Sunday, April 13, 2014

Scripted

I'm not going to say too much about being Jesus in our church's reading of the Passion according to Saint Matthew today, beyond that it was harder than I expected. Not that I expected it to be easy.

When I first read through our script I found Jesus' lines hard to scan. He seems always to have an eye on a pre-written script which only he knows that events are following. I wasn't sure how one would say something like "You say so" without sarcasm, but happily the need to project (we had no microphones) made that impossible. It also made impossible speaking the gentle sadness that other lines, like the repeated confirmation of human frailty, seemed to express. I don't have a big voice to begin with, and here I needed to make sure people could hear every syllable, including the final syllables of phrases, which I tend to swallow.

I went through the script (as I do with the reading when I'm a lector too) many times, trying out different stresses, marking what seemed to work best. These judgments had as much to do with theology as psychology, if not more. But there's psychology, here, too, as I found.

In performance during the service this morning, I surprised myself (and everyone else) by practically bellowing the final line Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? - My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I don't think I've made a noise like that since I was a child. It wasn't entirely unpremeditated, and the narrator does introduce it "Jesus cried out with a loud voice," but its rawness took even me aback. What had happened was that Jesus, who knew - cowrote, you could say - the script, felt himself more and more trapped in it. His flesh was weak, too, and his heart grieved unto death. This wasn't just prophecies being fulfilled in unexpected ways, this was his life being extinguished.

The five of us reading the Passion were wearing black cassocks. For the final part I was standing dead center on the steps up to the altar, facing the congregation, the focal point, the still center, of all that was going on in our performance and in the space of the church. The other readers were behind me. I couldn't see them, but looked out expressionlessly as Jesus was mocked, nailed to a cross between two criminals, as gall and vinegar were offered to him, as soldiers cast lots for his clothes.

It was a reading with minimal stylized movements, not a dramatic performance. We weren't supposed to be "in character" between lines, but standing there with the black 3-ring binder in my hands I found I was - in character as the all-knowing Jesus who knew what people were going to say before they said it, the mastermind at the center of things. I didn't have to see them to know what they were going to say. I knew what would happen before it happened, because it had to happen. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him. As I'd said to Judas, Friend, do what you are here to do. Each of us playing his part in a grand spectacle, the greatest story ever foretold.

Then that became unbearable - it wasn't a spectacle, it was my life! - and I cried out.

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