Reflection by Joseph DeCant, volunteer who played Jesus Christ
Just before Easter, I was asked to write something of my experience from my role as Jesus during the Passion Play at the Little Sisters of the Poor. I was honored, and then I pondered what to write about as there were so many feelings and thoughts that flashed through my mind. Should I write about the fun that we had getting ready for the play? I could write about this year being the year that I found a recipe for making artificial blood, with peanut butter being the primary ingredient. It even smelled like peanut butter! Then there are the feelings that come with stepping into the role of Jesus.
As I reflect on the whole experience over the past two years, I feel that each year was different. This most recent Passion Play was on Thursday, March 29th. We had several practices before the actual performance and because of my experience last year, I knew that I would find out aspects of myself and a deeper appreciation of the passion that Jesus walked through. What I did not know is what the new insights would be. This year, I can summarize my experience into several areas: the courage of Veronica, the resolve of Jesus throughout the path to Calvary, and the relationship between Mary and Jesus.
Both last year and this year, I have been struck by a scene where Veronica, played by Irene, wipes the face of Jesus. It is a moment where the soldiers are keeping the women of Jerusalem back; they could only look at Jesus and pity Jesus. And then there is Veronica. Seeing the face of Jesus, Veronica breaks through the crowd and the soldiers to move towards Jesus. As I stand there, playing Jesus, hunched over by the cross (many times lighter than the real cross), it is comforting even to simply have Irene come over and wipe off the sweat from my face. I can understand a bit better the deep connection that must have been shared between Jesus and Veronica in that moment.
Then there is the perseverance of Jesus. I step into the role of the person who came to take away my sins and forgive my wrongs, yet I am still the same imperfect person before, during and after that night. In the Passion Play, I fall several times, get pushed around by soldiers (two of the nicest soldiers I’ve ever met!), hang on the cross, and am simply watched by everyone. On that third fall though, I lie on the ground for a while and struggle to get up. To be honest, I’m tired from a long day at work, the normal worries of daily life, nervousness over remembering my lines that night, etc. I can only imagine how much the body of Jesus was completely and utterly…exhausted. Yet I have to get back up. Jesus moves on to the cross and still more! He forgives the soldiers who leave Him naked on the cross for everyone to see. To be worn down and yet forgive those that wear me down is a perseverance to which I aspire.
Finally, there is the relationship between Mary and Jesus. At one point, I was on the cross and my legs were so tired from the earlier scenes that they began to shake a bit. Cecelia, who plays Mary, noticed this and asked me about it afterward. I imagine that Mary also noticed everything about Jesus. She was focused on Him the whole time, followed Him on the way of the cross, and stood there at the foot of the cross. As Jesus’ legs would weaken, she must have noticed His legs shaking as He could not hold His weight up any longer on the cross. And the weight of His own body would make it difficult for Him to breath. Mary endured a struggle that I caught a glimpse of that night. From my own experience I saw how a son does not want his mother to hurt or her heart to suffer. So Jesus’ heart must have been lanced well before the spear knowing that His mother saw all of it. What came out of that wounded heart was nothing less than love, forgiveness and mercy.
The Passion Play this year brought many graces to me and many other people. I am incredibly grateful to Sr. Jeanne, Joyce, and all of the other Sisters and Residents that both invited me and welcomed me to play the role of Jesus again this year.
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