As a Catholic, Easter has always been very eventful for me. Over the years, one Easter activity that has seen a lot of innovation is the Stations of the Cross (a prayer that recounts the last moments leading to the Crucifixion of Christ).
These days, most parishes enact the prayer on Good Friday morning instead of reciting and following the stations within the Chapel as is done throughout Lent. The pilgrimage-style play takes the entire congregation along the journey, so it is usually held outdoors. As a student, I always wished I could take part in this play, but not because of its spiritual significance; it was what an active participating youth in Church should do, I believed. However, somehow rehearsal schedules never suited me.
In Easter of 2013, I finally had the opportunity to take part in the youth play. Additionally, there was an icing on the cake: our priest was acting too. He was going to play the role of Jesus Christ.
Rehearsals were exciting – we joked, we laughed, and we got to know each other better. It was a well-spent time. The young men were also excited because they were going to have a chance to “beat” the Priest.
They always teased him about how they were going to beat him mercilessly and he always told them to do just that. However, rehearsal after rehearsal, he delegated a Seminarian (a trainee Priest) to take up his role while he took up the role of a director. As a result, some of us thought he was never going to take up his role.
Good Friday came. When I arrived at the church premises, I went straight to the parish house: our agreed meeting place. I got a hint: “Father is taking up the role”. “I lept for joy”. It was such an honour! In the excitement of getting ready, we saw the Priest emerge in the hall where we were all gathered. What! He was in casual shorts, and he had no shirt on. He needed help with his costume: African fabric men’s underwear. He was not revealing nor provocative, not at all.
The shock was from the fact that we thought our agreed costume for “Jesus” was too demeaning for our Priest especially one who was always in His cassock no matter the occasion. I and a few others offered to help him. Whiles helping, I asked if he was really going to take part in the play.
At a point in the play, his cassock will go off, and he will be left with only his shorts covered with a piece of cloth styled as native men’s underwear. But his mind was made up. By the time we were done with his costume, it was obvious none of us wanted him to play the role. Little did we know that we were on a ride for the real shock.
The play started well but when it got to where the “beatings” started, everything changed. The beating seemed too real. He was pushed around and geared at. He looked so rejected, so desolate. His slim body did not help, and I am sure the 40-day fasting during Lent had not helped either – you could count his ribs. And his “bushy” hair.
He was at the mercy of the scorching sun, so he was sweating profusely. When he fell down, he went down really hard. He also opted for a heavier crucifix, not the one we had used during our rehearsals.
At one of the “falls”, he came down so hard and the heavy crucifix came tumbling along. You could hear the instantaneous shouts of “Jesus!”, “God!”, “Eish!”, “Wush”, “Stop it!” from the congregation. He groaned in pain. He was no longer acting.
He looked like a common thief. There was nothing “priestly” about him. This was nothing like what we had rehearsed. And all of us knew the script had changed.
Everyone was confused. It was not what we expected. And soon, the congregation started to complain, and they shouted at the young men to tone down the acting.
This was not what I signed-up for, I thought to myself. When it was our turn, “the crying women of Jerusalem”, the tears came naturally: “our ‘revered’ Priest had been reduced to nothing. When I had to say a line, it took a tap from a co-actor to remind me we were still acting – I was too lost in the confusion.
People were murmuring and complaining about why a priest would allow that to happen to him and why we allowed him to take the role as if we had a choice. When he was put on the cross, he looked so weak, so dejected, so lonely, so bruised, so tired, so hungry and he “died”. SILENCE! The silence was deafening!
We understood his role. We did not need a reminder about the silence the Church preached about on Good Friday; we were silenced. It was obvious the Priest had achieved his aim.
We felt an iota of what it might have felt for Mary and the other followers who followed Jesus in silence; felt an iota of what it might have felt for the Son of God to be reduced to a common thief.
The shame He bore was unimaginable. My understanding of the Crucifixion of Christ changed forever. It was my new Good Friday, my new Easter!
Imagine Jesus. He was a powerful preacher. He preached to multitudes. He had such a large following. He healed the sick, raised the dead. He spoke with so much wisdom. But when the appointed time came, He was alone, he was beaten, insulted and rejected by the very people he brought joy to. More profoundly, He is God himself. How downgrading! We could not stand our priest receiving a minute fraction of that.
And I know most of you would not have behaved any differently had it been your pastor or someone you respected.
Today, as we mark Easter away from the physical church, we ought to remember that several thousands of years ago, God himself, He who was without sin, came in the form of man and bore all our shame (Philippians 2:7). He is reaching out to us today. Let us heed his call. No sin is too big for him to carry. He does not need us to put things right with ourselves first. He loves us, just as we are.
The shame he bore surpasses any shame of sin we carry. He is calling us. He wants to carry our load for us “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11: 28). All our debt, has been paid; nothing can undo that.
Now, more than ever, in this period of uncertainty, disease, death, confusion, He calls us to himself. All our fears, He has feared for us. He loves us so much. For this reason, He died for us (John 3:16). We just have to believe him and he will take it all away – sin, fear, uncertainty, weakness, any burden at all. Romans 10:9 says: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
How sweet this good news! He loves you. He calls you today, harden not your heart. He stands at the door and knocks, if you open the door to Him, He will come in and dine with you (Revelation 3:20).
If we take this step, oh what a great joy there will be in heaven! Because you know what? He rose up from the dead.
Death could not hold him captive (Romans 6: 9-10). He is asking us to rise up with him to a place of joy. And all our burdens taken care of. You do not need to go to church to receive Him; you can receive him right there in your home. Oh, how sweet! Christ is risen! Halleluiah is our song.
The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Communication Studies, UPSA.