In 1932, when writer Flannery O’Connor was a five-year-old girl living in Savannah, Georgia, the press heard about a chicken on her family farm that walked backwards. It was the Depression, so editors were looking for upbeat stories. Perhaps we can sympathize in these difficult times for our nation and world and especially for many of those we love.
So a newsreel photographer came all the way from New York to see if he could get the chicken to perform on camera while Flannery stood by wearing her best dress. It defied them all day until finally, late in the afternoon, it walked a few steps backward and ran into a bush.
While Flannery never saw the resulting newsreel, the chicken and the photographer’s visit had a profound affect on her. She talked about them repeatedly. Her short stories and novels are full of images of backward motion. One character, she even wrote, was “going backwards to Bethlehem.”
I know just how he felt. Sometimes I’d rather look back to the birth of our LORD than contemplate the rough work of Holy Week, when we try to immerse ourselves in the experience of his betrayal, suffering, and death.
In nature’s cycle of new life -- the warmth of the springtime sun, the splashes of color in our gardens and on freeway medians -- we may experience a foretaste of the forever-life won for us by Christ’s rising. But just as we can’t get there by returning to perfect Christmas innocence, we can’t detour around Calvary and head straight for the empty tomb. First we have to climb up, touch the wood of the Cross, remember, and grieve.
So please join us for as many of our Holy Week services as you can this year. Let us go forward together through the valley of the shadow of death and then stand together at Easter in the light of Resurrection.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Walking Backwards To Calvary
Many pastors send letters to their congregations at Easter. Here was mine to the people of God at St. John's. The Flannery O'Connor story is from Brad Gooch's new biography: