Church brings Christ's last days to life

March 31, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

A crowd, dressed in biblical attire, jeered as the Roman soldiers nailed Christ to the cross.

Onlookers gasped as they heard the heavy thuds from the mallets pounding the wood. An awed silence descended on the church as the soldiers raised the cross with the bloodied body of the Lord.

"What can wash away my sin?" sang the choir that surrounded the crucified Christ. "Nothing but the blood of Jesus."

After listening to the taunts of his persecutors, J. C. Hayes, portraying Christ, gasped from the cross and cried, "It is finished."

From the agony in the garden and the torment of death to the triumphant resurrection, the Church of the Open Door is bringing the story of Christ's crucifixion and death to life this week.

"It makes you think about how God died and what a sacrifice He made for us," said Nellie Inman, 12.

"She cries all the time when she sees it," said Nellie's 10-year-old brother, Forrest.

Joan Inman brought her children to the presentation, which she called "a good experience."

"They learned about Jesus Christ and why he died," she said.

Mildred Graham, who has seen the drama often, said, "I believe parents should bring their children. They should see and learn this story as early as they can."

The pastor of the Westminster church addressed the audience, which nearly filled the 1,500-seat auditorium, before and after the 90-minute presentation Tuesday.

"God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son," said the Rev. Shelton L. Smith. "We must never forget the magnitude and import of that beautiful statement."

Many said they would attend all four presentations of "Living Cross 1994" at the church on Route 140 in Westminster.

JoAnnah Jennings, 11, saw the story for a second time Tuesday and said she would return for the 7 p.m. presentations tonight and tomorrow.

"The story tells me a lot about the cross," she said. "It makes me sad, but I want to come again."

The church has staged the program as a prelude to its Easter celebration for about 10 years.

"The season ought to be represented to us over and over so that it is indelibly imprinted on your mind," said Mr. Smith, who prayed the drama would "move us deep within our soul and spirit."

Although many of the actors, all of whom are members of the congregation, repeat their roles each year, they approach each performance with enthusiasm. Mr. Hayes, appearing as Jesus for the first time, gave a graphic portrayal of Christ's agony and reduced many to tears.

Nearly 70 actors began rehearsing in January. Sixteen-year-old Josh Kimmel, appearing as John, the beloved disciple, served as a commentator.

"It is not emotionally difficult until I see the blood and hear the people taunting Jesus on the cross," said Josh. "Then, it is hard."

Josh introduces the drama, which begins with Jesus' march into Jerusalem amid a crowd waving palms and shouting "hosanna."

"The praises soon will end as anger fills the air," sings Davina King in the scene that ends with a smiling Jesus surrounded by children.

Powerful music from the choir and soloists accompanies the story as the audience follows Christ through Judas' betrayal, to the court of Pontius Pilate, and along the route to Calvary. With each scene, Mr. Hayes, crowned with thorns and carrying the cross, appears more battered and bruised.

While Michael Tenney, 11, was busy changing props Tuesday, he still could watch the drama.

"I don't get sad because I know he is going to rise again," said Michael.

After the soldiers remove the body, the empty cross remains at the center of the stage as Janie Garland sings, "Because He Loves Us So."

During the final scenes, the stone rolls away from Christ's tomb.

"What is happening?" Taylor Adams, 5, asked his grandmother.

She explained that Christ had risen from the dead. Actors raced through the audience, shouting "He is risen."

As the presentation ends, Jesus, surrounded by his disciples, appears in a white satin robe. The audience Tuesday night clapped softly and filed quietly out of the auditorium.

Mr. Smith urged them to return and bring a friend.

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