Jesus' Last Days

By TOM MOOR, South Bend Tribune Staff Writer, April 24, 2011

BERRIEN SPRINGS -- "Keep moving," yelled the Roman soldiers as people entered the bustling marketplace in Jerusalem.

"Do I need to persuade you people with this," another said, pointing at his spear.

After paying taxes to the Romans for entering the market, people were greeted by throngs of persistent vendors, who were selling everything from food and baskets to pottery and other items.

Sheep and goats roamed in their pens -- either to be sold or traded -- while others danced.

Soon, Jesus rode into the market in royal fashion atop his horse, to the sound of applause.

The marketplace was the first of eight stops during the eighth annual Easter Passion Play, held Saturday at Andrews University.

There, hundreds of re-enactors turned scripture into life as they took people through a journey of Jesus' final days, from the Last Supper, to his crucifixion and resurrection.

As of Saturday morning, more than 10,000 people had already signed up for the tour, said Ron Whitehead, executive producer of the play. About 900 volunteers, including 560 in costume, were there.

Whitehead said the play is the largest event in the community each year, and has attracted 60,000 people through the first seven years.

"It has a lot of family appeal," Whitehead said. "Some churches bring their whole Sunday school. I met a couple that comes every year. It really grounds the family and it became part of their family tradition."

People were treated with numerous scenes, including the Last Supper, where Jesus ate with his disciples for the final time and it became apparent Judas had betrayed him.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, after his disciples had abandoned him, Roman soldiers took Jesus away and brought him before Pilate's Court to be sentenced.

Pilate asked the swarm of people gathering around whether they wanted the criminal Barabbas, who had been arrested earlier by the Romans during a scene in the play, or Jesus to be released.

At their urging, Pilate, who said Jesus was not guilty of anything, caved to the re-enactors shouting: "Crucify him," and sentenced Jesus to death.

The crowd watched in silence -- with some wiping tears from their eyes -- as Jesus was placed upon the crucifix and killed, as the actor playing Jesus yelled for God to forgive them.

During the final scene, inside a gymnasium, Jesus rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb to loud applause from the hundreds watching in attendance.

An Easter prayer was then read.

For Jeanie and Winston Craig, of Berrien Springs, the play never gets old. They attend every year.

"It makes real history come alive," Jeanie Craig said.

Winston Craig marveled at how many volunteers come together to put on the event, which is spread out throughout campus.

"It's cool because they vary it every year," he said. "It's real creative. There's a lot of young people involved, too."

Cory Lambertson, a junior at Andrews from Coldwater, Mich., played Judas during the play.

"It was a spur of the moment decision to act in it, but it was fun," he said. "It's a different way to spread the word."

Billy Lampart, of Hastings, Mich., attends every year, but was taking his four children for the first time.

"It's awesome," he said of the play. "It's one thing reading about Jesus in the Bible, but it's a whole different reality seeing it in person."