Any Given Friday (part VIII)

Any Given Friday was finally performed yesterday.

It was a strange day before the evening. Four weeks of work and prayer and it all comes down to this. In the afternoon I walked round the cathedral with the cast, choir and the Warden and talked through the evening (which I’m getting very good at doing!) It was the first time that everyone involved met each other. It was also the time when I handed over some of the reigns to other people. I was reminded as I walked around the cathedral how the chief stone mason in a cathedral would stand underneath every arch that he designed so that if it fell he would be crushed. The commitment to his work was a matter of life and death and, although it wasn’t a matter of life and death in such an extreme case, I felt like it was time to take the wooden braces away and see if the work would stand or fall.

I’m aware that I have never painted a picture of what was actually going on in the event.

It would all start in the choir stalls with a ‘normal’ service. After a short reflection Joseph of Arimathea would enter and take his place in the centre of the imposing court like choir stalls. He would talk about his experience of the trial and bring in images of cosmic versus the ordinary, ‘The silence was so loud in the court, like the stars were witnesses, like the moon itself was watching…It was like the cosmos shouted out the truth but they, dust in the vast expanse, could not see’ And this would introduce the idea that everyone seemed to miss out on the importance of the historic and cosmic events happening.

The congregation would then be led, with accompaniment of a harp playing, to another part of the cathedral to see Pilate’s wife who would speak about the boring and mundane life of the governor’s wife. As the congregation moved and gathered round the character there would be the sound of flogging and screams in the distance and, if you were lucky, you could glimpse the flogging of Jesus taking place just in view across from where you were standing. Pilate’s wife would speak as if explaining what her life is like but break through this with a dream that she had and the realisation that there was something special about the man in the dream.

At the end the congregation would be moved round the cathedral to a side chapel where they would meet a priest. As they travelled there would be a choir singing Lamentations and in front of them, about 200yards in front, Jesus is led, with cross, down the vast length of the cathedral. The Priest would speak on the nature of Passover and the need to keep order and peace. It was a political speech and full of rhetoric and ‘factual’ standpoints.

Next they would be hurried to a chapel at the end of the cathedral. By now they would have travelled the length of the cathedral. As they walked they would see Simon of Cyrene, through the huge columns standing either side of the nave, carrying the cross beam and the solider leading Jesus. The choir would sing another part of Lamentations as the congregation would be led into the chapel to meet a woman. The woman would speak on her job as one of the women who offers pain killers to the crucified criminals. The monologue would touch on the pain suffered by all at Golgotha and there’s a small mention of a man labelled ‘King of the Jews’ and how he refused her cup. It is not dwelt upon.

The congregation would now brought back into the body of the church to head toward the cloisters. Before they turn into the cloisters they would a scream from Jesus on the cross and, if they wanted to, could look round the columns and see him crucified. Equally they could not and miss it. They would enter the cloisters to see a small brazier in the courtyard of the cloisters and a man (Peter). The choir would be heard singing at the other side of the cloisters. Peter would talk about Jesus rejection of him and his final words to Peter of anger and rebuke. This would be the impetus for the rejection of Jesus by Peter. Throughout, however, Peter would be tussling with whether he can rightly justify himself.

Entering back into the body of the cathedral, the congregation would be led down towards the centre of the building down the side of the nave. They would see Simon of Cyrene sat, staring at the empty cross. A solo female voice would sing ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ and they would be welcomed to gather around Simon with their backs to the cross. Simon’s monologue would talk about his visit to Jerusalem for Passover and the abhorrent thing he had to do, carry the cross beam, the instrument of torture, for Jesus. There are brief and implicit images of being profoundly touched by Jesus but the moment is still raw. The congregation, by this point, would have a good understanding of what is happening. They are meeting people in the raw moments of reflection where the memories have not settled in and so you’re not getting fully understood theology. The congregation would be welcomed in to the immediacy of the story without the blessing of hindsight.

The congregation next make the short journey into the final ‘station’ in the last side chapel of the cathedral to meet a Soldier, just off duty at Calvary. They would be crammed into the chapel, like the disciples after the death of Jesus and would hear the soldier’s story. This would be brutal and harsh; a real chance to know what Jesus, and all criminals would face on the cross. The monologue, more than any other, has real tension between the external voice of the character and the internal wrestles.

This monologue is interrupted by the entrance of Joseph of Arimithea, who has been leading the congregation round the different characters but who had slipped away before the soldier’s story. The short and simple line, ‘I have made amends one day to late. I have taken my Lord. Come and see where I have put him.’ He would then lead them along with a solo male voice singing Psalm 22 to the tomb down near to where Pilate’s Wife did her monologue at the start. For those who have been keeping up, you will notice that the congregation have walked the circumference of the cathedral around the point at which the cross has been placed. The congregation have not been into the main part of the story but only kept to the sides, missing out on the focus of the whole thing. The monologues will have a noticeable absence of Christ and there would be a real sense of unfinished business.

As the turn the corner and face a candle lit doorway (which looks like a tomb) they will see, projected onto a screen, a picture of a corpse. They would hear the final monologue by Joseph of Arimathea which I have added below. During the first half, up until the line ‘God went absent and no one spoke.’ There would be modern images of the situations describe in the monologue. This would bring the story into the modern day and ground the thoughts and feelings into the real world. The decision to see the cosmic event of Good Friday is real for us today. We either recognise it or we miss it.

Here is the final monologue:

‘And all around the world keeps on spinning at the same pace and the same direction as it has done since it began. People went home after a day at work and locked their doors behind them while others stayed on the street to face the cold like any other night. Women gathered food for the evening meal and prepared for Passover while some suffered with illness, long past recovery or hope of healing. In lands far away, men continued to trade unfairly and used power to cripple their fellow human beings. We all know we should do better but one day we’ll die and where’s the justice?

And all around the world keeps on spinning at the same pace and in the same direction as it has done since it began. People lit their candles to starve off the darkness while others closed their eyes to embrace the darkness they always feel. Men pulled the blankets over themselves to fight off the cold while some ate the scrapes of food left for the wild dogs to eat. In lands far away, great healers shrug their shoulders and tell the family of death and decay and are baffled again at the cruelty of life and the unknown. We all want to defy the odds but one day we’ll die and where’s the hope?

And all around the world keeps on spinning at the same pace and in the same direction as it has done since it began. He was taken done and thrown away. Another rebel, another hopeful, another death. The heavens went silent and the sky went dark. God went absent and no one spoke.

In the darkness I travelled to the seats of power and demanded justice. I put my neck on the line one day too late. I took his body, cold and beginning to smell, and carried him to his final resting place. As I walked through the streets I passed lepers and cripples unhealed, carrying the great healer in my arms. I passed men embracing darkness of addiction, pain and sorrow, carrying the great light in my arms. I passed those who held power and wealth and near by the poor and destitute, carrying the good news in my arms. And he was silent.

And all around the world keeps on spinning at the same pace and in the same direction as it has done since it began.’

The event would finish with a picture of the empty tomb that would serve as a reminder that we have the gift of hindsight and hymn.

The description would never fully paint a vivid picture of what it looked and felt like but, from the feedback and comments I have already received, some words that the congregation who participated in it used were: haunting, disturbing, stunning, beautiful, breathtaking, uplifting, crushing, moving, imaginative. There were a lot of people outside of our community who had come along who had heard about the event through the Durham Student Theatre website. There were two actors who were not Christian and they had invited non Christian friends. All felt moved by it and were reflective afterwards.

I just pray God met with them and they met with Him!

Now it’s over I am taking a day off to reflect and gather myself for the next step. All the actors involved are excited about future work with me and i spoke briefly about my interest in being a minister in the theatre community and they were all very supportive and excited about being involved. This is great news for next year. I don’t think I’ll know the impact this has truly had until some time has passed. It’s interesting that I was trying to get people to reflect on how people living in the moment of Christ’s redemptive act had no idea what was happening and last night I felt like we all miss cosmic, life changing events. Last night could be something very powerful but it passed like any other night. The sense of holiness about the evening was amazing to be a part of and the silence in the cathedral was so loud, like the stars were witnesses and the moon itself was watching!

I’ll finish with a line from the Joseph of Arimathea monologue which started the event last night:

‘Come, let us go and see what will become of his dreams…’