Stained glass of angel holding Pontius Pilate's water bowl and pitcher from Mary of the Angels Church on the campus of Viterbo University in LaCrosse, WisconsinThe Cleansing Water: Reflections on Our Easter Drama

One of the things I have appreciated about the Easter and Christmas dramas that Steve Velez Luce has written and directed for our church has been the historical research and theological reflection he does as part of the preparation in producing these. That is clearly evidenced in the most recent Easter production, “Blood and Water”.

When Steve began developing the basic idea and script for this work, he shared with the Worship and Arts Team that though not much is known about Pilate’s wife (who has come to be known as either Claudia or Procula in Christian tradition and history), she has largely been viewed as a positive witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ.

True, only one verse in the Bible mentions her – Matthew 27:19 – but that verse portrays her in a positive light, warning her husband Pilate of the innocence of Jesus. The early 2nd century Church Father Origen in his Homilies on Matthew suggests that Pilate’s wife became a Christian. The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church both view Pilate’s wife as a saint, having come to faith after hearing the report of Jesus’ resurrection.

Clearly, this little known but dominant Christian tradition is a strain that Steve emphasized as he developed the character of Pilate’s wife and one that Amy Oxendale played to perfection in her portrayal of Claudia.

But there was another aspect of the drama that caught my eye and reminded me of an earlier conversation I had with Steve as he was developing the drama. Those of you who were with us Easter Sunday morning recall that Pilate is constantly washing his hands throughout the drama. In fact, the closing scene has Pilate (again, wonderfully interpreted and portrayed by Tom Patterson), standing alone on a darkened stage washing his hands.

This action in the drama is meant to call to mind what Pilate does later in a more public setting recorded in Matthew 27:24: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’, he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’”

Of course, Pilate is not innocent. And neither are we. We are all sinners in need of the cleansing blood of Jesus, which is, of course, the whole point of the events of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Pilate’s feeble attempt to pacify his conscience before the crowd is representative of all our attempts to justify our lives apart from the saving grace of God found in Jesus Christ. Such attempts will never be adequate to absolve us of the guilt and stain of our sins. “What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus…” Katy Patterson’s character, Rachel, the Jewish servant girl, sang to Pilate in our drama.

As Steve shared with me his reflection on this central part of the message of the drama, he said to me, “You know, Pilate is washing his hands of the very and only thing that can truly make him innocent… the blood of Jesus.”

This really came home to me as I watched Pilate (Tom) washing his hands. The basin used in the drama was our baptismal font. As I watched that, the text that came to my mind was 1 Peter 3:18-22, where Peter speaks of the water of baptism “that saves us – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

“Blood and Water” – the blood of Jesus and the water of baptism. Through these, the grace of God is poured out and the love of God is proclaimed. Because of that grace, and only because of that grace, our sin is cleansed and our guilt is gone, washed away! And we say, “Thanks be to God!”