A ladder was propped against the high window behind the lecturer. A face appeared, covered in face paint (or is my memory playing tricks?). A placard was waved - what it said, I don't recall. Was it held by a second person sharing the ladder? It might have been. Even as this was sinking in - or not - a bell was rung. I think. Plainsong chanting commenced, and a small group of robed and hooded figures processed into the lecture hall and out again. How many? Four? Five? Six? Were they holding candles? Books? No. Yes. No. I can't be sure. What colour were the robes? I don't know.
After the commotion, the lecture stopped. We were asked what had just happened. We agreed on key elements of the disruption - but not on the details. There were as many variations in the accounts as there were people in the room. And that, of course, was precisely the point being made.
Take another example. I'm not the most observant of people. Walking home through the shops on Friday afternoon, I noticed a mannequin in a particular shop window wearing a green hoodie with the word EEK emblazoned on it in large white letters (it actually said GEEK but the G was angled away from me). The next morning, for the blog post sparked off by the mousetrap experience, I went back with my camera. Eventually I found what I was looking for. It was in a different shop and the garment was blue, not green, and not a hoodie. The details were not as I remembered them. But the salient aspects were recalled accurately: there was a mannequin in a shop window wearing the word EEK in large white letters.
It felt unseasonal this morning to be looking at the ending of St Mark's Gospel (16.1-8). The Lent group has finished, so we're back to our normal discipline of spending time with the Gospel reading set for the Sunday after next. The Gospels give us varying accounts of the Resurrection, and indeed of other events too. Trying to work out what actually happened, and in what order, and who was involved, when, and how, is not straightforward. As we journey through Holy Week towards Easter, the questions invariably recur: who's telling the truth? Can we rely on the Gospels? Don't the stories contradict one another?
The stories seem contradictory or at least different because they come from genuine eye-witness accounts. They aren't the carefully manufactured matching descriptions we might initially hope for, and if they were, we would suspect collusion in their writing. The differences and contradictions between them support rather than undermine the raw truth of what is being recounted by different people. We witness things from different perspectives using different presuppositions and perhaps experiencing different emotions. Small wonder then that our perceptions also differ. But just as those present in the lecture were all agreed that a commotion had taken place, just as I knew there was a mannequin wearing the word EEK, so the Gospel writers agree on the matters of fundamental importance.
As St Paul wrote in a very early form of the Creed: 'For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve...' (1 Corinthians 15.3-5)
Let's return to the Stations of the Cross. On Friday my attention was caught by the gold-painted cross, running like a leitmotif through every plaque. The Cross is a key aspect of the Easter story, and one about which all the Gospel writers agree. But there's another leitmotif, and it's even more important. It's the figure of Jesus, the central figure of course; and attention is drawn to him on every plaque by the halo around his head, painted not only in gold but also in red. The details around him may be remembered in different ways, and have certainly been interpreted in many more through forms such as art and preaching. But the focus is on Jesus, through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Day and beyond - and it's that focus which is of fundamental importance, which unites the Gospel writers and all Christian people.