“Holy Week”, 2 April 2012

“Pause for thought” on BBC Radio 2’s “Vanessa Feltz Show”

For lots of people Easter time is mostly about taking a few days well earned holiday as spring begins.  For Christians this week is also the most important time in the Church’s year when we recall the story of the last few days of Jesus life – his suffering, trial, death and resurrection.  It has come to be known as ‘Holy Week’ which is the theme for this week’s “Pause for Thought”.

This coming Friday, 3500 residents of Preston will be exploring Holy Week in a new and imaginative way.  They will be taking part in ‘The Preston Passion’ – a contemporary and dramatic re-telling of the Passion story presented by Fern Britton and broadcast live on BBC 1.  Two thousand of them will be in a large scale crowd – choreographed to create cross shapes – filmed live from a helicopter.  There will be contemporary dance, local brass bands and choirs singing traditional Easter music.

This will be interspersed with three “innovative pre-recorded dramas” which use the themes of the story of Jesus’ passion and weave them into the lives of Preston residents past and present.

One of these is entitled “Pilate”.  Set in 1842, it describes dilemma of the local mayor torn between self-interest, political pressures and his internal doubts when he has to decide whether to show leniency or make an example of the principled leader of mill workers who are striking against wage cuts.

Another, called “Mary”, tells of a mother waving her son off to war in 1914, and then going to serve tea with other volunteers to off duty soldiers at the railway station.  One of the volunteers then receives the worst news a mother can hear about her son – and has to come to terms with her loss.

Aaqil Ahmed, the Head of BBCs Religion and Ethics, has called the Preston Passion “a contemporary take on the universal story of the Passion”.   Elsewhere in the UK, from Aberdeen to Brighton, from Belfast to London, there will be other renderings of this universal story – including a major event in Trafalgar Square – with thousands watching or taking part.

Part of the universal appeal of the passion story is that it includes virtually every human emotion and experience – friendship and betrayal, loyalty and corruption, suffering , cruelty and death, and then transcends them with a message of profound hope and new life.

The Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all devote the larger part of their writing to telling the story of the last week of Jesus life – in the belief that in this story we find the heart of our humanity, and the depths of God and God’s redeeming love for a broken and sinful world.

As well as in the Preston Passion and the like, the story of Jesus will be told in countless church services this week – as it has been down the ages.  The key thing, as the makers of the Preston Passion have so clearly recognised, is to relate this disturbing, but profoundly hopeful story to our lives today.