This weekend, most of the UK celebrated the resurrection of Christ by hiding chocolate eggs in their gardens. Because, for a great deal of the population, that's what Easter Sunday is now: sweets, novelty bunny ears and a decent excuse to solo six bottles of wine because they know they'll have the following Monday off work.
However, there are some people out there trying to keep the true spirit of Easter alive – the true spirit of Easter being a man having his hands and feet nailed to a cross, being left in a cave for a few days and then somehow getting out of that cave to appear mystically in front of people who believe him to be the son of God.
To pay homage, a bunch of devout Christians in Croydon spent Good Friday reenacting the crucifixion of Christ with some local volunteers. They were planning to meet in front of three different churches, so I picked one and turned up at 10AM.
The average age of attendees was somewhere around 89. As I'd assumed, I had nothing in common with any of them, but we did manage to fill that classic pre-crucifixion purgatory period with small talk about the weather and how the pleats on everyone's trousers were perfect.
After about five minutes of this I heard cheering, and there he was, decked out in some sturdy orthopaedic sandals, the iconic white muumuu, a bit of fake blood, a crown of thorns and a massive wooden cross: our saviour and redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Bald and clean-shaven, he looked nothing like the Son of God you see in the magazines, but a healthy dose of imagination has always been important when it comes to stuff like people literally coming back to life after bleeding out from their extremities.
A woman named Celia, who seemed to be in a very proselytising-y mood, told me, "He died for the whole world, you know, and that's a ransom he paid for us – to be free from the devil, from evil, from wrongdoings, or something like that. He took all our sins, our sicknesses and everything to the cross so that we can be free.
"Being a Christian, that's my belief: that he died for me, for my sins. So we have to go with him to the cross and witness the suffering that he suffered for us, the human race. Christ died for us and, mind you, three days later, that will be Sunday. He will rise up – you know, resurrect – and will be free. Then we rejoice that he didn't die in vain. He died because of our sins, and now God has raised him, so that's what we are celebrating."
Croydon's Christ began dragging the cross down the road and through the traffic lights. And so it began: the Christians and I started to follow, disciples of this weird am-dram spectacle. As we marched spectators shot us questioning looks, laughed or took pictures. Jesus did a great job of staying character for all the onlookers, groaning and grimacing as he dragged the cross.
When we finally reached the town centre they took Jesus down a back alley and told us to walk towards a stage. As we waited for the crucifixion to start I was handed a hymn sheet. The choir started singing and everyone else joined in.
It was around this point that I met Gary, who told me he's been going to the reenactments for 20 years. "It's good – we want to remember Jesus' crucifixion and his passion and what it symbolises of his love for us," he said. "He was prepared to sacrifice himself to redeem mankind. We hope that having this walk down through central Croydon will make at least a few people aware of the fact that it is a very special day today for Christians.
"It's not just today; it's yesterday, today – Good Friday – then Easter Sunday, because it's the whole narrative of Jesus offering himself through his apostles on Thursday, then his agony, then his death on Good Friday and then his resurrection on Sunday. If he'd just died and hadn't risen again, then it would have lost its significance. His death would have been like the death of any other person.
"My experience over the years has been that a lot of people just get on with what they're doing [while this is happening]. They're coming here to shop, but quite a lot of people stop and watch. Sometimes they'll take a leaflet and read it, but I can't say I've ever met anybody subsequently who said, 'That brought me to Christianity.'
"I think society is becoming more secular, and I think that means that people who count themselves as Christians are much more committed."
After a few hymns the crucifixion itself began. However, a miracle occurred – a different Jesus appeared. This one had hair and was wearing one of those microphones that make you look like you've got a huge mole on your face. If that wasn't enough, the fact that he then started singing (actually really well) made the whole scene feel more like a massively overblown West End audition than a religious tribute.
The actors playing the soldiers who crucified him got on with it straight away, mock-punching holes in his hands and feet. Bright red fake blood splattered underneath him. The mood turned sombre as fake Jesus wept in pain.
A woman called Roberta told me, "I'm here because it's Good Friday and it's a very significant day that we remember in the Christian calendar. I believe it's a true event and I think it's good for people to be aware of that, and I do believe that Jesus died to make a way for us to have eternal life in heaven."
As the crucifixion came to an end a path was cleared down the high street, past Lush and Sports Direct. Croydon Christ was carried along it, playing dead until he reached the end of the street, where he stood up and dusted himself off.
The whole experience was quite bizarre; in an increasingly secular UK, the sight of people (people who genuinely believe that a man who was the product of the Immaculate Conception died and came back to life, before ascending to heaven) dressing up as someone from 2,000 years ago and dragging a wooden cross through a London suburb is surely something we'll see less and less of in years to come.
Mind you, plans are underway for next year's crucifixion, so if you want to bear witness to what your saviour had to go through all those years ago, you know where to go.
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