Across to light
Per crucem ad lumen
This production is a cross between a tableau and a passion play. It is meant to be performed in, or before, the sanctuary of a church. It is perfectly possible to perform it withouta visible Christus. The picture of the cross can be made into a life-sized poster and the other characters may enter from behind it.
The Centurion enters. He has his red cloak over his arm. He stands in front of the cross and looks up at it, his hands behind his back. He walks over and sits down in the front stall of the choir.
Centurion: I am the outsider.
It is an interesting picture,
but I have
-as they say-
entirely lost the plot.
St John strides briskly in, with his distinctive drape folded over his arm.
John: Ah. There you are. (He sits down next to centurion)
I am an insider.
Pleased to meet you.
Centurion: Without straining English syntax, unduly:
of what are you an insider?
John: This picture.
Centurion: You are inside this picture?
John: Exactly. Second on the left.
Stepped out for a stroll.
John: So ask away.
Centurion: Oh. Right. Er.... Where does it begin?
John: In the beginning...
In the beginning
God created the heavens,
and the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God
shouted for joy.
The angels from the cross now appear, they dance.
Centurion: I am not entirely clear.
John: They represent the ten angels at the top of the picture (not, perhaps, all equally visible to the naked eye just now).
From the Father’s hand came every created thing. The heavens - that is, the angelic creation - came first.
Centurion: Oh. Not the stars, not the universe, not the Big Bang.
God created heaven. Er.... Is heaven a place?
John: Certainly. But it is outside time and exceeds space.
Centurion: Once I hung my head over a bridge and watched the water rushing through the piers. I tried to make myself think what time was and then what eternity would be. Made me feel ill.
John: It is difficult for you because you have only known time. You can take my word for it; once you’ve experienced eternity the thought of time seems awfully frivolous. Like wearing blinkers and being rushed down a race track.
Voice of Christus:
As the voice begins the two men leap to their feet
Before the beginnings of earth,
before the depths, I was brought forth
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were shaped
or the hills brought forth,
before he made the pastures of earth
or a mote of the dust of the world,
when he established the heavens;
I was there.
Centurion: (In a stage whisper) Who said that?
John: The Word of God.
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning
All things were made through him,
and nothing was made without him.
Christus: Then I was beside him
like a master craftsman;
and I was his delight,
rejoicing before him, always,
and rejoicing in his inhabited world,
and delighting in the sons of men.
John: In the beginning
the earth was a formless void,
there was darkness on the face of the deep
and God’s Spirit hovered over the waters.
Ballet: Spiritus sweeps down as from the cross and hovers over the waters.
Centurion: How did we get from the Spirit on the waters to Rome and Jerusalem, to London, Berlin, Manila, Moscow, New York and North Wales?
John: The Word is so powerful that He speaks himself into being. The Word is like a genetic code printed on time and space from Chaos to Kosmos. The blueprint of the last mouse was in the first sun - it unfolded in the Word.
Centurion: Somewhere there is a flaw in your argument.
John: Yes there is. God created man.
Adam enters, he walks to the cross.
Francis: (voice off) All-powerful, most holy, most high and supreme God,
holy and just Father,
Lord, King of heaven and earth,
we thank you for yourself;
for through your holy will
and through your only Son,
with the Holy Spirit,
you have made all things, spiritual and corporeal
and, having made us in your own image and likeness,
you placed us in paradise.
Adam’s dance expresses worship and awe, it continues through above text and a little beyond .
Francis: (Resuming) And through our own fault we have fallen.
Adam stops abruptly and then expresses pain and sorrow as he moves off in mourning. The Centurion continues.
Centurion: I can recognize that - well, just - the sense of being doomed to failure before we begin.
John walks to the cross and points to the painted head of Adam.
John: That is Adam, with the apple between his teeth, choking. But you’re wrong. It is not a doom, but an open door.
Centurion: My acquaintance with your mythology is, believe me, slight. But I thought it was actually a closing gate, the clang of a shuttered, sword-gated paradise. I can hear it in my nightmares.
Though by one man, came death,
by one man also, has come resurrection.
For as in Adam, we have all died,
so in Christ, we shall all be made alive.
We thank you Lord,
king of heaven and earth;
for as through your Son you created us,
so also, through your holy love, with which you loved us,
you brought about his birth
as true God and true man,
by the glorious, ever-Virgin, most blessed, holy Mary.
Mary comes on and pauses in front of platforms under the cross, assuming pose she has on the cross. The angel enters behind her and adjusts his hands to the pose of the second left angel.
Angel: Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Mary turns and backs to centre stage, the angel following her.
Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favour with God;
and you will conceive in your womb
and bear a son,
and you shall call his name Jesus.
Mary: How can this be
since I have not known man?
Angel: (falling on one knee and raising wings)
The Holy Spirit
will come upon you
and the power of the Most High
will overshadow you.
And the child will be called Holy,
the Son of God.
Angel and Mary dance
Spiritus enters, goes to top platform and assumes pose equivalent to picture. Angel dances Mary up to lower platform, and as the Holy Spirit brings her arms above Mary, angel falls into a pose at her feet.
Mary: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
The dancers remain frozen where they are.
Centurion: (Getting up. Sarcastically.) Very nice. Very poetic - I’m trying to be positive. It’s a picture card, but it doesn’t mean anything. I can’t see - reasonably - that it can be true.
John: What can’t be true?
Centurion: If I understand you, you are telling me that God the Word, the ultimate outsider, by some magic, took on humanity in the womb of a woman, thus making himself an insider. well....!
John: Alright. The onus is on you - disprove it.
Centurion: I buy the Creator - that is reasonable. If you look up a telescope or down a microscope you’re an utter fool if you can’t see God.
I buy the invention of time and your cosmology - all the other explanations are less reasonable. But I do not buy the incarnation (or whatever the official term is); the enfleshment of God. If God is God: all powerful and all creating and definitively greater than and outside of all the things he has created - why should he even want to become Man?
John: Bad logic. You assert that God is - by definition of his power - greater than and outside the things he has - apparently - created. Then why should he have created anything? He is greater, he is under no necessity to create. Why should he do it?
Centurion: (Shrugging his shoulders) That would require some species of direct revelation. We have no key to the sublime mind of God unless he chooses to tell us about himself.
John: But he has chosen to tell us. That is what the incarnation is for. That is what the blatantly unexpurgated story of the Old Testament leads up to. God reveals himself as love. He created out of love and became flesh out of love. God is love.
The tableau breaks up.
Spiritus sits at one side of top platform, draping cloak. Angel exits. Mary, gazing upwards, walks slowly around sanctuary with cupped hands; as she passes John and Centurion they stand up and bow - Centurion, rather reluctantly.
Voice of Clare:(Offstage)
Look into this mirror
It reflects God.
It is also your reflection.
You have gazed on the beginnings of this mirror:
on the poverty of the Word made flesh.
The King of Angels,
the Lord of heaven and earth is laid in a manger!
Consider now the mirror’s surface,
dwell on the holy humility,
the blessed poverty,
the untold labours and burdens
which he endured for the redemption of humankind.
Now, in the depths of this same mirror,
contemplate that love beyond description
which leads him to suffer on the wood of the Cross
and die the most shameful kind of death.
Centurion has put on his cloak. He takes a plain life size cross which leans against the grille. He holds it upright in front of him. Christus enters. The two move towards each other.
Centurion: This is death;
the end result of birth.
The upright of life
annulled by the crossbeam of hate
sin, alienation, fear, starvation,
brutality and ultimately, death.
Christus: Give it to me.
Centurion: I am not a fool.
this is my problem.
I made this myself.
Christus: Can you solve it?
Can you unmake it?
Christus: I can.
While Francis speaks Centurion bows his head and lets Christus take the heavier end of the cross. They carry it up Calvary.
The Centurion plants it in its socket and takes his position on lower platform.
The Holy Spirit takes up her place round Christ.
Francis: (during above.)
We thank you
for, as through your Son
you created us,
so also, through Your holy love
with which you loved us,
you willed to redeem us captives,
through his cross
and blood and death.
Christus:[gently] Father forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing.
Centurion: (to John) He saved others; can’t he save himself?
He’s a king isn’t he?
(imploring and uncertain.) Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!
John: Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we are getting the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.
Jesus remember us
when you come into your kingdom.
Christus: Amen! I say to you:
today you will be with me in paradise.
The Women (Mary Magdalen and Mary Cleophaz) enter and stand by Centurion.
Mary goes to her place last.
Mary looks up and holds out her arms.
Jesus looks from her to John.
Christus: Behold your son.
John comes forward and takes his place by Mary.
Christus: I thirst.
Centurion:(to John in awed whisper) What is he thirsting for?
The river of life
that flows through Paradise and the Kingdom of Heaven.
The healing of the whole cosmos.
Christus: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!
Christus: Into your hands I commend my spirit.
He steps down from the cross and stands with his arms outstretched, the Spirit comes down behind him and exits, wings of flame flying.
Christus: It is finished.
He falls forward in death
The figures under the cross break up and John and the women re-group around the dead Christ. Centurion stands in his place, paralysed and appalled.
Centurion: (almost surprised) It’s true then. This man was the Son of God.
John: (As the women exeunt severally, he takes Mary to the seats he and the Centurion originally occupied)
Did you really think he wasn’t?
Centurion remains on the platform, as it were on guard at the tomb.
Two angels run on randomly and kneel either side of Christus.
After pause, Spiritus enters and hovers over dead Christ and whirls off.
Christ rises. The Angels semi-prostrate before him.
The Centurion stumbles down from the platform, retreats to an inconspicuous position and covers his face. John joins Peter at the back of the church.
Christ ascends the upper platform and stands slightly turned away
Mary Magdalen and Mary Cleophaz return. The angels turn to face them
Voice of Clare: Very early on the first day of the week,
the women went to the tomb.
Angel 1: Women, whom do you seek?
Angel 2: Why do you seek the living among the dead?
Angel 1: He is not here. He has risen.
Mary Cleophaz backs off. Mary remains transfixed staring at Angel.
Mary Magdalen: Rabboni!
Christus descends from platform. Mary falls to her knees and clings to him, he takes her hands.
Christus: Go and tell my brothers
that I am ascending to your Father
and my Father,
to your God and my God.
She runs off to Peter who is at the back of the choir and greets him
Christus and Angels exit
Francis: Peter and John ran to the tomb.
(They do so, John runs and Peter walks briskly to the place where Christus had been)
Peter went in and saw the linen cloths.
The other disciple who had reached the tomb first, went in.
Clare : He saw and believed.
Peter: Blessed be the God and
Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is by his mercy
that we have been born again
to hope - living hope,
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ
from the dead.
(He turns to the Centurion)
You have been ransomed
from the futile sort of life
handed down to you,
by the precious blood of Christ.
He who is manifested here, now,
at the end of the ages,
for your sake.
Because of him
you can confidently believe in God,
who raised him from the dead
and gave him glory,
so that what you may believe in
and hope by,
John: (To Centurion) I have seen and I believe.
Mary, Mary Magdalen, Mary Cleophaz and Francis, come randomly onto the sanctuary. All stand spaced apart, hands by their sides, looking at Christus.
Peter: Lord, has the time come for you to restore the kingdom to Israel?
Christus: It is not for you to know
the time and the hour.
But you shall receive
power when the Holy Spirit comes to you,
and you shall be my witnesses
to the ends of the world.
The two angels run on. They gather the ends of long drapes and attach them to Christ’s shoulders. Those standing on the sanctuary make a path for his exit. They follow his exit with their eyes and bow or kneel as he passes. When Christus has departed, the two angels assume pose of left hand angels, on platforms.
Angel 1: Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking upwards? (All turn back to face angels)
Angel 2: He who is taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go!
Angel 1: You will be clothed with power from on high.
Angel: God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh.
Francis: Our sons and daughters shall prophesy!
John: Our young shall have a vision!
Peter: Our old shall dream dreams!
Mary: Yes! On men and women who are slaves, God will pour out his Spirit in these days, and they will become prophets.
Mary Cleophaz: God will show wonders in the heavens!
Mary Magdalen: And signs here on earth, below!
Mary Cleophaz:The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon will be turned to blood,
before the day of the Lord!
Mary Magdalen: And whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!
The angels raise their wings. Spiritus floats on. As she sweeps her cloak over each one (starting with Mary) they do a slow one and three quarter turn and face the audience, stretching their arms out in invitation.
Voice of Christus: (Offstage)
Go into the whole world
and preach the Good News
to the whole of creation.
All authority in heaven and on earth
had been given to me.
Make disciples of every nation,
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit
- teaching them to observe what I have commanded you....
Behold I am with you to the end of the world.
They all run joyfully off leaving the Centurion alone. He kneels centre stage on a diagonal, facing tabernacle and cross.
Centurion: I suppose one kneels down to pray.
I haven’t had much practise.
Are you .... there?
Christus: I hear you when you kneel down, and when you sit up and when you stand.
(Unconsciously, Centurion begins to raise his hands to his ears)
I am with you always and in every place.
You will here me providing you do not put your fingers in your ears.
(Centurion hastily snatches his hands away from his ears)
Centurion: I’m sorry. I’ve been through some rather shattering experiences -
your death and resurrection,
and the gift of your Holy Spirit
It’s been.... shattering.
Christus: Yes, you could say that.
Centurion: Er... Why can’t I see you?
Christus: You have seen me and you will see me.
Learn to recognize me.
Centurion gets up, slightly perplexed. Mary comes towards him, (he bows to her) as she speaks, Angels run the rainbow across the back wall and place stool for Clare.
Mary: (Taking Centurion’s hands and moving towards the front) Glory to God in the Church and in Christ Jesus.
Centurion: What is the Church?
Mary: The Church is the family of the Covenant.
Water is the sign or Sacrament of the Church.
You saw the Spirit hovering over the waters at the dawn of creation.
Look at the cross.
Water flows from heaven and travels through the whole of creation and the history of salvation.
A waterfall through sunlight makes a rainbow.
We are the rainbow people.
The rainbow is a sign of God’s saving - by Baptism,
a sign of evil driven back,
a sign of family, together in Faith
before the Lord and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Centurion: What is there to stop my being baptized?
Mary: How could anyone forbid water for baptizing to those who have already received the Holy Spirit?. (Calls to Peter offstage) Peter!
Peter: Truly I see that God has no favourites.
Who am I to withstand God?
(Centurion kneels. Peter dips shell into water and drips a few drops on Centurion’s head.)
Peter: I baptize you in the name of the Father (water)
and of the Son(water)
and of the Holy Spirit (water).
Peter leaves. Francis, Clare (with bowl of water and towel) and Colette enter and take up their pose:
Clare sitting on stool on top platform,
Colette behind her with right hand on Clare’s right shoulder,
Francis kneeling at Clare’s feet (where she has placed bowl of water and towel.)
Mary: This the place of the Church.
Colette: We are the people of the feet. You will find us at the foot of the Cross.
Francis: A man should care no more about loss of prestige or status than he would care about losing the job of washing the brethren’s feet.
Clare: This is my vision of myself: I am the woman with the bowl of water and a towel.
Colette: On the Cross you do not see us with our bowl of water. Only on this part of the Cross can the water that flows round it not be seen. It is because we ourselves have become the water. We wash the feet of Christ in the broken feet of the world, with our very lives, and we wipe them with the rainbow of ourselves.
Clare: This is my vision.
This is how we see ourselves.
Centurion: Then how do I see myself?
Clare: Look into the mirror.
Mary leads Centurion to the Cross and points to Centurion on picture.
Mary: This is you. Behind you is a row of heads. You are everyman. You stand for all of humanity, for all the outsiders who are being drawn inside.
Francis: For all those who live outside the Body of Christ, whom the Father has called and chosen to come inside.
Clare: For all those who live outside themselves, whom the Holy Spirit calls to the life within them.
Colette: And for all those who live outside eternity, who are being called into heaven by the Son who says: Follow me!
Francis: The Father by his mercy,
Colette: the Son, by his passion,
Clare: and the Holy Spirit, the fountain of peace and sweetness and love,
Mary: call you to the House of God.
John: (Returning to the altar step) We have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Since this whole cross is the image of the transfiguration of Christ in our day to day lives, it ends with this mystery, which of course in the Gospels comes before the passion.
Peter: (Coming beside John)
We were with him on the mountain.
We are eye witnesses of his majesty.
We heard his voice from heaven,
from the majestic glory;
the voice of God the Father, saying:
This is my son, the Beloved.
During Peter’s speech Francis, Clare and Colette have left the platform. Clare places her water bowl before the tabernacle and goes to the left of the platform boards, Colette goes to the right, Francis and John go to the space before Our Lady’s icon (on the right of our sanctuary), where at the end of his speech, Peter joins them. Mary remains with the Centurion by the picture of the cross.
Mary: On the mountain.
On this mountain
Peter wanted to build three tents:
the tabernacle of the Father’s Law,
the tabernacle of the Spirit’s prophecy
and the tabernacle of the Son’s glory.
These three tents are also my home,
places on earth where I can sing my magnificat
and worship the Trinity.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide.
This is the way of on which you travel..
This is the truth behind your pain and struggle and fear.
This is the life at the end of your journey.
A triangle of light, symbol of the Father, appears on the wall.
Peter: It is good, Lord, to be here.
Spirit dances and ascends platform.
Christus enters and ascends platform.
Tabor pose holds.
Then as Christus brings his arms up above his head, all the rest of the cast move to either side of the altar step.
The two angels run on and sweep their wings.
The music that covers this action fades slowly. John waits for it to end before he begins
John: Holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.
I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem,
come down from Heaven,
like a bride prepared for her husband.
Mary takes her place on the lower platform.
Behold the dwelling place of God
is with humankind.
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
to receive power and honour
and glory and blessing
for ever and ever.
The cast drift randomly onto the stage and fall on their knees, or bow, exclaiming (also randomly),
Most of the music used at the first performance was taken from Foure's requiem and his Ave Maria