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Wednesday, April 4, 2007 01:40 am

Carrying the cross through Springfield

In a Good Friday tradition, Christians remember the hard part

Untitled Document American Christians these days focus almost exclusively on the hope of Easter, but little attention is paid to the events of Good Friday that led up to it. Yet a growing body of theologians is rethinking the death of Jesus. Christian Century put the emerging debate in these terms: “Does the cross belong on the sleeves and hearts of Christians, as the glorious core of their faith, or does it belong in the shop, in need of drastic repairs, the primary Christian embarrassment for believers and an offense to outsiders?”
Long before Mel Gibson cashed in with The Passion of the Christ, an ecumenical group of Christians began meeting on Good Friday to carry a big wooden cross through downtown Springfield to make the connection between their faith and victims of suffering and injustice. At noon on April 6 they’ll gather once again at Second and Capitol to begin the 21st annual Good Friday “Way of the Cross.” Based on the traditional “stations” of the cross that marked Christ’s path to execution, the walk stops 14 times for a song, a prayer, and a reminder that Springfield isn’t all that far from first-century Palestine. For example, though we’ve moved from crosses to injections, capital punishment is still legal. The group will stop in front of the Illinois Supreme Court building, symbol of the last legal hurdle for executions in the state, for the first station: “Jesus is condemned to die.” One of the group will read background material on the death penalty, including the facts that 3,383 inmates remain on death row in the United States and more than 1,000 have been put to death since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. The reader will conclude with a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: “We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders. The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life.”
From there the Good Friday walkers will go to the Martin Luther King Jr. statue by the state library to pray for an end to the sin of racism. Then they’ll make their way to Second and Adams, to face Springfield High School. This is the third station, “Jesus falls for the first time.” Military recruitment is the subject here. A reader will explain that although the No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to release student contact information to military recruiters, some school districts, including District 186 and Rochester, have policies allowing students and their parents to “opt out” and withhold the information from the military. “Jesus found himself alone as he carried the cross,” the reader concludes. “Let us ensure that our young people, who are conscientiously questioning matters of war and participation in the military, do not feel abandoned.”
At station seven (“Jesus falls for the second time”), the cross carriers will be at Seventh and Mason, the heart of the medical district. The reader: “The Compassionate Healer is himself becoming weaker and in need of healing care. Here in Springfield, we have excellent medical facilities — but many of our sisters and brothers have serious health needs that are not being addressed. Health care in the United States is arguably the best in the world, but it is far from being equally available to all who live here. We must find an alternative to the way we provide health-care coverage today.”
The group will go to Inner City Mission on North Seventh for a talk on inequities for women and children, to the Sangamon County jail for concerns about those at the margins of society, to the public library to pray about homelessness. The last station (“Jesus is placed in the tomb”) will be commemorated on Jackson Street, at the garden of the governor’s mansion. By this time, after more than two hours of bad news, the group will likely be exhausted. “We have remembered with love and tears the suffering and death of Jesus,” they’ll hear. “We have remembered with love and tears the way we, and our world, crucify him still.” They’ll be ready for Easter.
Organizers say that anyone who wants to participate in the Good Friday walk should show up at noon at Second and Capitol. For information, call 217-523-4049. In case of bad weather, participants will meet instead at the First Church of the Brethren (2115 Yale Blvd., 217-341-6660).

Contact Fletcher Farrar at ffarrar@illinoistimes.com.
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