Several years ago, the children from St Peter’s School in Marlborough performed in an adaptation of a medieval Mystery Play depicting the events of Holy Week – the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The children who played the key characters of the story also joined in the different crowd scenes when ‘out of role’.
Although this was done for good practical reasons, it made a profound point for those of us watching – the parts in the story were interchangeable.
Whether or not you are a person of faith, let alone a church-goer, the story of Holy Week cannot fail to resonate. Adulation and betrayal, cowardice and courage, penitence and stubbornness all feature in the complex and tangled events that unfold.
We have all played these different parts at times – gone along with a crowd, denied being complicit in events, lacked courage and given up hope. There is only one innocent figure in the story – and it’s neither you nor me. We have played all parts, bar one!
No wonder that artists, musicians and poets have found so much to reflect upon. There is something about the story that makes us find ourselves within it and we do this because it’s as if we know the script.
The difficult part comes when the script runs out. This is what happens at the story’s end. The visit to the tomb is conducted not just in the dark, it is conducted with no expectation and no hope. The reversal is so great and so unexpected that everyone is left floundering, for instead of a body to anoint there is nothing to see.
In the story, once the risen Jesus has greeted Mary Magdalene he tells her not to cling to him. Her understandable instinct is to wish to hold onto the familiar and go back to things as they were. Jesus tells her she can’t and that her response should be to follow him and not to cling to him.
This is the new, unwritten script which Easter lays out before us. All who follow him are being invited into a wholly different future, a future where we, who have played all parts in the story bar one, are gathered around the forgiveness of the innocent one.
Trying to convey this transformation has proved much more elusive to artists than the earlier part of the story where the script has been written.
One image which conveys something of this is Elisabeth Frink’s sculpture Walking Madonna in Salisbury Cathedral Close, where she is deliberately walking away from the Cathedral and going to see what the (out of sight) risen Jesus is getting up to – she has taken to heart Jesus’ injunction to follow and not to cling.