There's nothing too unusual about one person plays but yesterday in my local church, Histon Baptist, it was highly unusual. Why? Not because it was held in our worship space, nor that the actor Lloyd Notice was a professional with impressive credentials. Nor because props were minimal with white sheets forming three walls with a mattress, chair, table, glass. It was surprising to have a camera blinking continuously into the stage area but then the stage represented a bare cell with the actor inside as a hostage victim, spied on by his captors. But what really took our breath away was the way that the actor (inspired by Terry Waite who in captivity helped retain sanity by reciting Scriptures he had memorized) recited much of Mark's gospel with such sensitivity and power.
In a context of menace, with disturbing music and sound effects of fellow prisoners and guards, Lloyd scratched his head as though pushing himself to recall word-for-word the story of Jesus. Fear was palpable but so was the reality of his story-telling. His expression held us rapt. You really felt his joy as he retold stories of Jesus healing - his rejoicing, jumping up and down with laughter and dazzling smile connected so powerfully. Especially because he was in a prison cell!
And you really entered the pathos. For me, his breaking down at the death of John the Baptist tore the heart, as when we told of the betrayal and cruel suffering of Jesus. Someone said to me today that they couldn't get out of their minds his miming of the pressing down of the crown of thorns on his head. And what sheer wonder there was at the transfiguration and resurrection. Actions, silences (oh how significant!) with familiar words told as story left us all in a spirit of worship.
And telling as story was key. He told the story as a joined up narrative. He gave us a flavour of how the first disciples (with high contemporary oral memory) told out the story of Jesus for the three decades before Mark's gospel was written.
Did he recite every verse? No. He edited out whole chapters like 10,11 and 12....and he needed to. The first chapter took such a long time I confess that I was calculating how long sixteen chapters would take. But the necessary choices he made held the story together with integrity. And, yes, for those who ask technical questions, he used the longer ending of Mark!
It remains the greatest story ever told because it is about the Lord of life for today and tomorrow. I was so grateful to hear it like this!