written for Kippax Uniting Church 2011
by Brooke Thomas
Each of these narratives was performed in place of the Bible reading, placed between a sermon that set the scene theologically and a spiritual reflection that encouraged personal contemplation.
Each week a path of different textures and colours was laid through the church with the chairs set out around the path. The players walked the path in simple costumes with simple props providing a focus for the words, enhanced by background music and relevant symbols such as sand, candles, lanterns, and water.
For further information contact Rev Gordon Ramsay
Lent 1 – The path though the desert
based on Matthew 4: 1-11
(a solitary figure representing Jesus slowly walks a path of sand)
The path he walks is one marked only as he passes, by the soft impressions of his bare feet left in the sand and the small stones kicked aside as he forges, not without difficulty, out in to the desert. He has been walking for more days than he has kept count, in the heat of the sun and the chill of the night. By day, the insects drone about him. By night, the stars overhead mark a glittering corridor through the heavens. But he sees none of these things. In the vastness of the desert, he is an isolated figure, a man striding persistently, yet awkwardly, through the hot sand, caught up in an internal dialogue of diabolical proportions.
For the Spirit leads him outward – and inward – on this rocky path, and he follows – in hunger, in thirst, in the certainty that his destiny is at hand, and in the uncertainty of what lies in the vast uncharted, unpredictable place that is both the physical desert and the human heart.
In his intense hunger, a seductive voice tells him his stomach can be filled if only he commands the rocks strewn at this feet to turn in to bread. His thoughts turn to the day the great crowd of people followed him unquestioningly for miles without thought to their own sustenance and he was able to feed them all and give them strength for the journey back. They called on him in that moment to be king.
The bread, the crown – no, these are not things he will take now.
In his exhaustion, a enticing presence shows him the high pinnacle of the temple, with the crowds buzzing beneath, and tells him how impressive it would be if he threw himself off the roof to be caught safely below in the arms of angels. How the crowds would marvel at his power.
But he knows there are already rumblings that he holds dangerous political power and he is not here to start a political movement. His purpose runs deeper.
In his loneliness, his insidious companion offers him all the kingdoms of the world, if only he will bow down to the evil one. He could obliterate Rome in a heartbeat, overturn the Empire, free the oppressed, and be the world’s liberator. But at what cost?
He serves one God, and one God alone. And in the stillness and the torment of the cold desert night, the hunger, the loneliness and the trepidation, he holds true to his God, faithful to his values, firm to his hope – and he banishes temptation.
Lent 2 – The path through the night
based on John 3: 1-17
(a figure representing Nicodemus walks a path of bark and meets Jesus by candlelight)
You thought it would be a simple thing – to ask for an audience with this radical man and ask to hear his teachings with your own ears. But it’s an easier thing to say than to do – to get smuggled under cover of darkness to visit someone who is viewed ever more each day as a dangerous dissident. To be met by unknown intermediaries in dark back streets and spirited away through the shadows to a secret meeting place. To suddenly realise, as your heart leaps into your throat that, if you are found out, not only would your career be over but you might lose your life. It is an easy thing to ask for the meeting but every step on the journey there fills you with the dangerous knowledge that, one way or another, after tonight, you will never be the same again.
As you walk your dark, silent path toward Jesus you feel yourself becoming almost transparent and melting into the nothing of the shadows. You are becoming insubstantial, changing from the learned scholar – a man of prestige, of good standing, firm in the familiar principles of old doctrine – to a new soul, a clean slate, an open mind ready to hear a new message. When you finally meet him in a strange house, you see how fiercely his followers gather around him, bold in the conviction that he will fundamentally change society, certain in the knowledge that he is the Messiah. As you stand in his presence you want to share that whole-hearted conviction, feel that deep-seated certainty, and be born anew in the powerful knowledge that, as you have secretly felt for a long time in your heart of hearts, a new age is coming and the old ways must be set aside.
There is a thrill in this knowledge – something that both excites and frightens you. And as you speak with Jesus you are both comforted and challenged by his words to you. For he speaks of a new birth – a birth in water and the Spirit – a new kingdom of God heralded by this man before you – and you know that they are world-changing words. This radical, inclusive, self-sacrificing love, if you choose to embrace it, will take you from your safe world of hierarchy and ceremony and cast you to the fringes alongside all those who also hear and embrace Jesus’ words, hoping for a better world and life eternal.
As you leave, your head and your heart full, and step outside in to the cool night air, you know there is no possibility that you can go back by the path you came. Your steps might bend toward home but your soul strains toward a new future and a daring hope.
Lent 3 – The path to the well
based on John 4:5-42
(a figure representing the woman walks a path of blue cloth and encounters Jesus at a water feature)
The path she walks is a lonely one. When you have made decisions in life that leave you ostracised without even a mother or a sister to walk along side you, you must make the daily walk to the well alone. No girlfriends to talk and laugh with along the way because other women see you as a threat.
These long lonely walks are times of frightening introspection because if you really dug deep enough to try to understand the motives that lead you to pin all your self worth on whether a man will have you or not, you might lose even the strength to walk out the front door each morning.
You explain your loneliness to yourself only as something that others have forced on you, not something that also stems from the choices you make. But when you have allowed yourself to be used and abused and passed from hand to hand you can only cast yourself as a victim or the walls of defence that you have studiously built around yourself would come crashing down.
You can’t begin to contemplate how to come back from this place of loneliness, this mire of self-loathing, this certainty that you will never be worth anything to anyone.
And then as you look up there is a man. There’s a curious look on his face that say he knows you – everything you’ve ever done – and he doesn’t judge you. He just wants a drink of water and a chat. In talking by the well, it’s clear he sees that the person you are is more than the sum of your bad decisions, your status, your relationships, even your religious practices. You’ve never seen yourself so clearly or been so open in a conversation.
He tells you that there is so much more to life and his invitation to be a part of it – of the spring of water welling up that is eternal life – is intoxicating, liberating, energising. In that moment you know forgiveness, compassion, truth and love, and it’s not a revelation you can keep to yourself. As soon as you can pull yourself away from him, you rush back into town to tell others what you now know – that this is the Messiah, and he encourages you all to live with honesty and integrity and total openness to God’s Spirit in your lives.
Lent 4 – The path to the light
based on John 9:1-41
(a figure representing the blind man walks a path of black cloth, encounters Jesus and then a Pharisee)
People assume that he was born blind because of some sin – if not his parents’, then some anticipated sin that he is yet destined to commit. He has lived with this assumed shame for so long that he has ceased to question it. He simply continues on his clouded path through life, shutting out the condemnation and relying on his other senses, sharpened by the absence of his sight, to feel his way along the road.
As he makes his way with slow, hesitant steps, his hearing highly attuned to the activity of the people around him, he hears himself as the topic of conversation. This is not unusual – but this time it is different. A voice of calm authority is telling the crowd that his blindness is not a punishment for sin but rather a condition that will allow the works of God to be shown.
Following the voice, he draws closer. He is not accustomed to hearing words of compassion despite the disadvantage he lives with every day of his life. He doesn’t know what to expect but he is certain that a kind word of assurance now from this surprising man will sustain him for the rest of his days.
What he hears as he stands before the man are the words “I am the light to the world”; what he feels is the unexpected sensation of cool mud being wiped across his eyes. And when he washes away the mud as he is told to do, what he sees for the first time in his life is light, then colours, and shapes, and edges, and faces. His mind reels as this dormant sense awakens, as photoreceptor cells fire for the first time and his visual cortex receives its first messages. And the world around him comes in to focus.
He is immediately a different man and he looks it. There is no shame, no social disgrace clinging to him. He stands taller, he moves with confidence. Even his neighbours don’t recognise him. As difficult as it is to comprehend this great miracle, it also simple to explain: “he put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
But something like this does not go unnoticed and he is called to account for this miraculous change before the Pharisees. These men of piety are not prepared to believe that something of such profound theological significance has happened to one they consider to be so steeped in sin.
Again and again they question his identity and challenge his version of events. They will not see, but for the once-blind man it is stunningly straightforward no matter how baffling: “I was blind but now I see”. It is an answer that infuriates the learned men and he is thrown out of the temple.
After a lifetime of rejection, this moment is in itself a revelation because the man does not feel rejected. As he takes in the glory of the sights of the world around him, he knows he has been touched by real compassion, real grace, and real power, and he is confident of his place in the world.
When he again encounters Jesus he knows he is meeting the Son of Man and he believes with his whole being.
Lent 5 – The path to life
based on John 11:1-45
(a figure representing Lazarus draws a long swathe of white cloth to meet a path made of hessian, to meet Jesus and two women)
When his consciousness was stirred, he heard his friend’s voice calling as if through the deepest of sleeps, as if from across an echoing chasm. As he opened his eyes he could not tell if they had been closed for minutes or days. Vision returned to him as if he was swimming up toward the light after diving deep in the sea. He squints his eyes at the sunlight now shining in to this dark place where he has been resting. He stretches out his hands and feels a stiffness in his limbs that, second by second flows away, until he feels the movement returning to his joints. He hears his friend’s voice call again and, behind it, the sounds of crying and despair.
Still confused, he stands up but finds himself constrained by the cloth that he is wrapped in. And suddenly he remembers where he is and why: he died. He was dead.
But now here he is, alive inside his own opened tomb. And the voice outside tells him to wake, arise and come out. With faltering steps, he disentangles himself from the constricting burial cloth and steps out into the living world once more.
When his eyes adjust to the brightness, he sees the astonishment of his family and friends. He can only imagine that, in their place, he too would struggle to believe what they are seeing. How can things change so suddenly? Who expects a day of grieving to turn so rapidly to joy? How can a person, prepared for a day of mourning, anticipate that they will leave the gravesite that evening with their loved one, alive and well, in their arms?
And for himself, how to proceed? Can life be the same when one has come back from death? As he and his family and friends walk from the graveside they must consider the choice to shake off the sadness, leave death behind, and embrace life afresh with a sense of newness and wonder.
Lent 6 – The path to Jerusalem
based on Matthew 21:1-11
(a figure representing Jesus walks a path of palm branches while the people throw coloured cloth before him)
It is a humbling thing to walk upon the cloaks of the people gathered – hard-working, normal people throwing their one, hard-earned, important outer garment on the road in front of him; cutting branches from the palms that line the road, to convert their cooling shade to a soft path under his feet.
He feels the weight of their expectation, their hope for change and renewal even in the midst of the ancient celebration of the Passover.
Most of them will not really know why they are here but in this arrival of one of many pilgrims to Jerusalem, there is a moment of unbridled, reckless joy. It will not last long – the military are not tolerant of any gathering that looks like a demonstration – but in this moment there is passion, danger and destiny and it is intoxicating for all present.
Who standing on this roadside can imagine that this adulation will soon turn to condemnation? That smiling, joyous faces will cry betrayal and turn their back on him?
To walk the path with Jesus, stay the course, choose radical, compassionate, inclusive love will not be an easy thing. And so he walks on.
Maundy Thursday – The Path to Betrayal
based on Matthew 26: 14-56
(a figure representing Jesus walks a path of coloured cloth which graduates from bright colours to black)
He knows he is walking in to a trap but he walks the path anyway. With heavy footsteps he leads his friends from the final place of feast and fellowship toward the greatest test of loyalty that any of them have ever faced.
He is quite certain his friends have not really understood the words he has shared with them over the meal – words of destiny and betrayal, about a covenant in flesh and blood through the metaphor of bread and wine.
Although they have journeyed with him thus far and will follow him to the garden on the hill to pray now, they do not fully grasp what is happening, that the hour is at hand. Despite their best intentions, their trust and their closeness to him, they cannot possibly imagine what he is going through – and perhaps they do not want to.
Change is easy to hope for when it comes in the form of excitement, celebration and optimism: it is so much harder to embrace when it cannot be achieved without sacrifice, suffering and dark times. Wine and talk in a secret room is one thing; loyalty and action in the real world is another.
He will pray, they will sleep. He will rebuke, they will desert him. And Peter will deny him three times. But all of this is ahead.
And so he walks on toward the one who waits in darkness, his pockets – and his conscience – heavy.
Good Friday – The Path to Death
A black path walked in silence by a figure in black after the line “There are no words…no words”.
Easter Sunday – The Path Beyond the Tomb
based on Matthew 28: 1-10
(two women walk a garden path together)
In shocked silence they try to comprehend what they have just seen, hearts and mind overflowing with amazement and joy. They have set down their jars of oils and perfumes – they will not be needed now. The guards were gone, the stone was rolled away…He was not there!
How can they explain the angelic young man calmly sitting by the tomb waiting for them, his presence and his message so completely unexpected and inexplicable after a long, dark day of grief and despair?
The wait between Friday and this morning has been so long, so terrible, living with the thought that he was no longer in the world; no longer to travel through their villages, call at their homes, sit and talk with them of love and justice. They smiled, then they cried as they recalled how he cared so completely and compassionately for the people he encountered. How he ached for the poor and downtrodden. How he felt the pain and anguish of the sick and injured. How he celebrated with the joyful. How he cried with the grieving. How he railed against injustice of every kind.
It was almost impossible to believe he was gone. They came here with heavy hearts, prepared to complete the burial rites for their dear friend and brother…but now the world has changed. They have seen it with their own eyes – there is nothing left inside the dark tomb except the discarded linen they had wrapped him in two nights before.
A thousand questions are racing through their minds but the calm assurance of the young man at the tomb’s entrance has left them certain of one thing – Jesus is not dead. He has risen and walked out of the darkness in to light and life.
Now the women have been tasked to deliver a message and it is with joyous urgency that they hurry to find the disciples and tell them – Jesus is alive!