On Good Friday, my nine year son and I went up to Trafalgar Square to watch The Passion of Jesus. It was an epic production performed by the Wintershall Trust and sponsored by The Bible Society. Over 5000 others were packed in to the Square watch the play aided by a crystal clear giant screen to help make sure no one missed the action. It was a brilliant event and my son and I both loved it.
Somehow the grandeur of Nelson’s column, the imposing embassies and the view of the Houses of Parliament worked perfectly as backdrop of the imperial power which killed Jesus. It reminded you that what the Romans were to the world in the first century; Britain was in the nineteenth. The Roman eagles were replaced by British lions but it was a great visual reminder of the uncomfortable relationship between imperialism and faith.
The performances, especially by James Burke-Dunsmore as Jesus, were generally excellent. I especially enjoyed the portrayal of Caiaphas as a snarling Rasputin-type character. And the moment when an ‘ordinary bloke’ in the crowd was dragged out to carry Jesus’ cross was great drama. The punishment of Jesus was powerful but not over-played – the flogging was all the more powerful because it was off stage. All you heard was the lashes.
‘Who saves Jesus?’
But the most memorable thing for me was a young man standing near us who very obviously had learning difficulties. He stood transfixed by the whole spectacle, drinking in each scene and deeply moved by what he saw. I am not sure if he was genuinely unclear about the story, or if he was carried away with emotion, but he kept asking those around him what was going to happen. He kept repeating, in a loud, high pitched voice, throughout Jesus’ arrest and trial:
‘Who saves Jesus? Who saves Jesus?’
He kept turning to us, and those around him, asking desperately:
‘Does Mary save Jesus? Does she save him?’
A few of us did our best to explain what was going to happen – after all we knew where the story was heading. But he looked deeply troubled and anxious.
‘Go Jesus. Go Jesus!’
He was a picture of uncontained joy.
It was a great thing to watch someone so moved by the resurrection. As I watched the happy tears streaming down his face, it reminded me of the basic hope that lies at the heart of the resurrection. Death and suffering is not how the story ends. God’s love wins. Forever.
An invitation to participate
This young man’s visceral and passionate reaction to Jesus’ resurrection was a reminder that the gospel story invites us to do far more than just watch, like spectators from a distance, maintaining a cool detachment. Rather, it’s a story which invites us in as participates, to live and share the experience of Christ. It is not that we just read the story, but that we let the story read us.
The invitation is to believe it, to take this truth and allow it to speak to your deepest needs and to base your life upon it. It’s a desire which is summed up beautifully by Paul in Philippians:
‘I want to know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.’ (3:10)
The play was great and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. But the young man standing near us who helped bring the story alive more than any actors could. In his reaction I saw Jesus resurrected that day in Trafalgar Square.