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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“The Night Has Come” (church play: Village Seven Presbyterian Church)

A Good Friday soliloquium
Village Seven Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs, CO
April 12, 1974

This soliloquium is based on the Scriptures and it was written by Christians–who acknowledge their talents as God-given. Because they have freely received, they also freely give, and have made this work available to any person or group interested in using it, with the only stipulation being that it must be performed to the glory of God.

Authors:
Nancy Hoff
Robert Case II
Director:
Lori Arnold
Village Seven Presbyterian Church

Welcome to “The night has come” – a dramatic recreation of the death of Jesus Christ. The historical time of the presentation is the day of the crucifixion of Christ. The setting is Jerusalem. The people involved are seven: Caiaphas, the High Priest of the Jewish Supreme Court–the Sanhedrin; Pilate the Roman governor of Palestine; Mary of Bethany; Peter the Apostle; a Roman army commander; Mary the mother of Jesus; and Claudia, Pilate’s wife. The event is the death of the. prophet called Jesus, the one who claimed to be Jehovah God.

The perspective of the presentation is that of the participants. That is to say, they had to take one day at a time and we are transporting ourselves back to that time to put ourselves in their place. Our attempt then is to see the crucifixion of Christ without seeing the resurrection. The resurrection comes day after tomorrow on Easter Sunday. But now there is only death and despair. Try to feel what these seven people must have felt on that day.

You parents should explain the presentation’s purpose to your young children (if they’re with you tonight) so they won’t misunderstand. You will find the credits for the program in the Village Seven Presbyterian Church Easter Festival guide-book. Copies of the script can be picked up at the doors at the end of the program.

One final word: To fully participate in and understand the feelings of despair and sadness of the day, when the presentation is over and the lights are turned up a bit, please leave the sanctuary without talking or any fellowship. We-are asking this to enable you to feel the impact of the loneliness and isolation which the followers of Jesus felt on that day. We are also asking this because there was no joy, no fellowship, and no hope on this day some 2000 years ago…

MARY

Word has come from Jerusalem that Jesus has died!

I can still remember Jesus as I Saw Him here in our home one evening. Sitting there (gesture). I was sitting at His feet–there (she gestures). I learned more of God that one evening than I had in all my life before. How precious was that time with Him! I deserved correction for not helping my sister, Martha, prepare our home for this guest of high honor–she was right to expect my assistance. But to leave Him then–for anything–it was not possible. In all the time I knew Him, Jesus never wasted words, and that evening was no exception. He spoke to me of His Father, and the Kingdom of Heaven, and the resurrection of the dead. “Only one thing is necessary,” He said. How alive that one thing had become to me through His teaching. It was He, Jesus that was necessary for my life!

My brother, Lazarus, is living proof of that. Who else has been in the tomb four days and is now alive to tell of it? Jesus called him forth from death–ah, my mighty Jesus. Many Jews came to believe after that. But some others went straight to the Pharisees to tell them the things Jesus had done. Their hearts were so hardened that they could not see that Jesus was indeed the Son of the Living God, and that it was by God’s power that He raised Lazarus from the dead. Instead, the chief priests and Pharisees began on that very day to plot against our Messiah, thinking Him to be a threat to our Jewish nation.

Had we been right to call on Him to help Lazarus? Or had our selfish love for our brother been the ruin of our Christ?! We saw Jesus again a week later. He and his disciples were with us. Since the day my brother came out of his grave, I had made up my mind to honor Jesus in some very special way. The anointing oil was worth a whole year’s wage–yet worthy only of cleaning Jesus’ feet. I dried those feet with my hair as I listened to the teacher defend what I had done. He also said something about His burial and for the first time I had to consider that death was a possibility for Him. In fact He Himself said He would not always be with us. But how could He possibly be taken from us? He had raised Lazarus from death . . . surely He could save Himself from death.

The next day, He entered Jerusalem to be met by a throng of excited Jews, who were curious to see the one who had raised brother Lazarus from the dead. The thought of our Lord dying was even more remote to me than before.

And now this word that Jesus has been killed! How can this be? Oh, Most High God…be merciful to me and grant my heart peace! Why did Jesus die? What power was it in Him that saved Lazarus but could not save Himself? He said that He raised my brother so that the people would believe.

But there were those who didn’t believe and it is because of their hateful plotting that the Christ is dead. And I sent for Him to help Lazarus. How can I bear this blame?

Holy and perfect Jehovah–hear my plea. Forgive my selfishness!

It was I who caused His death–I who turned the priests and Pharisees against Him! Oh, the awful burden–free me, my God.

PONTIUS PILATE

(Angry, arrogant, a politician) I am Pontius Pilate!

I act with the authority of Herod–why of Caesar himself! Am I to be intimidated by some woman’s dream? By some strange, pensive Galilean? Foolishness! How dare you send a messenger to interrupt my court! “Your wife sends this message: ‘Leave that good man alone; for I had a terrible nightmare concerning Him last night.’ Preposterous!! Would you have the entire court to think I take my counsel from my wife? The man was on trial for a crime. I need no dream to help me judge his guilt. I know the laws of Caesar, by which laws this man Jesus was innocent. And I’d have gladly set him free. But that’s not what the crowd wanted.

As long as I live, I will not understand these Jews. It’s as if they are set against me regardless of the cost to themselves. Here is an innocent man–one of their own–and they are offering Him up to be killed over some petty issue which neither they nor ‘I understand. They used me to torture this Jesus for them. They had the authority to kill Him themselves, but not to crucify Him. According to Roman law, only I have that authority. So they were forced to bring charges against Him that showed he had violated a Roman law. I saw their cunning deceptions as they labored to twist each word. At times I felt this Jesus and I might win out over Caiaphas and his murderous throng, but at last Caiaphas leveled the most deadly of all his charges at Jesus: ‘He claims to be the King of the Jews and anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.’ They had charged Him with treason-But I could not ignore a charge as serious as that.

The riot was already developing. The Jewish leaders were running about, stirring the crowds. (Seems to me, if their God were all they claimed He is, they could spend a lot less time doing everything for Him.) To keep the crowds from rioting–that was clearly my first responsibility. Whether this Jesus was innocent or not was secondary. Yet even that I was able to handle with justice. I gave the crowds the chance to turn Him free, but they called instead for Barabbas. I had Jesus scourged, thinking that might satisfy the blood-thirsty bunch. But not even that would quiet them. I asked them, ‘What then should I do with this Jesus?’ and they chanted, ‘Crucify Him!’ In a last effort to turn away their persistence, I washed my hands of any responsibility for his death to which they called back, ‘His blood be on us and our children!’

Now I ask you; is that the cry of people who recognize their king? As innocent as He was, He surely was no king of theirs or of yours! (As if talking to his wife.) Whatever feelings you have about this Jesus, aren’t they just reactions to a woman’s dream? How can we compare them with a man’s knowledge? Especially a man in my position! The truth of this whole matter is this: Jesus is innocent. But He was a threat to the power of these Jewish leaders and they wanted to be rid of him. And I was the only one with the power to carry out their plans, so the entire chaotic mess fell to me.

So, due to the jealousy of Caiaphas, Jesus died. (Quiet hatred) It angers me more than you know to be manipulated by that hypocrite! If only they’d asked me to crucify Caiaphas– what pleasure I’d take in that! But this Jesus was so unlike the other Jews. His presence was most unnerving, his eyes most piercing. (pause) One couldn’t help but be drawn to Him. My position as governor seemed never to impress Him — He had no fear of me or the powers I represented. In fact, He told me once that my authority had been given me by His father! What a strange point of view for a man whose life I held in my hand. (nervousness increases) My soldiers beat and mocked him; His own people called for his death, and if He had any friends they were no where to be seen. Here was a man all alone. His total isolation from all the rest of mankind– that alone was enough to cause me to take pity on Him. He said so little–never inclined to argument or rebuttal. But when He did speak, His words were full of wisdom. I think He could have easily outwitted Caiaphas and saved Himself. But it was as if He had willed the whole matter, on Himself. As if He had set Himself to do this one last thing, confident He had the strength it would take to endure it.

I guess I actually grew to respect this Jesus, even though He had a different approach to life than I have. But the price He paid for it was too high! No source of peace and strength is worth the humiliation he endured. If it were offered to me at that price, I’d refuse it. My life is too precious to me, my honor too sacred, my goals too noble to give them up in order to gain anything as intangible as the countenance Jesus displayed. No–to hang on a cross as He did is too great a price to pay.

The night is coming. It is nearly the Jewish Sabbath and the bodies of those crucified must be taken down and buried before the Sabbath begins. Soon this Jesus of Nazareth will be out of my life forever. A certain Joseph of Aramathea came to ask permission to give Jesus a proper burial in his hillside tomb, rather than the usual pit burial for criminals required by Jewish law. It was little compensation after all they had put Him through, so I granted the man permission. It did give me a kind of minor victory in my personal war with Caiaphas–a sort of last word that I still found Jesus to be innocent. That, although they had killed Him as a criminal, they would not bury Him as one.

That statement of my verdict would remain forever: Jesus was to be entombed–he was not a criminal. Yes, that and the sign I had my soldiers nail above Him on the cross: “This is the King of the Jews.”

Let that be my triumph over Caiaphas. I have written what I have written.

A Roman Soldier at the Crucifixion

(Perched on a stool, sitting very still, holding the seamless garment).

What have I done? (fear, remorse) I feel a guilt, a kind of wrongness, but I don’t know… (clearing his thoughts, he’s thinking back)… What have I done?

I am what every small boy wants to be–a commander in the mighty army of Rome–under the great Caesar. I’ve sworn him my allegiance. I’ve been true to that allegiance–til now (he’s confused, groping). And now I feel…a…violation of that allegiance. (Half-hearted answer to his problem?). Then that must be it–that’s why I feel guilty. That’s why I sense this wrongness. My allegiance to Caesar has been violated. Yes, yes, of course. (half believing, wishing to settle it).

After all, I was assigned the task of arresting and crucifying Jesus of Nazareth. I was under orders. So I carried out my duties–and well. But while my body and my voice was serving Caesar, my heart… (He raises the garment to look at it) my heart was not the heart of a Roman commander. Violence is a way of life for me. Scourgings, floggings, beatings, battles in which hundreds die. I’ve seen the worst there is to see. I’ve been awarded for by bravery and zeal in conquest. (Pause) I’ve seen most men die from the scourging this Jesus survived. I’ve heard them scream for pardon after only one stroke of the leaded whip. But not this Jesus. (He feels awe) As each stroke hit his back to leave its rut of raw flesh, I expected him to die . . . at least to cry out . . . to fain away, perhaps. But this strange man was mute. He was more than strong, more than brave–more than I could have been in his place.

(another half-hearted attempt to explain his guilt). So… therein lays my guilt, then. That that simple teacher from Nazareth was braver and stronger than I. Yes, yes, of course.

They called him King of the Jews. Absurd! What king would have allowed himself to be mocked so?! My men draped him in king’s robes. And as f it were not enough to mock him, they pressed a crown of thorns deeply into his brow, til the flesh broke open to spill His blood over His face. And still he was mute.

How could a man endure what he endured? But then, he claimed to be more than a man. He claimed to be the Son of the God of the Jews. Wouldn’t the Son of this God have saved himself? We called to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” He refused. We offered him hyssop to dull his pain. He refused. He watched us as we mocked him. And he asked his God to forgive us! (an unbelievable thought)

I have seen many crucifixions. But this time, for the first time, I began to see the horror of death on the cross. The blunt wooden nails were forced through His hands and feet. Then the weight of His limp body suspended from those mutilated hands, resting on those nearly dismembered feet. The slow death by suffocation, His chest stretched to such an angle that it barely worked to bring air into His lungs. There He hung, naked and suffering in front of everyone.

We made a game of dividing his clothes among ourselves. Even before He was dead. The seamless robe fell to me. I snatched it up, reveling in my good fortune.

Then the night came. It was midday but the light from the sun was gone. For three hours we remained in darkness. The earth trembling beneath us. Fear struck at my heart! I waited helplessly to be delivered from this fury of nature. I hung powerless between life and death while rocks and hillside were shaken apart. My soldiers clung to one another in fear.

My eyes were drawn up to the middle cross. The one on which Jesus hung. His pierced feet red with his blood. His legs trembling from cold and weakness. His chest heaving, laboring for breath…

Had I done this? Had my own tongue given orders that led to this (pause) murder, this sacrifice of human life? And in that moment my heart began to respond to the finality of death–to the fragile commodity of life that I had for so many years persecuted and destroyed. I saw before me the battlefields. Dismembered bodies which had once been as strong and whole as mine, cut down in a moment.

I heard the cries and pleas for death from those in death-like pain. I smelled the stench of death and defeat. I was sickened to my soul.

Again my eyes were drawn up to Jesus. His face was a contortion of suffering. Never before have I seen so much agony in one man’s face. And I knew as if by instinct that it was not merely physical torture he was bearing then. It was a deeper agony … like a father’s anguish at the death of his children.

There was a heaviness about me I could not escape. Over and over again the word “guilt” whirled in my head.

How it persisted! Guilty! Guilty! Am I now guilty? That’s when this sense of wrongness, of guilt began. Had I been on trial? Had I been found guilty? Was I also sentenced to die? Can the God of the Jews save me from this? Is there any pardon for me?

Again my eyes were drawn up to Jesus. While his body was death itself, his face…in a moment his face became radiant with life and hope. He strained his neck as if to hear the heavens. His eyes held a divine peace! I heard Him cry out, “Father, I commit my spirit to you.” What could this man know that could give him peace in dying?! Never have I seen a death like this man’s. No desperation, no clutching, no pleading to the last. Could it be possible? Could I have read victory in His eyes?

Victory over death?

(He regains his composure) I am holding the robe but I have crucified the man. The outer part is mine to keep–fate has cast it to me. The man who walked within it I can never know, for I have killed Him. Surely this was not the Son of God… .(doubtfully)

MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS

(Veiled head, head slightly bowed, Mary begins to speak) Jesus, Jesus, my first-born son! How is it that You must suffer such a terrible death? You lived with only one purpose–to do the will of Your Father in Heaven. And yet You are crucified as are the common criminals near You. You were a good and faithful son to me. Ah! How I have loved You, Jesus, my son.

(Raises head, speaks softly, reverently) My God, I still do not know why you chose me, a humble woman, to bear your Holy Son. But I do not question your ways now, even as I did not question them at your Son’s birth. I have tried to serve You faithfully, all my days. You entrusted your Son to my care, to raise and to rear Him for your divine service. This I did faithfully, to the best of my ability so long as He was under my care.

Even when Jesus was an infant I had a premonition of this grief I am now suffering. When Joseph and I took our little Jesus to the Temple to present Him to You and make our offering, the devout priest Simeon prophesied that we would have great sorrow because of what would happen to Him. But, God, I did-not fear–I believed that Your will would be done.

(Raising her eyes to imaginary cross) (Speaks despairingly, voice breaking)
But, oh, my son, to be humiliated like this before the people among whom you lived.
(Pause, deep breath)

Jesus, my son, I have been so proud of You! Although I did not fully realize your greatness, nor always understand how You would fulfill your mission for your heavenly Father, I have completely believed in You. Even when as a young boy You preached in the Temple, and amazed the learned ones as well as I, your mother, I knew You were spearing the truth. And I kept all these things in my heart.

My beloved son, why were You taken from the world so soon? Surely You could have given the people even more understanding of Jehovah.

(Pausing, reflection)

Ah, but would the people have listened to more from You?

(Pause)

Jesus, I now realize that I have held two positions in Your life. The first, as your mother, is most suited to me and even now causes me an almost unbearable grief. (Voice breaks) But, my son, trying as hard as I may to overcome my grief as a mother, to see our God’s purpose in this tragedy, I know myself to be your follower, as well.

Many times your brothers and I tried to deter You from actions we thought unwise or dangerous for You. But You showed us that the spiritual bond between Yourself and Your disciples was always more important than any human tie could ever be. Your brothers often doubted You, my son. But I was always convinced of your uniqueness. (Pause) My son, how can I bear to see your suffering now! May the God of our fathers strengthen me in my despair! I have not lost my faith in our God, but it is hard for me to understand how Immanuel, meaning ‘.’God with us,” can be taken from me by the Roman soldiers.

(Head upwards entreatingly) My God, give me strength to endure and accept this tragic death of my son and my Lord. Let your divine purpose overcome a mother’s unbearable grief!

CAIAPHUS
(officiously)

Fellow Jews!

Regard! (sweeping gesture toward imaginary cross)

There hangs the man Jesus, who proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God. Hah! Blasphemer! You had little faith in my ability to bring judgment upon this man. Doubters! Do you not know I am a man of my word? After all, who is more honorable than I, Caiaphas, the High Priest!

(arrogantly) Did I not advise the nation of the Jews of the expediency that one man should die on behalf of the people? When it was first reported to me that this man was traveling among our people, teaching them His so-called “word of God,” performing much magic, proclaiming Himself as the Son of Jehovah and other unspeakable blasphemies, you were fearful.

You were gullible enough to accept the possibility that many would believe in Him and that the Romans, in fear of revolution, would come and deprive us of our high positions, our homes, our nation! Fools! Why did you not listen to me, trust me? Have I ever failed you? I told you that one man would die so that our whole nation would not perish–and behold, there is that man. Jesus, “King of the Jews!” (contemptuous laugh)

Chief priests, Scribes, and Elders, we have triumphed over this blasphemer to our faith! We never had a thing to fear from this man. He has come to an end, just as other false teachers and their followers did before Him and as others will after Him. I told you He was no different from these other men.

Rabble rouser: all of them. (grumblingly) The Son of Man indeed! You see! Jesus’ followers have run off to save their own necks! They can¬not have had so much faith in Him as they professed, else they all would have stood by Him to the end, even at the risk of their own lives! Hah! Jesus should have used better judgment in choosing his little army of followers. Why, it was reported to me that only one brave fool tried to defend Him with a sword against one of my soldiers. No knowledge of weapons or self-defense.

(shakes head in a “tsk tsk” gesture)

Misguided fools!

(Nervous, high pitched laughter)

(Begins to speak a bit softer, losing just a little bravado) You see. I told you this man and His followers were no real threat. (sounds a little unsure).

(Louder) Even so, it would be well to maintain the guard over Him. This deceiver said, “After three days I am to rise again.” More blasphemy! Surely He did not think He could make us believe He was the One who would actually rise from the dead! (high-pitched laughter) No man fools Caiaphas!

(Louder, as if issuing an order) Secure the guard at His grave! Not one of Jesus’ relatives, friends, or followers shall have a chance to steal His body. We shall not allow them to do anything that will appear to the people as His final miracle. Jesus has performed too many tricks already. We shall destroy what influence He has over our people!

(Looking up at the sky) It grows dark, and yet it is still so early in the day. No clouds. Hmmm…
It is just as well. I have wasted too much time on this Jesus! Must return to the Temple shortly. There has been a report that the veil covering the Holy of Holies was suddenly torn in two this afternoon. Very curious! Someone will be held responsible for this vandalism!

No doubt some of this Carpenter’s rabble. I must get that veil mended right away. It simply will not do to let the people think they can have easy access to our God!

I don’t know why I’ve wasted so much time today on this man, Jesus. (talking to himself). After all, His death is not my concern. Responsibility for that surely rests with Pontius Pilate. (sniggering laugh).

(Softer, somewhat worried). It really is quite dark now, and there is a chill in the air. No matter! I shall return at once to my rooms in the Temple. A bright, warm fire will await me there.

(Exits slowly).

PETER

He called me Peter, the rock – the strong one. I took my courage from that name. But now I realize what Jesus really meant. I am not the rock. I have no strength on my own. It was my confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God – that was the rock. The same rock Isaiah foretold 600 years ago – “a choice stone, a precious cornerstone” that is the rock of the household of God.

It has taken me all this time with Jesus to see this truth. Thinking I was the rock made it easy for me to be so confident. But Jesus knew me. He said, “Oh, man of little faith.” That was a better de¬scription of me. I was never the rock to Jesus. I was so deceived that He had to rebuke me for not understanding how He would be murdered in Jerusalem. How confused I was! The Lord on the other hand chastened me, and only six days later permitted me to go with Him to a high moun¬tain where we saw Moses and Elijah and heard the voice of Jehovah.

(pause)

I should have seen even then how often I needed to be forgiven by the Lord, but my ego always interfered. In my arrogance, I did not want to forgive my brother. Again the Lord gently taught me, No, forgive him 70 times 7.

It seems I always showed my true character by my stupid, impulsive questions. “How forgiving should I be” or “What do we get out of following you?” And by my arrogant boastings such as, “Even though everyone else deserts You, Lord, I’ll never desert You” and, “Even if I’m threatened with death, I’ll never deny You.” And before I knew it, I was in the Temple courtyard denying Him not only once, but three times!

Others said He was Elijah or another great prophet. I loudly proclaimed Him as King. I confessed Him boldly. How brave I became in the security of the other believers! And as soon as I was challenged, my courage failed me.

He took us to the Garden to pray with Him. Again He chose me from among the others, and asked me only to keep watch with Him and pray. I couldn’t be obedient for even one hour! Three times He had to awaken me. Little did I know this was the beginning of the end.

Then they came, a crowd with swords and clubs led by Judas (with violent hatred). Oh, curse him! He led them to the Christ. I wanted to fight the Roman soldiers, but instead I injured a fellow Jew–a mere servant, at that!

They had no right to take Him away! How could He go so willingly? Didn’t He have an obligation to stay with us? He had the power to escape, and yet, He didn’t resist. He told us He would leave us but I didn’t think it would be that soon. (Pause) They took Him away….

I followed Him at a distance as they led Him to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. I watched as they twisted the Law to accuse Him. Then began to realize they would do the same to convict Jesus’ followers. They were spitting on Him, slapping Him around, and as I watched, the fear in me grew and grew. Then came those questions. Three chances to prove that I was the rock, and I denied Him all three times! My boasting words came back to me. (Pause) I wept bitterly.

So., here I am with James and John and the rest of the Lord’s followers. What do we do now? The man who taught us and led us is dead and we are without direction and hope. (Pause)

I wonder if I can escape to Asia Minor….

I’m on my own. Jesus didn’t have time to forgive me for my last blunder.

(Fairly long pause).

If only I could see Him again!

SILENCE

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