Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday In "The Man Born to be King"

Dorothy L. Sayers' radio drama The Man Born to be King depicts the drama of Holy Saturday, that day of mourning and wondering as a day of activity and action for Jesus' female disciples. The men have nothing to do. Her notes for the production of the episode after the crucifixion emphasize this:

Note that, for the WOMEN, there is, on an occasion such as this, the consolation of being able to act. The male disciples are lethargic because they have come to a dead end; the women can occupy themselves with funeral details, and get a certain mournful satisfaction out of them. The bustle of preparing spices, of collecting towels and basins, of the early morning excursion--the contemplation of fine grave-clothes, a rich casket, a beautiful tomb--it all soothes and braces them. At births and deaths, women come into their own and can do something, while the men can only sit about helplessly. Melancholy as it all is, the women are on top--it is their adventure.

Sayers wanted to depict the Church's teaching about Jesus Christ, the dogma of the Incarnation, the Gospel, the Passion, Death and Resurrection through drama so that it would have an impact on people. She thought that hearing the human voices of actors portraying Jesus, Pilate, Mary and Mary Magdalen, Judas and John, would make the story compelling again. How can this story not be compelling? Particularly the story of the Passion, Death and Resurrection?

Blessed John Henry Newman, in a sermon I've posted before, noted that Christians in his day read the story of the Passion without realizing what it meant to them; they were detached and not involved--they did not feel anything:

Unless we have a true love of Christ, we are not His true disciples; and we cannot love Him unless we have heartfelt gratitude to Him; and we cannot duly feel gratitude, unless we feel keenly what He suffered for us. I say it seems to us impossible, under the circumstances of the case, that any one can have attained to the love of Christ, who feels no distress, no misery, at the thought of His bitter pains, and no self-reproach at having through his own sins had a share in causing them.

I know quite well, and wish you, my brethren, never to forget, that feeling is not enough; that it is not enough merely to feel and nothing more; that to feel grief for Christ's sufferings, and yet not to go on to obey him, is not true love, but a mockery. True love both feels right, and acts right; but at the same time as warm feelings without religious conduct are a kind of hypocrisy, so, on the other hand, right conduct, when unattended with deep feelings, is at best a very imperfect sort of religion. And at this time of year especially are we called upon to raise our hearts to Christ, and to have keen feelings and piercing thoughts of sorrow and shame, of compunction and of gratitude, of love and tender affection and horror and anguish, at the review of those awful sufferings whereby our salvation has been purchased.

Let us pray God to give us all graces; and while, in the first place, we pray that He would make us holy, really holy, let us also pray Him to give us the beauty of holiness, which consists in tender and eager affection towards our Lord and Saviour: which is, in the case of the Christian, what beauty of person is to the outward man, so that through God's mercy our souls may have, not strength and health only, but a sort of bloom and comeliness; and that as we grow older in body, we may, year by year, grow more youthful in spirit.

Sayers and Newman agree, as Gilbert Meilaender offers evidence in an article for Touchstone Magazine, recommending her plays on the Passion for Holy Week reading, just as C.S. Lewis did:

"God was executed," she writes, "by people painfully like us, in a society very similar to our own—in the over-ripeness of the most splendid and sophisticated Empire the world has ever seen." In her hands, "the greatest drama in history" regains the sting we sometimes, with the best of intentions, take out of it. Hers is the story of a man, but a man born to be king, and she will not allow us to "hear that story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all." Lent is surely the right time for such a reminder.

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