MORNING BREAKS as the women come to the tomb – his tomb – to find it empty. The rock at the tomb’s entrance is rolled away and the body has gone – his body. Oh! Where has his precious body gone? Who’s taken it? How could anyone have taken it? Do they not realise … do they not even care … who he was? How dare they!
In despair’s delirium, bitter tears pouring out of her once again, the woman doesn’t recognise the voice, doesn’t register who this man is kneeling beside her. Perhaps … perhaps the gardener knows what has happened.
He calls her by name.
It’s … oh, it can’t be. It’s him.
Oh lord. It’s him.
It’s been a week since the final performance of The Nottingham Passion at St Mary’s in the Lace Market, and I’ve found it hard to adjust to civilian life. The beard I took off on Sunday morning. It was so thick and mangled it was at least an hour in the hacking. Our friend Dawn from around the corner, Calverton’s finest mobile hairdresser, administered the smart hair cut on Tuesday, leaving me with a reflection I didn’t recognise and didn’t care to look at for a while.
Some normality began to return as the week wore on. In the end, I found myself able to talk about what I’d experienced over the past three months without wanting to break down in an immense soggy mess and cry my heart out. I couldn’t get out of my mind what we’d all just achieved.
Hundreds of people. Queuing right down the street on the Friday and the Saturday. To watch a Bible story.
We’d been out on the telly.
On the radio.
We’d got our own hour-long radio special being broadcast on Easter Sunday.
It’s been intense, man.
Time shared with strangers, who quickly became dear friends, in this joyful, generous, hyper-focused theatre-making bubble we constructed for ourselves, has changed me. It appears to have changed other members of our company too, at least based on the words they’ve offered about their experiences on this project. I get a sense that The Nottingham Passion will not be the last hurrah for this mighty group of people and that there will be other amazing stories for us to tell. I think it’s a matter of when, rather than if. Seeds have been sown. I think that’s clear to everyone.
But it’s hard to know where we go next, having already told the mightiest story of them all, first time of asking.
We carry on, I suppose.
I think we carry on joyfully, mind you, and I’ve made a good start here, because all the pictures in this blog are in colour and everything, and not black and white like they have been in all the earlier episodes.
This is the closing chapter in my series of blogs about preparing to play the role of Jesus. I started writing the series in January, basing each entry around a significant event in Passion Week. I started all the way back with Palm Sunday; I’m now finishing with a piece about the resurrection and the Great Commission, with these final words being committed to paper on Easter Saturday, ahead of publication on Easter Sunday.
If you’ve followed me through this series so far, you’ll be delighted (?) to know that we’ve finally arrived at a complete set of ‘p’ words, with this, episode seven, being all about ‘promise.’
Jesus, through his words and actions, offers a promise of what is to come to those who follow. This ‘promise’ is more than a mere ‘prophecy’ of an event. When Jesus makes prophecies during Passion Week these are largely about ominous or unpropitious things, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, or his own betrayal, denial and death. It’s only when Jesus says he’ll raise a destroyed ‘temple’ in three days (he’s talking about himself, folks, not a religious building!) that we see a forecast of something brighter on the horizon. The prophecy about the temple is a resurrection prophecy. And the resurrection brings with it a promise. A promise of something so much bigger than what we can see with our own eyes. A promise of something so much bigger than the world which just rejected Jesus and put him to death.
While I think about the word ‘promise’, you’ll recall my promise to you that I wouldn’t get ‘all preachy’ (technical term) in these pieces of writing. That’s been a tough gig, and I’m sorry if you feel I’ve strayed into that territory along the way.
I meant for these blogs to be aimed at anyone and everyone, not just readers who have a faith. Throughout this series I’ve invited you to make up your own mind about who and what Jesus is, as I’ve been finding out more about him too, and I hope that at least some of what you’ve read has been helpful. It’s also my earnest hope that if you saw us perform the show last weekend it may have been a catalyst for you in deciding to find out more about the real Jesus (because I’m just a poor substitute, really). The gentleman from Nazareth may just do something extraordinary for you if you’d really like him to. I mean, don’t rule it out.
Of course, if you did want to see me talk about this stuff in sermon format, then you’re welcome to come to hear me speak at St Mary’s Church, Lowdham (9.00 am) and St Helen’s Church, Burton Joyce (11.00 am) on Sunday 30 April.
Reverend Anna Alls, Nottingham Passion legend, has asked me to come and talk to unsuspecting churchgoers all about my experiences of the past three months.
But! Performer’s perspective on Jesus for now.
This may come as a surprise, but I find that I don’t have very much to say about being resurrected (in a pretend Jesus / theatre production format, obviously). I can only speak to the relief, to the euphoria, to the sense of awe and joy, I felt each time I performed these scenes.
The appearance to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, the appearance on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to all the disciples at the show’s finale, all came with a fullness of heart, a lightness of spirit, and a sense of great thankfulness in me that I find hard to articulate. I don’t mean it to sound trite, against the background of having literally just hauled a large wooden cross down the aisle of a whopping big church, but it did feel to me in performing those final scenes that a burden had been lifted, that there was something better to come, that something was promised.
It isn’t lost on me that in the act of pretend Jesus embracing pretend Mary Magdalene at the tomb, it was really Simon embracing Rachel who works as a doctor in the same unit at Nottingham City hospital that saved my wife Jane. It was Jane falling ill in 2018 which caused my faith to suffer so terribly. That I never felt my faith completely disappear whilst crying out in fury to God during those desperate times was extraordinary to me because, surely, I ought to have turned my back on all that religious nonsense right then and there. But I never felt that I was being let go.
So, there was a beautiful symmetry in the scene with Rachel for me. It was a scene which, to me, celebrated new life in ways which weren’t solely Biblical. Believing (or not believing) in miracles is your prerogative, of course, but personally I have long since held that angels patrol the wards and corridors of our hospitals and, for what it may be worth to you, I have seen healing, restoration and rescue in my lifetime. And I’ve seen at least one enormous miracle which I shall be grateful for all my days.
I think I may have performed a genuine miracle on stage last week too. In one scene, according to one reviewer, I seem to have made the act of Judas kissing me completely invisible.
I had to put in at least one cast in-joke. Forgive me.
It’s been a privilege to play Jesus. To get a chance to show this hero of mine to other people, to try to show people a sense of who he is and what he is, to try to encourage people to want to get to know him better. Also, to be part of a beautiful and powerful interpretation of a story which doesn’t major on the blood and the suffering. Wow.
We don’t have to show the visceral to be moved by the power of it. Of course Jesus suffered, but he suffered his whole life. His suffering for people was so much bigger, so much broader, than the bloody event which ultimately killed him. Jesus suffered long and hard before he ascended that hill to be crucified. We tend to tune out the mental suffering Jesus endured when we think of Passion Week. The fatigue, the doubt, the desperation, the absolute, unrelenting pressure of being who he was. All of these things we’ve tried to bring to bear in this production.
We’ve also tried to bring out the sense of delight in Jesus and the adoration he had for people. The way Jesus was with children. The way he sees into a person’s soul like they’re the only one in the room. The way he knows them, and sees them, and thinks they’re so beautiful, despite everything. That’s the sense I’ve had of the man I first read about in a storybook when I was a boy in pyjamas with the sun streaming through the window.
To me, Jesus is so much more than the mangled thing they made of him on the cross and it’s been my joy and honour to try to bring him back to life for people, all over again.
I’m giving over the rest of this blog to the glorious people who shared this experience with me. My voice isn’t the only voice in this story. The voices of my friends from across the company of The Nottingham Passion are every bit as powerful.
Thank you to them. Thank you to Reverend James Pacey, who helmed this project so wonderfully.
And thank you, for reading this series. Thank you for being with me, to the very end.
It is finished.
copyright (c) carterbloke / company of The Nottingham Passion, 2023
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