Guy Fawkes Meets Jesus
A different kind of revolutionary
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore students’ understanding of revolution, using Guy Fawkes and Jesus as examples of contrasting activists (SEAL theme: Self-awareness).
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
- Have available the TrueTube video Gunpowder, Treason & Plot and the means to show it during the assembly (available at: www.truetube.co.uk/film/gunpowder-treason-plot). Play up to the 2.20 minutes mark, stopping the video at the point just before the expert is introduced.
- Have available the song ‘Revolution’ by The Beatles and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
Leader In 1605, 13 young men planned a revolution. They were against what they saw as the religious persecution of Roman Catholic believers across England. The revolution was to start with blowing up of the Houses of Parliament in London – the centre of political power. A total of 36 barrels of explosives were concealed in the cellars of the building. If successful, this violent action would have killed the king and members of Parliament.
Show the TrueTube video Gunpowder, Treason & Plot.
As we know, the plans to assassinate the king and his Parliament were thwarted. Word was leaked to the authorities, who stormed the cellars on 5 November and caught one of the perpetrators, Guy Fawkes, with the barrels of explosives. He and the other conspirators were tortured and executed.
What remains from this revolution is a tradition we still enjoy today, of bonfires and firework displays on 5 November, the day the plot was foiled.
So what exactly is a ‘revolution’? The word literally means for something to turn a complete circle, as in the revolution of a wheel. We also use it to describe a total ‘turning around’ of the government of a country, often brought about as a result of military force. France experienced a famous violent revolution, as did Russia. There have been other softer revolutions, one even called the ‘Velvet Revolution’, in which people power prevailed by sheer force of numbers.
However it is achieved, the common feature of revolution is that one style of government is totally replaced by another. For instance, communism replacing capitalism, a republic replacing a monarchy or democracy replacing a dictatorship. It can, of course, just as often be the opposite way round! There have been many such revolutions in recent years and they have not always had the best of outcomes . . .
The revolution plotted by Guy Fawkes and his fellow revolutionaries was to bring about change like this. If the king and MPs were killed, then, they hoped, another member of the royal family would run the country who would be much more sympathetic to the Roman Catholic cause.
It was a little different in Jesus' time.
Reader 1 The Jewish people lived in an occupied country. They were under the control of the mighty Roman Empire. Israel was a colonial backwater, its population forced to pay taxes and provide manpower to a foreign government residing in a capital a long way away. To the proud Jews, this was unacceptable. They had been dreaming for many generations of the coming of a revolutionary leader, the Messiah, who would overthrow the occupying power and set them free. When Jesus came on the scene, many hoped he would be the one to lead this revolution.
Leader As we know, however, this was a role Jesus rejected. When his disciples openly asked him the question, he clearly stated that his mission was not to take on the role of a political leader. Does this mean, then, that he wasn't a revolutionary?
Reader 2 Jesus constantly used a revolutionary word: it was the word ‘repent’. To repent involves turning through 180 degrees and going in the opposite direction. Some people might be tempted to say that this isn't a complete revolution – it's only going halfway! I'd like to suggest to you that repentance is more of a revolution than is turning a complete circle. In physical terms it's obvious, isn't it? A complete revolution actually keeps you going in the same direction. Repentance turns you round so you go in a new direction entirely. Nothing can be the same any more.
Leader The ‘repentance revolution’ is also a revolution that begins not with political systems or social groupings but individual people like you and me. It's about acknowledging that our thoughts, words and actions are not something we are proud of. In fact, sometimes, to be honest, we feel rather ashamed of them. We'd much rather we were heading in a better direction, so turning through 180 degrees might be a good idea. It’s the kind of revolutionary thought that gets right to the heart of things.
What makes the repentance style of revolution interesting is that, if individuals turn away from behaviour they are unhappy about, it usually means they turn towards the direction of positive words, thoughts and actions, those bringing mercy, justice, truth and peace. Interestingly, the end result of this is that political and social change comes also, but without military force – the poor are aided, the hungry fed, the homeless given somewhere to live, those who suffer prejudice are accepted, wrongs are made right.
Time for reflection
Bonfire night, 5 November, represents a failed revolution. It may, however, encourage us to consider another type of revolution that might just work for us and the society in which we live – Jesus’ repentance revolution.
Thank you for the possibility that we can bring about change for good in our lives and communities.
Give us the motivation to work towards achieving that change.
May it begin in us first.
‘Revolution’ by The Beatles