My role as Jesus is pretty physical. I have only four or five lines, and much of the time I’m just silent. A lot of the role is stumbling, falling down, looking like I’m in pain. I’m not much of actor, but it’s fairly easy to do pain. Well, it’s hard work, but it doesn’t require much skill.
What really gets me in the role is when I think about what’s going on. As I first walk in I’m being taken before the chief priests and I scan the audience. I walk up the center aisle and look down the rows. In rehearsal they’ve been empty pews, but tomorrow they’ll be full of people. I’m going to connect with as many pairs of eyes as possible, and that’s the piercing part.
Since a lot of my role requires me to stand there and take what’s dished out, I do a lot of staring. I stare back at the kids in the youth group as they hurl insults, and I try to imagine what Jesus was going through. Part of me wants to act all smug and sarcastic. Part of me wants to haul off and punch somebody. But I know Jesus looked at them with loving eyes, despite the fact that they were selling him out.
As I stand before Herod he gets frustrated when I refuse to perform a miracle, and says I’m just like my cousin. It’s full of spite and hatred, and it’s entirely designed to get a reaction out of Jesus. But his eyes are full of love and pity.
The most brutal part of the play is when the crowd yells Crucify. The congregation is shocked to see their children, their teens crying out for the blood of Jesus. It’s jaring. But I can imagine Jesus crumple inside as he realizes this is it. He knew it was going to happen but he wanted a way out. He hoped in the garden that the cup would be taken away, but as that crowd yells crucify he knows the cup is his. These people that he loves more than anything in the world want him dead, and it begins. The taunts, the kicks, the spitting, I fall at the front of the church, just before the altar, and the iniquity of us all is laid bare.
My sins yell crucify, louder than the mob that day
My sins yell crucify louder than any crowd
(“Louder than the Mob” by the Supertones)
And the cross. The cross is brutal. I obviously can’t measure up to any movie renactment, but I think seeing it before you live is a different sort of experience. As I stumble down the aisle I want to reach out to a pew to pull myself to my feet and meet another set of eyes. Those connections are freaky and jaring. You never quite know how the person will react.
As I climb the steps to the choir loft and stretch my arms to the horizon, the pain increases. Of course my arms get tired and sore, but the simple act of stretching and breathing is work. I look down on the congregation and the teens, the chief priests and crowd members yell up at me. They hurl insults on the dying, and somehow Jesus manages to shout, to choke out the words of forgiveness. How amazing. He feels love up there in all that pain, love shining down on the very people killing him. The words sound so loud and echoey when they come off my lips, from so high up in the church. I cry to the Father and my words seem to go through the ceiling.
Then I give up the last breath and all goes limp. The lights go dark, the solider walks off, and I’m left there alone. Dead. Silent.
And just last week the people were praising him with hosannas. Just last week is tomorrow. The cross is raised before we’ve lowered our palm branches.