On Saturday, 8th April, the far right English Defence League organised a march in Birmingham. As over twenty of their supporters surrounded a Muslim woman in a threatening way, a young woman, Saffiyah Khan stepped in to diffuse the situation. A photograph shows her smiling in the face of the leader of the group who himself appears to be being restrained by police.
When interviewed about her action, Saffiyah Khan said that although she had done plenty of shouting herself at the demonstration, she realised that smiling was a more effective response.
The photograph has ‘gone viral’ and rightly been the subject of any number of approving comments. Of all of these it was the response of Birmingham MP Jess Phillips that most resonated with me. She wrote: “Who looks like they have power here, the real Brummy on the left or the EDL who migrated for the day to our city and failed to assimilate?”
It is the comment about transfer of power that is so apposite in this Holy Week, the week when Christians recall the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. For the story of Holy Week is a story that disarms the apparent rulers of the day and allows us to see the hollowness of some kinds of power and the strength of other types.
Whether or not you are a person of faith, let alone a church-goer, the story of Holy Week cannot fail to connect with us. Adulation and betrayal, cowardice and courage, penitence and stubbornness all feature in the complex and tangled events that unfold.
We have all played these different parts at times – gone along with a crowd, denied being complicit in events, lacked courage and given up hope. There is only one innocent figure in the story – and it’s neither you nor me. We have played all parts, bar one!
The Community Passion Play on Saturday 15th April, Easter Eve, will be a chance for us to see the truth of the story played out in the town and in front of our eyes. It will also give us a chance to enter the story and be part of the crowds that played such crucial but varied roles in the events themselves.
Perhaps it is not too far fetched to see the picture from the Birmingham demonstration on 8th April as providing an illustration of the Passion Play a week later on the streets of Marlborough. They share in common the disarming of one kind of power and the illumination of another.
The Easter story goes on to say that such disarming is not a temporary reversal of the way things are but, rather, a window into the reality of things – that love is stronger than hate, that a smile is more effective than a shout, and that the capacity for redeeming work lies within each and everyone of us.