The cross –
and the printed page!
Last Sabbath we were eager to step out into the brilliant sunshine without being bundled up in the usual winter woollies. It was a perfect spring day; there was so much loveliness awaiting us as we walked up the hill towards Great Gonerby. Spring flowers seemed to have appeared overnight . . . celandines, dandelions, daisies, crocuses and daffodils had joined the numerous swathes of snowdrops that have been delighting us for several weeks. We heard the raucous calls of the rooks as they fluttered about in the tops of the elm trees, no doubt chatting to the mothers-to-be in the nests. We also heard the sweeter songs of the songbirds, who, it seemed, were singing for the sheer joy of being alive.
The filigree of the trees against the vivid blue of the sky caught our attention over and over again. We noticed that some of the swollen buds had burst open so that we could see the vivid green of some tiny hawthorn leaves and the snowy white of the blackthorn blossom. What a day to be alive! We met no end of people doing exactly as we were doing . . . just drinking in the loveliness and being so very thankful for the beautiful day!
Great Gonerby is a fascinating little village; we normally drive through it to access the A1, or just head for our son’s home for a visit. We couldn’t remember the last time that we’d just pottered along the village streets, admiring the houses and cottages that have been there for hundreds of years, as well as the ‘new builds’ that show that the community is progressive. There were plenty of people about – most of them were in their gardens, clearing away the debris of the winter or giving the lawn its first trim. A few were tinkering with their car or washing the campervan. Children were playing in their noisy, exuberant way.
We took a path that led from the village to the open farmland and a wooded escarpment. Numerous dog walkers and family groups greeted us as we picked our way across the ‘almost mudless path’. As we neared the wood I wondered if we might see the large wooden cross that mysteriously appeared on the hillside (it was featured in the Grantham Journal last year). After a while I noticed an unusual dark shape among the trees as we neared the wood! Was it? Could it be the cross? ‘Could be,’ John remarked.
Eventually we reached the gate that led from the field into the wood, Barrowby Thorns. There was no sign of any cross now, but there was a well-trodden path that cut through the trees. We joined the path and walked through the rather unremarkable wood. We passed one or two dog walkers; then we heard voices ahead of us. The sounds of happiness filled the air. As we rounded a corner we found ourselves in a clearing where there were open views across the hillside. To one side of the clearing was a huge oak tree that towered up into the blue, and right alongside it was a massive cross, the one that I’d been hoping to see.
The happy sounds came from a large family group that were celebrating the fact that they’d climbed up the steep slope. They had paused at the foot of the cross and were just about to complete the climb. Their happiness spilled over into their greetings as they passed us by.
We picked our way down the slope to get a close-up view of the cross. The huge structure looked as if it had been constructed with old floorboards that had then been strengthened with cross pieces. It looked dark and crude. However, when we saw the front of the cross it was smooth and covered with a fresh coat of white paint which made it stand out from the dark trees. I counted the eighteen strong bolts that held it all together and noticed the heavy chain that held it against the oak tree to give it extra strength. It looked as if those who had erected it meant it to be seen for some considerable time.
We scrambled down the steep slope a little further and turned around and – a stunning sight met our eyes. A huge white cross towered into the sky; no tree obscured it. There it stood, a symbol of Christian hope that was clearly visible on the A1 far below, and on hillside paths across the valley.
We stood and reflected for a while. Someone had been inspired to erect a 30-foot-high rough wooden cross in a clearing on a wooded hillside so that it could be seen by all who passed by. Many had passed nearby; others had glimpsed it from a distance. We were full of admiration for the Christians who had been inspired to draw the public’s gaze to the cross. It was surely a labour of love, for erecting it must have been hard work!
I wonder who it was? I wonder who it was that shared their idea and enthused others with their passion and excitement? I wonder how many equally enthusiastic and passionate followers of Christ got involved with the project? I wonder how many setbacks they encountered on the way? I wonder how long it took to erect it and make it secure?
Questions, questions, questions! I can’t answer them . . . but what I do know is that the cross on the hillside was to trigger a heart response to Jesus; for, just a few yards from the cross, where the path is not so steep, there is a stand with a magazine holder. There were three magazines that were very much the worse for wear in the holder. They had been soaked by the rain but had dried out again. The covers of the magazine had bleached and were as stiff as a board. All the pages were stuck together in a solid mass. To be honest, the best place for it was in the bin, but I was curious, for on the front cover, in large, white letters, was the word HOPE – and, in smaller letters, ENCOURAGEMENT FOR TODAY and PROMISES AND REASSURANCE FOR EVERY SITUATION. I wanted to see inside that magazine, to see what hope was on offer, and I was interested to see who produced it.
It was not until we got home that I started to unpeel the stuck-together pages with the utmost care. ‘You’re wasting your time there,’ John remarked – but I persevered! Gradually a treasure trove emerged, for I discovered that the magazine was packed with the Scriptures as well as the most beautiful illustrations that you could wish to see. About half of the text was taken up by quotes from the Psalms. The other half comprised selections from the Gospel of John. As I unpeeled most of the seventy-two pages and flicked through them, I wondered how many people had taken the magazine home in its new and pristine condition and had been blessed by its contents. Alternatively, someone may have done exactly as I had done, and unpeeled the stuck-together pages and discovered a treasure trove. The cross and the printed page are a winning combination, but it’s even more powerful when combined with the prayers of God’s people.
The warmth, the signs of spring, and the people we met briefly – the walk last Sabbath afternoon was wonderful!
Used with kind permission, and first published in the 50th edition of the Grantham church newsletter.