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Good Friday and the Wahine Disaster

David Kitchingman


The usual ecumenical Good Friday services were held in the Mornington area this year,  with a cross-bearing procession linking the four churches.  At the Methodist service David Kitchingman drew attention to the proximity of the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the passenger ferry Wahine Iin Wellington Harbour,  and drew this interesting analogy with the events Christian remember on Good Fiday.

We will shortly continue St John’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus in first century Palestine. Just before we do, let’s advance to recent times and nearby places. Next month this country will mark the 40th anniversary of the sinking of the Wahine in Wellington Harbour. The media have been carrying stories of that day. One in particular registered with me. A Queenstown woman had waited 40 years for the opportunity to embrace another survivor, before meeting up last week with the former Lincoln University cricket team members. Their harrowing experiences are unique, yet all New Zealanders share something of that common memory.

I personally didn’t even know about the disaster until some days later, but I can still recall the shock and sadness of the news as it came through to us and some other kiwis in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. All of us, even those without personal memories of 1968, have our own thoughts about that day, but there is a binding thread.

The events have been told in great detail. In an early book about the disaster we learn of the long wait for passengers after the ship had struck Barrett Reef. On one page there’s mention of some singing of hymns and playing of cards. And on Monday week when the TV anniversary programme screens many such details will be repeated. It’s human nature.

So it is in many ways with the story of Easter. It unites a company of peoples across the world and the centuries. We already know the narratives almost by heart. After the Last Supper they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives. After the soldiers had crucified Jesus they played a game to decide who should own the clothing of their prize victim. We may know it all. No matter. Recounting that day is something we do together because it helps to unite us as followers of the most formative character in our Christian and cultural heritage.

Perhaps I could leave you with one parallel in particular. Last week Kate Watson of Queenstown finally got her wish and wrapped her arms around fellow Wahine survivor Kerry Armstrong and his teammates. Afterwards she said, ‘I thought I would just burst into tears, but I’m just really happy’. And here we are today for an Easter remembrance, with wide-ranging emotions on Good Friday, Bad Friday, Good Friday. Even terror can be turned towards trust.



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