Journey with Jesus in Sydney this Easter
An outdoor presentation of the story of Jesus that causes Sydney’s streets to be closed is a testament to the importance still placed on the real meaning of Easter. Taking over the centre of Sydney’s CBD at Easter, Wesley Mission’s performance of The Journey to the Cross draws inspiration from several sources. From its origins at Turramurra Uniting Church, it has been developed to reach out to the community with the story that shapes Christian faith.
David Cornford, the producer of Wesley Mission’s passion play, reflects on the contemporary nature of this outdoor presentation while pointing out that “this is an ancient story that every generation has to be reminded about and that not everybody connects with the story in the same way.”
“Every generation has an opportunity to retell the story in its own way while connecting back to the original story,” describes David of the contemporary nature of the performance. “Being able to kind of understand the story in our current context is really important. There are not many more important stories than that of the life of Jesus.
“For the people who understand and grab hold of the story of Jesus, it is a life-giving and transforming story that changes the way that they live, treat people and the way they see the future path of their lives.
“For others, it’s probably a curiosity, something quaint from the past that is hard to understand what it means. It’s an amazing transformative story that not everyone has had the chance to understand fully yet.”
The performance of the Passion play has a few points of inspiration, from the Canadian film Jesus of Montreal (released in 1989 and directed by Denys Arcand) to a major Passion production put on in Manchester, UK, in 2006.
Meeting Jesus now
“For the team that works on the Wesley Mission Passion, we have arrived at what the most important thing for us is: that people meet Jesus,” explains David.
“What’s the most important thing that we want to share with the people of Sydney? Jesus stood with the poor, depressed, the lonely, the widowed. He didn’t stand with the powerful and I think that’s an important thing for us as rich and powerful people in Sydney to understand. And then to say that if Jesus stands with the alien, the refugee and the widow, then we should as well. We want this message to come across as against the historical story we are using as context.
“That’s a little bit controversial in a way, but the objective is still the same. We want people to meet Jesus and become a disciple.”
“A signature event on Sydney’s Easter calendar, drawing widespread coverage…” Wesley Mission Superintendent Rev. Keith Garner
Before the production took centre stage in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD in 2014, David had honed the production at his local Uniting Church at Turramurra for 14 years (as part of their outreach to the community during Easter).
Wesley Mission were interested in mounting such a production and attended one of the performances at Turramurra and began the conversation to move the production to what has become an international stage.
“The Martin Place performance and crucifixion procession has become a signature event on Sydney’s Easter calendar, drawing widespread coverage from media in Australia and throughout the world,” says Superintendent of Wesley Mission, Rev. Keith Garner. “Apart from all major Australian print, radio and TV news media, the event also attracts international photographers and reporters from news agencies such as UPI, Reuters, and Associated Press who send their photos and stories worldwide.”
This contemporary retelling of the story of Christ is designed to draw people into the story and locate it in the present day consciousness of the audience. As David Cornford says of the performance: “Jesus certainly didn’t walk the streets of Sydney when he was alive, but he walked the streets of somewhere and these events happened.”
“We want people to see themselves in the story and identify with the characters. It makes people ask ‘What if I were there?’ It draws them into the story and helps them process it. It helps people understand the impact Jesus had on those he knew and knew him.
Music is an important part of the performance, and not church music or hymns as you would expect. The performance uses Australian music to contemporise the story in a way that art and music can. It gives people a unique entry into the story, through different interpretation.
“Some people come to see a lively, contemporary piece of street theatre, but some people come in to the city on Good Friday because they want to walk behind the cross,” explains David. “They see that as an act of identification and remembrance. When you have about 500 people walking up the streets that have been closed, it draws attention to it.”
Ironically, even though the performance contemporises the story of Jesus, it isn’t any less relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. Rev. Garner notes: “Jesus carrying his cross is a bold but solemn interruption to a city pre-occupied with wealth, power and status.”
“The office towers, banks and shops fall silent to the hushed whispers of tourists and holidaymakers who ask, ‘Who is this man?’” says Rev. Garner.
“It is a message that speaks into the lives of Australians who long to know they are loved and that there is a bigger story into which they fit,” says Rev. Garner.
“This is especially important given that our nation, culture and political leaders struggle to provide a narrative amidst the immediacy and impulsiveness of new technology and the emulation of shallow self-adulation.”
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