An Easter 'Drive-through'

April 01, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Hold the popcorn, but keep the engine running: It's show time for "The Scenes of Easter, A Unique Drive-Thru Experience" at The Tabernacle in Laurel.

Squint your eyes a bit, and it could be Charlton Heston out there in the parking lot, reliving the last days of Jesus Christ.

More likely, it's David Ingram, a personal computer analyst from Elkridge and one of seven men who portray Jesus in the church's first drive-through Passion play tonight and tomorrow night, featuring a cast of dozens.

Mr. Ingram plays the resurrected Jesus in a scene with Mary Magdalene. He's thrilled -- especially since his last outing as a biblical actor cast him in the role of Judas.

"It's a big step up," says Mr. Ingram. "I'm happy to be able to do it. I think it's a neat idea."

Weather permitting, 3,000 to 4,000 motorists will cruise through The Tabernacle's parking lot at 11601 S. Laurel Drive during the next two nights for a free, motorized Bible lesson.

Church officials say it's a way of bringing home the central events of Christianity -- the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ -- to people who are threatened by the formality of a traditional church.

"If you're in your car, you can talk," explains Jean Coleman, co-pastor of the nondenominational church with her husband, Jack. "Mom and dad can talk and can actually tell the Easter story to their children in their own car. That's something you can't do at a play."

The 15-year-old Prince George's County church, which draws about 500 each Sunday, has offered more traditional Easter and Christmas plays. But one day, Mrs. Coleman looked out the church's window at its 8.5 acres and said to herself, "We could let people experience Easter from the car."

With minimal rehearsal time, church members came up with TC 12-scene production featuring 64 adults and children in biblical costumes, displaying the last days of Jesus at well-lighted stations scattered around the sides and rear of the church.

As they drive onto the lot, motorists get a flier explaining the New Testament scenes, each of them presented in tableau, without dialogue or music.

There's the Last Supper, Jesus in Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, the trial before Pontius Pilate and the scene of Jesus carrying the cross.

Then comes the modified crucifixion scene, as actors gather around a bare cross with the body of Jesus on the ground before them. ("No way could we hang a man in loin cloth," says Mrs. Coleman. "It's too cold.")

The drive-through resumes with the burial of Jesus, a guarded tomb, women on the way to the tomb to anoint his body, an empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus' revelation to Mary Magdalene.

The final scene is the Ascension -- actors surrounding an elevated Jesus on a hill.

Church members have kept the cost of the production to a minimum, acting all the parts themselves, using wardrobes from past church plays and wearing donated sandals. That frugal approach is part of what Mrs. Coleman calls an effort to reclaim the spirit of Easter from ringing cash registers.

"When asked, 'What does Easter mean?' people say, 'Bunnies or eggs' -- very few say 'Jesus, '" she says. "The whole purpose is to present Jesus. That should be the purpose of any church. That's the message, that Jesus is alive."

To promote the event, which takes place from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. each evening, the church distributed 7,000 tickets bearing a catchy logo and put up about 150 posters.

And how does The Tabernacle's home-grown biblical extravaganza square with its noncommercial philosophy?

"It has a certain simplicity," says Mr. Coleman. "It's not going to be a 'Ben Hur' or anything big like that."

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