It is not the Feast of St. Patrick, which occurred an octave ago (March 17.) Instead, it is Monday of Holy Week. On this gray, wet day which began in the Washington, DC area with a wet, heavy snow, many faithful Christians got up, tugged on boots, several layers of clothes and gathered to march in downtown Washington. Some of those faithful had actually boarded buses in Connecticut at midnight last night to travel through the night in order to arrive at Epiphany Episcopal Church downtown for breakfast. Others traveled from New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware and many other states to march together. Three people from St. Philip’s in Laurel went to march with me. Three others were planning to go to St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill to help pack bagged lunches for those who would head back to Connecticut after the march.
The Dioceses of Connecticut and Washington have instigated this march. It is to be a show of public support against gun violence in this country and around the world. It is to mourn the loss of innocent victims—in Connecticut, Sudan, Colorado, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, the Middle East—all around the world. A Holy Week Witness to challenge a culture of violence.
At 10:30, people spill out of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square to begin the first Station of the Cross and our walk. Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut (I think it was he—I could not see him from where I stood!) welcomes us and thanks us for coming, then Bishop Mariann Budde welcomes folks as well. She leads us as we say “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy,” the Lord’s Prayer and a Renewal of our Baptismal Vows. Then we are off, walking towards the White House. A man who walks near me, wearing a plastic poncho over his clothing, but no coat, begins to sing “Balm in Gilead.” I cannot join in because he is not singing the hymn to the tune I know, but he is unfazed by the lack of voices joining his. He sings louder, seguing from one hymn to the next.
We cross the street to stand in front of the White House for the Second Station. Ironic. The scripture from John is the one where the chief priests answer Pilate with the words, “We have no king but the emperor.” Jesus is a dead man walking because his own people vow allegiance to the political powers rather than to God’s new way of love in the carpenter from Nazareth, the one who becomes the Christ.
“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me.”
Before me, colorful umbrellas bob like bright flowers in the gray morning. A light “mess” is falling—something that seems to be unsure whether it is supposed to be snow or rain. Down Pennsylvania Avenue the crowd moves, slowly but surely. Behind me, one man beats a drum slowly. Others sing as they go. I see friends from other states and hug them. Many clergy have worn black cassocks as part of our public witness. All around me, I see the face of Christ.
“Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger. . .”
I had seen my colleague Bishop Mary Glasspool at the beginning of the march. She had flown from California to be here, and it was good to see her again (I had known her when she was rector of St. Margaret’s in Annapolis, MD). Now, in the mess that has pretty much decided it will be light rain instead of snow, she is beside me. During the meditation, the leader asks us to turn to our neighbors, hold a hand or shoulder of that person, and ask for prayer: “Pray for me, a sinner.” Mary and I do that, grin, then hug.
As we get ready to move again, she says, “Follow the cross. Follow the cross,” and I respond, “Always a good idea, isn’t it?” We part as the crowd moves, but I have felt the holiness of prayer, of connection in relationship, of collegiality. The cross is lifted above the crowd, bobbing a bit like the umbrellas.
“. . .Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”
At the Seventh Station, we stand in front of the John A. Wilson Building (houses the Mayor and Executive Council of DC). A man with a big camera climbs up on the side of the wide steps to get a better view of the crowd. He almost gets arrested, because two security guards begin to tell him that he cannot be up there. He does not seem concerned in the least, and only when their voices rise across that of the leader of this Station does he slowly begin to descend from his perch.
Holy and Mighty,
Holy Immortal One,
Have mercy upon us.
At the Ninth Station, on the edge of the Mall, we pray by name for the Vice Principal and teachers in Newtown who, in December, offered their lives to protect the children in their care. We pray by name for all the children who died that day by gun violence. We remember all those who are victims of violence. We pray for peace. We ask God to guide us as we nurture and care for the children in this country and in this world. Our children and grandchildren deserve better than a life where they huddle in the corner of classrooms or in lockers, where they remember the popping sounds of gunfire that kill their brothers, sisters, friends, teachers, parents.
“I bind unto myself the Name, the strong Name of the Trinity. . .”
We move along the wide sidewalks, our marshals indicating we can no longer walk in the street. The U.S. Capitol looms as we approach; the last part of our march is across a soggy lawn to stand and pray. Way up on one of the balconies, I see four people looking down at us. Do the staffers or congress members know why we are here? Do they care? I wonder what difference our walk in the messy weather has made. By the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Station of the Cross, the purple cassocks of three bishops ahead of me were obviously wet at the bottom. Now, at the end, I wonder if my black cassock is in the same shape. (Later answer: yes.) The backs of some folks’ coats are drenched. People share umbrellas with someone else. We pray together for peace: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. . .”
At the end, the crowd begins to break up. Some go to meet with their congressional representatives. Some go to other meetings. Some of us begin to walk to a Metro station, to head home. Some board buses. All go with God.
On this Monday of Holy Week, I give thanks for my brothers and sisters who cared enough about violence to come long distances, to walk, or to offer prayers from afar on our behalf. I have not walked so far in about two years, so yes, I am very weary and I’m sure my legs and feet will talk to me tonight. But it was good to see friends from near and far, to walk together for something greater than ourselves, to be a public witness against violence. By the end, my feet were cold, but my heart was not. The walk was good for my soul.
“Of whom all nature hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit Word: praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.”
© The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton (Pictures by McJilton)
Hymn #370 in The 1982 Hymnal, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”