Do not look away

The Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem culminates in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Beside the entrance to the precincts lies the Coptic Church of St Helen. Steps down take you to a large  underground cistern, on the water there floats a rubber dinghy.  A Roman column beside the entrance marks the 9th Station of the Cross, when Jesus fell for the third time. Strung across the alley outside there is now a banner depicting the 21 Egyptian Copts, dressed in orange, martyred by Islamic State Militants beside the sea in Libya. They had gone to Libya seeking work and were killed because they were Christians. Christ’s name was on their lips as they died. On the banner is a poem called ‘the Martyrs’ by the Coptic Pope Shenouda III.

I wonder how you stood before the tyrants,

steadfast, overwhelming the whole universe.

What made death so dear to your hearts?

Did you see in it the glory of life.

Or did you see Christ awaiting you

so you rushed to meet him.

The images released by IS show the men appearing calm and apparently unafraid, not putting up any resistance. Like Christ they appear as silent as the sheep before the slaughterer.  

The so-called 'Islamic state' has released these images to intimidate and instil fear. Acts of barbarity such as this shock us in the west because we would have to go back some 400 years to witness the horror of heads of traitors stuck on poles on London Bridge, and heretics burned at the stake.

The actor Sean Penn recently said that he makes a point of watching the videos released by IS. He believes that he has to, for we have been anaesthetized against real violence, by Hollywood screen violence and the unwillingness of news channels to broadcast actual horrific scenes. There is a dilemma. Does watching this footage pander to the terrorists and increase the effectiveness of their sick propoganda?  Or does shying away from violence desensitize ourselves from the full horror of what other people suffer? It is one thing to hear that a Jordanian pilot was set on fire in a cage, it is another thing to see it.  We all have our own limit of what we can take and a terrible image can be difficult to erase. Perhaps we don’t all have to see everything, but we must know that it is real and know that it happened.

If Jesus had been crucified today, his crucifixion would not be shown on the BBC News. They would give the warning, ‘some viewers might find the following scenes upsetting’ before showing the crowning with thorns, the scourging and him carrying the cross to Calvary, but the footage would be certainly be cut at Calvary before the first nail was driven in.

However we mark Good Friday, whether walking the Stations of the Cross, attending the Good Friday Liturgy, hearing the Passion read, we must  be reminded of the pain and suffering that Jesus had to undergo for us. We should be shocked, we should be appalled at man’s inhumanity to the Son of Man. Watching or hearing  the Passion we should still wish with all our hearts that it didn’t have to be this way.

But it did. It was tragically inevitable that Jesus would have to die. Christ willingly accepted the cross. Though there was fear in his mind and in his prayers the night before, when he stood trial he made no attempt to defend himself or try to save his life. But then to have done so, would have meant a denial of what he had come for, to atone for our sins and to manifest the true nature of God’s love.  He would have betrayed his very self. Without Good Friday there could be no glorious Easter Day.

We must not turn away from the cross, we have own crosses to bear, if we would be true disciples, and we must look to the crucified Christ and contemplate his pain and suffering. To share our master’s suffering is good preparation for us to share the sufferings of others, to show compassion, suffering with them. Not turning away from the troubles of others, but seeking to gain some idea of what they are going through. We cannot presume to know it without asking.

In Al-Our village in Egypt, from where came 13 of the Coptic martyrs, the women visited the homes of the bereaved to grieve with them, as is their custom. Women of Jerusalem wept for our Lord on the way to Calvary. Mary was supported in her agony by a group of women and the beloved disciple. May we not avert our gaze from Christ on the cross but take a share of his suffering; may we not turn away from the sufferings of those around us, but show compassion.