In September 1346 King Edward III of England invaded the French port of Calais and put the town under siege for a year. Philip IV of France tried to save the people of the town from starvation by negotiating with the English King. This amazing sculpture behind the Houses of Parliament in London is an exact reproduction of the one in Calais. The story is so important, it has also been reproduced in other major world cities including Paris, New York and Jerusalem.
It’s yet another one of those stories that has a deep resonance with the message and mission of Jesus Christ on earth. After three years of miracles, teaching and acts of kindness he climbed a hill called Golgotha with a Roman cross on his back. It would end in his crucifixion a few hours later. Golgotha was known as ‘Skull Hill’ because of its shape and its purpose. It was a notorious execution site built on a former rubbish tip. Not exactly a glorious end to a three year speaking and miracle tour. But, here’s how it connects with this sculpture and the siege of Calais all those centuries ago.
Following intense negotiations between the king of England and the king of France, a deal was struck but the terms were truly appalling. The six wealthiest noblemen of the town were forced to take a humiliating ‘walk of shame’ completely naked and with chains around their necks. They were then forced to offer themselves to the English throne in exchange for the lives of the town’s population. And then at the eleventh hour the men’s lives were spared by royal pardon because of the intervention of the English queen. No one is sure why that happened but some say it was because she was carrying her first child and felt it would be a bad omen if her husband was complicate in such a despicable act.
While all this was going on in France a law was passed here in England that required every town to have a set of stocks into which vile offenders were secured by the ankles, the neck, the wrists or a combination thereof, and exposed to public abuse, ridicule and scorn. And so, it was that the expression ‘walk of shame’ was born. It has its roots in the journey of a convicted criminal to the town stocks. A headstock is called a pillory, which is where we get the notion of someone being ‘pilloried’ or to have shame piled on them. The term 'laughing stock' also has its origins in these devices. Good old Edward III was obviously quite into this whole ‘humiliation’ thing. Nice guy.
One of the earliest references to the use of stocks appears in the Bible when Paul and his co-worker Silas are arrested. These two guys had been transformed by their encounter with the risen Jesus and were now fearless preachers of the Gospel. The opposition to their message was fierce but their success in reaching ordinary people with the message of Jesus was astonishing. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.
Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself, we are all here!” The jailer rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” “Believe in Jesus Christ” they said “put your trust in him” That’s exactly what they did and billions have done the same ever since. Prison doors in people's lives still swing wide open at the very mention of the name of Jesus. He actually announced his intention at the beginning of his public ministry by saying he had come to bring freedom to the prisoners. That’s the reason why Jesus took the ‘walk of shame’ to that infamous place of execution. There on the cross, he was suspended between Heaven & Earth and Time & Eternity as a ransom for the sin of the world. Death by crucifixion, the sport of the Romans, was described at the time as the 'height of suffering and the depth of shame' But in some wonderful, miraculous way a divine substitution took place. Our depravity and the depravity of the entire human race was laid upon Jesus. The ‘walk of shame’ that belonged to us was taken by him as he became the scapegoat for us all.
The Bible says “Jesus Christ suffered and died once and for all, the spotless in place of the unclean to bring us back to God.” Freedom has little to do with being released from physical restraints, it is about having a debt cancelled out by Jesus. 2,000 years before your worst mistake or your most shameful act, he died in your place and then rose to life opening the access route back to God.