to the cross for the sins of the world.
TRUTH TAKES THEM back to how it started, how Jesus left His place beside the Father, agreeing to come down to Earth to atone for the sins of all mankind, to reconcile us with the Father. Truth tells of his experience with the King of Glory moving about on Earth for three years, adding followers at every turn. How Jesus healed the sick, the afflicted, the outcasts and the downtrodden, and cast out many demons. As Truth speaks, it is like being on the road to Emmaus. Our hearts burn. Time seems to stand still.
Truth tells us how Jesus came to His own, but His own didn't receive Him. How people began to resent His teachings and His power and His revelation that He was the Son of God. He tells us of Jesus' coming suffering and death on a cross. He tells of Jesus standing before Pilate, and Truth almost immobilizing Pilate. Of the frenzied crowd, of the mockers and the scoffers and their delight in His suffering. He recounts that horrendous first Good Friday of the devastating scourging and the death walk to Golgotha, outside the city where the criminals went.
TRUTH TELLS OF Jesus' great love for His accusers and attackers through the streets and even on the cross; of the last-minute conversion of the criminal on the cross; of Jesus willingly giving up His last breath and commending His spirit back to His Father. Truth tells of the sky turning black, the veil of the temple being torn in two, the tombs split open and the dead coming to life. He tells us of the great sense of loss, the despair, and the King of Glory cut down in his prime, the hopelessness, and the fear.
Then Truth tells us of Easter morning and the empty tomb and the angels and the two Marys, Peter and John and the believers - the Resurrection - the new hope. Truth tells us how each Good Friday since has been celebrated across the world - the victory of the cross over death - the symbol of life to all men of all races and color for all ages. How anywhere the cross is lifted in faith and hope, God moves and acts on behalf of the believers. How anyone can become a believer - a "new creation," but how he must deny himself and take up his cross daily.
He stops speaking abruptly.
Skeptical and Mockery cover their ears with their hands, and Undecided is staring at the ground. Believer quickly asks, "What about the movie, The Passion movie?" They welcome the change and quickly respond. Undecided isn't sure he wants to see it, not being much on blood, violence or brutality. Skeptical doubts He really suffered that much - it is probably exaggerated. Mockery has thoughts on whose fault it was, and is Mel Gibson's intent to really capitalize on the crucifixion?
ALMOST AS ONE, they turn toward Truth and ask what he thinks. His deep eyes sparkle as he replies, "We are very pleased with it and the Holy Spirit is really using it."
By now, the three men have had more than enough and quickly return to their vehicles and depart. The last people in the cross walk are crossing the street as cars silently wait, with the crosses stretching the block ahead gently bobbing against the skyline.
Believer and Truth stand watching as the procession moves away. Truth's thoughts turn to Rome and the Coliseum, where another cross walk will be starting in a few hours. Believer breaks the silence: "I don't know if my friends really understood any of this." Truth replies, "You did your part; trust God to do His. Not long ago you were just where those men are now." Believer says, "Amen, praise God!" and begins walking to catch up with the cross walk.
Truth smiles and says, "It is good to see the crosses up on the street again."
(Editor's note: Gary Garner is a parishioner at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity and a member of Alleluia Community in Augusta.)
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