Editor’s note: Missioner Tim Shelgren recounts Immaculate Conception High School’s Dramatization of the Crucifixion in Kingston, Jamaica and reflects on his role in the process.
Campus Minister Donna Haynes set the stage in the school’s “quadrangle” where the student body meets for assemblies. She placed several small palm trees and a cross to represent twelve Stations of the Cross. She also set an environmental tone by asking the 1700 students to help “create a sacred space by reverently watching the dramatization, and listen for what Christ has to say to you individually.” All was silent.
At Station #1, standing among a sea of an audience, actresses, readers, and vocalists was one man playing the role of Christ, to be crucified.
He felt alone there.
Upon being condemned to death, Christ lifted a heavy cross and began struggling as he slowly walked his path to crucifixion. For the actor, the morning sun was hot, hundreds of eyes were on him, and his tight crown of thorns prop was causing an actual headache. To make his attempted portrayal more real, he tried to imagine these discomforts magnified 10,000 fold.
Then, at Station #1 the actor noticed an unexpected sense of comfort as the teenage girl playing the role of Jesus’s mother came to him in what seemed like true anguish, and embraced him. He actually felt a sense of relief and appreciation in response to the actress’s gestures.
Also unexpected, this appreciation began escalating when the actresses playing Simon, Veronica, and the Women of Jerusalem approached him. When they helped him up each time he fell, wiped his face, and cried in grief, the actor felt supported. He felt he was truly being loved.
At Station #10, even the audience showed a true sense of concern in their soft gasp. Upon stripping Christ’s outer garment, the audience could see what looked like blood that had sweat through onto Christ’s undergarment (his tunic).
At the final station, Christ’s death, the atmosphere had become reverent. A group of five actresses somehow lifted Christ’s body off the cross as if they were familiar with how to carry a lifeless body. Two girls lifted Christ under his arms, and three under his knees. Feeling safe, the man portraying Christ was thankful. Though lifeless in his body, he had tears in his eyes.
A Lesson Learned
Comfort, relief, appreciation, support, love… I never dreamed that these emotions would come to me so vividly when I agreed to play the role of Christ at the dramatization. On the contrary, I was initially concerned that my participation would give a false impression. I did not want the 1700 Jamaican girls in the audience to think that I thought Christ had white skin and blue eyes.
Whether my presence sent that message or not, I found out, made no difference to that particular audience. Like Christ who loves and invites both Jews and Gentiles—all people—into His Kingdom, the students at Immaculate Conception High School clearly do not care what color Christ’s skin was.
I am humbled. And I give abundant kudos to these young ladies for both their progressive perspective and their heartfelt acting.
A Sort of Shroud
All the people left the arena in continued silence. When I arrived in the Campus Ministry’s Sacristy to change out of my costume, I felt peaceful and moved by the supportive, loving spirit that had revealed itself to me via the Jamaican high school students.
Suddenly, when I got undressed, I saw an image—a sort of shroud—on the back of my tunic. I was stunned! And once again, humbled.
A Brother in Christ
My FMS colleague, Cindy, had painted red lashing-stripes on my back in case I was to play the role with a bare back. I had remained covered, however. And amazingly, the paint that sweat through on the garment was not in the shape of stripes, but was in the shape of long hair and slight facial features.
Upon gazing at the image, I felt like Christ was expressing thanks to me for playing the role. I felt at that moment like we were two team members in a locker room celebrating a victory we just made together in the quad. Absorbing deeply this sensation of brotherhood, I stood motionless for several minutes.
A New Vantage Point
After having the honor of playing Christ in a reenactment of His crucifixion with the student body at Immaculate Conception High School, I am now able to sense what Christ may have felt when He walked the earth. Christ was “fully human.” He must have had a human desire to be loved and supported, just like you and I do. Surely, He must have enjoyed and gripped tightly onto the relationships He had with His Apostles, His brothers.
I am going to grasp tightly now to this new vantage point. In doing so, my practice of loving Christ will be motivated by the understanding that my love affects Him in positive ways. My love, our love, is not only something we are commanded to do for our sake—as per the First Commandment. Our love is something we can give Christ to satisfy His desire to receive us.
Reflection question: In what ways have you notice Christ expressing gratitude to you for the ways you honor Him?