Friday, March 21, 2008

Some Good Friday Musing

Good Friday – March 21, 2008

Last night, the “Rosenort” group of Mennonite churches held the second of their joint Passion Week services. It was hosted by Tiefengrund Mennonite Church, whose pastor moderated the service; Eigenheim’s pastor delivered the sermon; Laird’s pastor officiated at the Eucharist celebration and Horse Lake’s pastor assisted in the distribution of the elements.

The theme of Allan’s sermon was the “unless a seed falls into the earth and dies, it cannot bear fruit,” lesson of Christ for his disciples, a very appropriate Good Friday text.

Tonight, I will portray high priest Caiphas in a series of Good Friday monologues called “Were you there?” It seems that my acting career has repeatedly funneled me into the role of the high-priesthood: some twenty-five years ago, I played Annas in Jesus Christ, Superstar in Thompson. I approached that with trepidations as I do this, and here’s why:

Historically, various branches of the Christian community have made much of the gospel reports that “the Jews” were the antagonists in Jesus’ trial and death, and have carried that forward as a banner contributing to the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Judas’ betrayal of Christ for a few coins is echoed in the stereotype of the avaricious Jew, portrayed even by Shakespeare in his Shylock. In any case, I don’t like to be a portrayer of stereotypes, particularly those that are as hateful and false as those that generally fall into the category of anti-Semitism.

Here’s what I have to say:

Caiphas: Of course, I was there. It was my duty to take action against this man who defied our traditions and the authority of the temple. It was I who said to the people, ‘it is better that one man die for the people.’ Although language is double-edged, and you may understand that differently from what I did at the time.

In my opinion, the end sometimes justifies the means, and sometimes you have to use the mob to get done what has to be done. When we interrogated Jesus, he was uncooperative, and in my opinion, inexcusably blasphemous. Such behaviour simply can’t be tolerated.

I tried to find credible witnesses whose stories would serve to indict him, but that wasn’t easy. So I appealed to the crowds adherence to their traditions. I played them like a violin, and soon they were shouting—as I had hoped they would—‘crucify him!’

I am portraying a man whose principles have been left behind in pursuit of power. That’s evident in his speech. Was Caiphas really a man without principles, or did Jesus’ actions in the Passover atmosphere of Jerusalem represent such a grave risk to the temple-worshipping citizens that the priesthood was at its wit’s end? Was Caiphas an ogre trying to stamp out dissent as ruthlessly as necessary? Or was he a man who felt the burden of office weighing so heavily upon him that he felt it necessary to take stern action, wrong-headed as it may have been? Did the mob that formed around the event reach such a level of hysteria that once begun, the result of the episode became inevitable?

So here’s a Good Friday question for you. If you had to portray Caiphas, what would you have him say? If you were the Roman soldier, how would you have him describe the chain of events that characterized Jesus’ last hours? If you were Jesus’ mother, Mary, how would you have her describe her experience at the foot of the cross?

I wish you all a happy Easter.

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