The whole congregation met at the foot of the Cross when the Riding Lights Theatre Company, based in York, led the evening of worship at Caversham Heights Methodist Church recently with their powerful and challenging production of 'Redemption Song' This group of touring professional actors amazingly take their own (sloping) stage with them, made from building construction materials for ease of erection and dismantling each day! I have taught for years that Jesus was a Northerner, and I am a Northerer myself, but it still came as a shock to hear Jesus speaking in a strong Yorkshire accent! 'Redemption Song' is in six parts, linked by prayer and music, so that everyone felt personally involved in Christ's earthly ministry, rejection, and suffering on the Cross.
The drama began with Jesus at the Cross, his hands outstretched, trying to imagine what that agony would be like. Satan came to tempt him as he pushed Jesus almost over the edge of the high point of the stage. John the Baptist appeared and baptised two women and Jesus, but Satan returned to taunt Jesus after John had been beheaded.
There followed a moving conversation between Jesus and his mother, Mary, and Elders
of the (Jewish) Tradition, as Jesus applied passages of the Scriptues to himself and so antagonised the Elders and caused his mother much anguish. Judas Iscariot, clearly not understanding, came to offer to follow Jesus and then they were joined by Aviya, a wild, gypsy-like fortune teller who was restrained by keepers with ropes round her waist. She bewailed her madness and made as if to kill herself, but Jesus movingly knelt to gently set her free and comfort her.
By contrast, the next part of the drama took place in Pilate, the Governor's, house where his wife, Diana, tried in vain to get her husband's attention as she eulogised
about a Man she had met, who had attracted great crowds. Later she met and talked with Jesus in the house of Simon, and Jesus asked her 'Who do you say I am?' There was a commotion when Aviya, the wild woman, rushed in with a knife, but Jesus calmed her and then she produced a jar of perfumed ointment with which she anointed Jesus. Back at home, Diana told the Governor of all that had happened and urged him to go and meet Jesus himself.
Next we had an encounter between Jesus and Judas, with Jesus asking that question again, 'Who do you say that I am?' Judas was at a loss to say and when Aviya, the wild woman, came on the scene, Jesus said, 'This woman knows who I am.' - because she was quoting 'And they shall call him wonderful, counsellor....' On the lower part of the stage the Temple traders were selling their goods and Jesus drove them out, scattering goods and people. Judas and Jesus were continuing their conversaton when Aviya snatched the bag that Judas was carrying. Then Jesus used the bread and the wine to tell them that when they shared bread and wine together after he was dead they should think of him as if he were still with them. Just then the soldiers came, asking Judas,'Is this him?'. With Jesus asking, 'Who do you say I am, Judas?', Judas btrayed Jesus with a kiss.
Back in the Governor's house, Judas was thanked and dismissed and, as he left, Diana encountered Aviya, the wild woman. She asked her to explain the prophecies that she kept reciting, Diana wanted to know more about Jesus before returning to her husband, who was judging Jesus before finally ordering him to be whipped 'for appearnces sake'.
In front of the three crosses, Pilate asked the crowd whether he should release Jesus or Barabbas and Diana intervened to try to get him to make the choice for them and release Jesus. Pilate said that he found no reason for Jesus to die and asked him, 'Are you who you say you are?' Jesus said, 'I am who they say I am.'
The trial before Pilate continued and Judas was asked to choose, Jesus or Barabbas. So Judas asked Jesus, 'Show them, show me.' There was a very moving moment when Judas agonised, 'Why? Why won't you show yourself? Who are you? She knows,(Aviya) And her. (Diana) But not me? Why not me? When I've believed in you all these years, why should they know you but I don't?' But his cry was in vain and Jesus was tied to the cross. Then Satan swung between the three crosses, taunting Jesus with, 'Hurts, doesn't it? Come on, you've done enough now - no one would criticise, come down. Die now and you're forgotten.' Jesus did die, and Diana and Aviya were left to console each other. Finally, Pilate returned to announce that a place of burial had been found and Aviya was left preparing the body of Jesus for burial.
The evening concluded with members of the congregation dedcating themselves by signing a cross on their forehead with water from the font. Altogether a very moving evening of remembrance and vivid involvement in the passion of Jesus.