NORTH KINGSTOWN – For the last of the ecumenical Lenten luncheon series, the Rev. John Unsworth, of St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church, introduced something new: humor.
A heavy rain had not kept people away – as in previous weeks, 100 attended – and, after the simple meal of bread and soup was over, he stepped to the front and announced: “I’ve had disturbing news. I’m dessert.”
Reminding the assembly that each of the six participating pastors had agreed to portray a key character from Holy Week, he said he chose John, “the beloved disciple. I’m no fool. That is who I am today.”
Assuming the character who would become St. John, Father Jack said “I spent my early life close to where Jesus was born. My brother James and I were both attracted to the teachings of John the Baptist. My father was a fisherman and my brother and I were rascals. In particular, I had a wild side. We weren’t likely to become followers of the Lord, but Jesus saw something in us.”
Of Peter, James and himself, he noted: “I was the only one present at the Transfiguration and at Gethsemane. I was the only one present on the day [Christ] died.” Although the disciples could heal the sick and preach God’s word, he said, “We felt inadequate. I did enjoy writing the Gospel but that was long after the others [had written their accounts.]”
Continuing in character, Fr. Jack proclaimed, “At the crucifixion, I was privileged to stand with his mother [Mary]. It was a scandal: the other disciples were afraid to be there. Poor Peter. He had a big mouth and he denied he knew Jesus! I went. I figured if they were going to arrest and kill me, too, I would die with him.” Perhaps the most touching moment of the presentation was Fr. Jack’s description of John’s sense of love and responsibility for Mary who, as a widow without a son to provide for her, would have been turned into the streets to beg, as the culture of the time demanded.
“His mother had a big place in my heart,” he said, as John. “I stood with her to comfort, to be a presence. It was hard for Jesus to speak; he had lost blood and had a hard time breathing. He looked right at me and said, ‘Behold your mother.’ He looked at Mary and said, ‘Behold your son.’
“I knew what he meant. I took her home and cared for her.”
John said after Mary’s death, he “prayerfully wrote the Gospel about the Jesus I knew after the crucifixion.”
He also wrote the much-interpreted Book of Revelation, which, he stated, “is very misunderstood. I watched early Christians die; hundreds of thousands marched to their death rather than to give up their faith.
“Revelation was written to encourage them with the thought that Jesus would care for them.” Audience member Marjorie Smith of First Baptist Church in Wickford, said afterward, “John is my favorite and [Fr. Jack] did such a wonderful job to make him human. John was a person just like us. I’m sorry this is the end [of the series].”
Ellen Jackson of North Kingstown United Methodist Church agreed. “He made John a whole person. I don’t think I’ll ever look at Revelation the same way; now I have something to relate to.”
Noting that she is moving to a retirement community in Connecticut, Jackson said the spirit and message of the luncheons have moved her so deeply she plans to start a similar series in her new hometown.
Martha Smith is a freelance writer for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.