Wednesday, April 27, 2011

“Piercing Souls and Pricking Consciences”

Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times, 27/4/11

No doubt the “first crucifixion” in Fiji (FT 23/4/11) has received both criticism and positive response from members of the Christian faith community involved and those of different denominations, perhaps even different religions.

Some may feel that the freedom to express one’s spirituality and faith is the more important issue. Others that this type of expression borders on gruesome and sacrilegious. Yet others may think that this is just another stunt by a faith which professes many good values but struggles to adhere to them.

My first thought when reading about this event was, in fact, to hope that the nails used were sterile. The last thing anyone wants when performing what they consider their religious duties is an infection.

However, what struck me was the reason that young Antonio Vusonilawa gave for allowing himself to have his hands nailed to a cross on Good Friday. Obviously the act, however incomplete or lacking (two six-inch nails instead of 3 eight-inch spikes, a severe beating, having one’s back ripped to shreds by a roman flagrum, a crown of thorns being impressed on one’s head, being stripped naked, being pierced by a spear) was one designed to not only profess a desire to understand and appreciate, in a way, what Jesus the Christ went through for the sake of humanity, but also to provoke.

I have seen some provoking re-enactments of the crucifixion by Christians, in Fiji and abroad. In Dudley Methodist Church in Suva, the practice on Good Friday for a long time was for the youth of the church to dramatise the passion of Jesus – from his betrayal to his death on the cross. Recently we moved away from this as we realised that the congregation was so used to the performance, that the youth found themselves pushing their performances to the limit to get a reaction from their audience. This went on until one occasion, when some children were so traumatised by the torture inflicted on “Jesus” that they refused to enter the church and screamed or cried whenever they saw the young people who had played the roles of soldiers and Jesus.

So we tried something different. As I mentioned in last week’s column, Dudley Circuit, during Holy Week, focused on the elements of Christ’s suffering: the wooden cross, the nails and spear, the crown of thorns, the whip and His shame as he hung naked while his seamless tunic or robe was gambled over.

In the services where I preached, members of the congregation was encouraged to hold the instruments of suffering – a (mini)cross, nails, a crown of thorns. We watched the flogging scene from the film, “The Passion of the Christ.” It was a gruesome, hard to view seven minutes and parents and guardians were advised to shield their children’s eyes from the scene, if they found it too brutal.

The themes associated with these five moments of suffering were five respective calls: the call to follow; the call to trust; the call to the Kingdom, the call to mission and the call to unity. The themes were there to remind us not just to focus on the physical suffering of Jesus but to try to reflect on the reason why Christ would be willing to go through this for you and for me. The themes also called for us to respond to this by following, trusting, seeking, serving and communing with God.

Mr. Vusonilawa is quoted as saying he wanted to “pierce the minds and hearts of Fiji’s youth and deepen their faith in God” in the hope that “they feel something special for the Lord this Easter,” (FT 23/4/11).

Part of the challenge to follow Christ is the call to take up one’s own cross, to know the cost of following Christ and to pay that cost – even if the price is one’s life. However in all of the suffering that Christians, disciples of the Anointed One, are challenged to endure -the love, the light that they are to share must never diminish with each adversity faced. In fact, Christians are called to be God’s agents of transformation in this world.

This means along with piercing hearts and minds, we must prick consciences. We must help people hear the groaning of creation, open eyes to the injustices in our world and help binding wounds and restoring souls. This is how we not only testify to the crucifixion and the death of Jesus, it is also how we bear witness to his resurrection and await his return.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love and peace.

Rev. J. S. Bhagwan is holds a Bachelor of Divinity in Ecumenical Studies (Hons) from the Pacific Theological College and is the Circuit Minister of Dudley Suva Circuit in the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessary reflect the views of the Methodist Church or this newspaper. Em

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