The headlines from the national newspaper in Honduras on Maundy Thursday read: “HE DIED FOR OUR SINS.” Enough said.
The newspaper also included a special advertising supplement for Holy Week, featuring the Stations of the Cross. Begging the pardon of my Roman Catholic friends, but I don’t quite recall all of the Stations of the Cross. I do recall counting them at one point and seem to surmise that we Anglicans don’t recognize the same number of stations as do the Roman Catholics. That may either be an indication of Catholicism’s emphasis on suffering or Anglican forgetfulness, but for advertising purposes, the more stations the better.
So in this special supplement, each station had a sponsor. For instance, Jesus picks up his cross, was sponsored, say, by Enterprise. So under the artistic image from a renaissance painting of Jesus picking up his cross was: “Enterprise – we’ll pick you up.” I regret not saving the issue for future reflection, but I do recall the final station of Jesus’s being laid in the tomb proudly sponsored by Pollo Campero – an internationally recognized name in fried chicken.
And it was with this in the back of my mind that I found myself visiting the mother of one of our students in her home a few hours outside of the capital. I sat awkwardly on a couch as we discussed the heat. This mother of five introduced me to her older daughter, who had a lively face and whose breasts were swollen from nursing her second child. I suspect that she was no more than twenty. My companion asked the question that I was too embarrassed to ask, but thirsted for nonetheless, “was there a husband?” My concern pivoted on social and cultural norms but his question was merely a matter of ascertaining the facts – meaning that, in a three-room home, the concern remains as to how many mouths need to be filled, and the presence of another adult is not necessarily an advantage. There was no husband.
As we spoke, the mother’s younger daughter emerged from the bedroom, that space being defined by a cloth curtain. She bore that awkward expression that we all know when we enter a familiar room occupied by unfamiliar faces – the same expression that falls upon us as we try to recall our own cell phone number. I sensed an incongruity as well as she sat between her mother and sister; for her face carried the innocence with which we long to label the children of poverty, but her body bore the marks of responsibility. She is hoping to finish ninth grade this year, and she carried her mother’s third grandchild.
So it was that on Easter Sunday that I took the brother of these two girls – and three boys whose stories are probably not much different – to St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral to celebrate Easter. They sat with patience and discipline through the service, staring out the window but responding with precision to the cues offered by the priest: “Amen,” “Demos gracias a Dios,” “Nuestro Padre, que estas…. ”
We went for lunch afterward, their choice – Pollo Campero – the only Easter lunch. We ordered the franchise’s version of a happy meal, two pieces, a roll, fries and slaw, a familiar package. And they ate with the same intent with which they worshiped that morning. No ravenous gulps of soda or mouthfuls with excess leaking out the sides, but deliberate, conscious bites of patience.
And each finished, leaving one piece of chicken meticulously untouched. I recalled the days of stashing pizza crusts aside for late night snacks and winked with knowing comradery. But our worlds and lives are not the same. For each boy, without any conscious collaboration, had in mind another for whom he intended this extra piece of chicken. A sister, friend, waiting for them back in the dorms of their temporary home would share in their hope of the resurrection.