*Warning: Easter‘s religious message discussed – no offence intended to anyone of any faith or otherwise*
My mother has always loved Easter, for reasons I’ve never fully fathomed. We’re not a religious family, but I think perhaps it’s because it’s more personal – the sort of holiday you celebrate within just your immediate family – and a lot easier to be extravagant on a small budget than at the much more pressurised Christmas. More than once I was lavished with soft toy bunnies as well as the mandatory chocolate – traditionally a chocolate button egg, and a bunny, which MUST be eaten ears-down of course (is there any other way?).
In recent years, after moving to Wellington, Easter has been special because I’ve had forced time off at the same time as everyone else, and usually taken advantage of it with a trip to Dunedin. I don’t care about the chocolate (in fact I banned it last year), and I’ve not even noticed if there’ve been hot crossed buns on sale this year, so for me, Easter doesn’t mean much without my Mum.
This led me to think about what Easter would be for me here in London. It’s a four day weekend, which is lovely as I’ve not had a day off since starting my current job. Of course, as a temp those two extra days are unpaid so I can’t afford to go anywhere, most of my friends are out of town, and the weather is still depressing. Nevertheless, I was given chocolate eggs by work, was looking forward to lots of sleeping and reading, had some great plans locked in with the people who are about and knew that Timeout London would provide with some entertainment to fill in the gaps.
On Good Friday when my plans for the afternoon were postponed, I googled ‘London Free Good Friday’ and found the “Passion of Jesus” play in Trafalgar Square. It’s generally advisable to avoid such tourist areas, but I secretly enjoy the spectre of an enormous modern crowd filling a place of such historic moments, and speculating on what those in the passing hop-on-hop-off buses will think is going on. My jerk brain always tells me this would be the perfect time for an act of terror, as it does on the more packed tube-journeys, but I tell it to shut the hell up and stop muttering about bombs.
As I said, I’m not religious, but I know the story of the Passion both from the Sunday-school perspective and the historical viewpoint from studying the period in Classics, and I was curious how the tale would be played out for a modern audience. I assumed it would be fairly short, and planned to go to the Wellcome Collection‘s ‘Outsider Art from Japan’ exhibition afterwards, just to mix it up, so I rocked up as rugged up as I could be in my holey wardrobe, with an overpriced coffee in hand to keep the chill at bay.
It turned out that I would stand there in the grey square under a grey sky for over an hour and a half, hedged in by a crowd of neck-craners, all straining to see the giant screen, let alone the actual action. Feet stamped, lips chapped, gloved hands clamped around empty coffee cups, as everyone in the crowd had arrived with the same warm-up plan as me.
Fifteen minutes in I got the titters as someone near me whispered about Monty Python, an association which was reinforced every time a minor of supposedly stupid character spoke out in exaggerated cockney. This is where I started to notice the blatant prejudices blaring through.
While Jesus spoke in an unaccented theatre English, the Jewish priests were wizened, croaky, creaky-voiced hags of men, whose every word and movement likened them to a two dimensional Disney villain. They were selfish, money-grubbing politicians who used their religious positions for personal gain. Conversely, the Romans were also shown as political animals, but rational ones, who tried in fact to save Jesus from his fate, but ultimately washed their hands of the matter. They left the decision to crucify to the Jewish horde, who voted clemency to a dirty, diseased criminal in rags over the obviously innocent and cleanly-robed Jesus.
The production costs were clearly enormous for a free, outdoor play: a massive big screen, a very effective sound system, actual crosses with pulleys and winches to lift up Jesus and his criminal side-kicks to the crosses, and a menagerie of a horse, an ass, and a cage-full of fat pigeons it must have taken an age to chase around the square.
I only wish they’d spent more on the script. Like the villains, Jesus was just as lacking in dimensions. There was no question, there was no doubt, there was no humility. He was the Lord incarnate, he was certain in his righteousness, he was pompously magnanimous and he was boring.
I stayed until the very end because after such a tired version of the story, I had hope that there might be a relevant message for a modern audience. Surely Easter, whether the Christian version or the Pagan festival of Spring, is about new life? The resurrection of Jesus mimics the old myths of the goddess of nature going down into the underworld for Winter and coming back in Spring, bringing new life with her to the world.
Resurrection is a surprisingly universal theme in mythologies all over the world, so it clearly speaks to people in a fundamental way. And yet the only message I got was Jesus is God, God is the only God, that’s all folks. I just tried Googling ‘Easter Message’ and I got the same messages, but WitH mIxeD CAps. JeSuS LoVeS CAPS.
And so I was disheartened, but I guess I wasn’t exactly the target-audience of a Christian play. Still, I feel that if religion wants to stay relevant, it should take opportunities like this to create a real message, have a genuine dialogue, and colour the tale in shades of grey rather than the black and white, colour in the lines version of the story I witnessed.
I expected to find a message of hope and renewal, which I could have related to on a personal level, whatever my religious views, but all I got was toe-numbingly cold and mind-numbingly bored. If you’ve also failed to find the meaning of Easter this year, here is my message to you:
Praise zombie Jebus for giving us chocolate before breakfast.
- Happy Easter! (bitsandbreadcrumbs.com)
- EASTER HUNT: Egg Hunt Held For Kids With Special Needs. (whotv.com)
- An Easter egg with meaning (delightsbycynthia.wordpress.com)
- Have a Heart Attack on Easter: Bacon Easter Egg Stuffed with Sausage and Black Pudding (technabob.com)
- Easter tea party (thevergerswife.wordpress.com)
- Happy Easter all DW! (dwarmy.com)
- The countdown to ‘Easter’ (thekosmospost.wordpress.com)
- Easter Type (behance.net)