The King Come Into His Own

POST BY Ruth

A shepherd stands in a doorway looking at his sheep
Shepherd gate

In 1940, the renowned writer of detective fiction, Miss Dorothy L. Sayers, was approached by the BBC to produce a series of radio plays about the life of Jesus.

Knowing the mores-&-sensitivities about the portrayal of Jesus in any form of drama – at that time there was a theatrical ban on the portrayal of any member of the Trinity on the British stage - she replied that she would only take-on the project, if:

  1. She was allowed to introduce Jesus as a normal, speaking character within the plays.
  2. The plays must be realistic and not a pious interaction of characters painted onto a tableaux of Gospel stories.
  3. The plays must be in modern speech and not be a vehicle for elderly Bible phraseology.

The BBC responded saying that these conditions were not only acceptable, but were exactly what they wanted.

Sayers, a practicing High-Church Anglican, threw herself into the project and the commission, “The Man Born to be King” was begun.

From the start they caused a sensation, provoking wild accusations and much righteous indignation from ‘concerned citizens’ (letters to The Times, questions in Parliament etc...) about the blasphemy which was about to be unleashed on the unsuspecting British public – and, of course, that was before anyone had heard anything.

The drama of the road leading up to the broadcasts is worth a book in itself, but in its final form, the work emerged as 12 sixty-minutes plays, which were broadcast live from December 1941 to October 1942, and they became required listening for the nation in those early years of the Second World War.

Needless to say, they became instant classics, and their influence (consciously or unconsciously) can still be detected in the ripples down through most of the plays and films about Jesus since that time – “King of Kings” and “Jesus of Nazareth” being just two which draw directly on Sayers ground-breaking insights.

Sayers views the Gospel story through a dramatist’s eye and she saw the opportunities and challenges that radio brought, and in her final play, “The King Comes To His Own”, she tackles the Resurrection.

In her pre-production notes to the play’s Producer, Sayers articulates the unique difficulty which, more than any of the preceding eleven plays, he will find in this drama.

“The problem here has been to present, in one way or another, no fewer than nine supernatural appearances, without tedious  repetition and without suggesting either ‘Surrey Melodrama’ or the more lily-livered kind of Easter card.”

She succeeds wonderfully. Through careful crafting and dextrous weave, she creates a sound portrait of the Resurrected Jesus (at first he is quite concrete and homely, gradually becoming somewhat distant and withdrawn as the Ascension approaches), and shows the development of the followers from confused disciples of Easter Sunday to confident apostles of the Risen Lord.

In commenting on the complex sound-effects needed to carry the twelfth play, Sayers observes “Otherwise, the only point to note is that this play contains a good deal about doors and knockings-at-doors.” And then, in an almost throwaway line, she adds:

“It is, in fact, a play about the door between two worlds.”

This is a profound truth. The Resurrection is not only an historic occurrence with radical consequences for one man, but in the person of the Risen Christ we are all challenged by the glimpse of a different world. Christ becomes a door, opening to a world beyond our senses in time and space, flagging up that the Creator God is vividly alive and wanting to take our focus from the death and impermanence of the world in which we live, and draw us unto the world where Love which has no boundaries.

He is Risen from the dead: let us praise the Lord!

Dermot Preston SJ

(And if you’d like to check-out the finished article... all 12 plays are available for free at http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/The+Man+Born+To+Be+King/6153293)