For my sins, I think that any news report with the keywords “re-enactment” and “sacreligious” is eminently bloggable. So hats off to Welsh charity Focal Point for giving me something to write about.
Focal Point, as this BBC News report shows, seem to have made it their mission to make Easter that little bit more visceral, by re-enacting Jesus’ crucifixion in various shopping centres up and down the M4 corridor. Four years ago they were in Porth. Two years ago they were in Reading. This Good Friday, they descended on Aberdare.
Their re-enactment of the crucifixion is stark and simple enough – one actor, wearing a loincloth and suitably large quantities of fake blood, mock-nailed to a wooden cross. The reaction from onlookers is all too predictable – disgust, shouts approximating ‘but it’s blasphemy!’ and in one case a 999 call for an ambulance. For their own part, Focal Point claim to be delighted that they are “getting their message across” and are suitably unapologetic about their actions.
Is all this a good or a bad thing? I honestly can’t decide. On the one hand, if we take the measure of column inches and controversy as being proportional to success, Focal Point seem to have hit the jackpot, with significant news coverage everywhere they carry their cross. But not even they expect an I-was-blind-but-now-I-see experience in everyone that sees their gory representation of what happened at Easter. And as in all street preaching, polarising opinion is sometimes a very dangerous thing to do. How many spiritual waiverers, shopping in Aberdare on Friday, have now decided that they’ll have nothing to do with Christianity, as a result of the in-your-face attitude of Focal Point?
Leaving aside Focal Point’s methods, there’s a bigger problem here. Any re-enactment, no matter how well carried out, can only ever effectively show you what happened. Seeing a replay of, say, the Battle of Hastings will give you a keen insight into the effectiveness of crossbows, the strength of a cavalry charge, and the fact that the Normans won. It has little hope of telling you what the importance of the battle was, or most significantly of all, why it had to happen in the first place.
There’s an all-too-obvious allegory here, but it bears making anyway. While I commemorate the crucifixion at Easter, the focal point of my rememberance should be the why, rather than the what. My own personal focal point shouldn’t be the actual suffering of Christ, important though that is. It shouldn’t be the dark days in the tomb either. And that’s where Focal Point fall down – the mere act of sticking an actor on a cross has no hope of telling people why Jesus got to the cross in the first place, and why that solitary act is so important two thousand years later.
That’s a lesson to me, and it’s something that no re-enactment can teach me. And it’s something that I know I should remember today, of all days, in words that make sense to me, if no-one else:
Jesus died because he had to. He rose again because he had to. I follow him because he lets me to, and because I have to. For my sins.