Passion Play is a Moving Easter Experience at Andrews University

By DEBRA HAIGHT - H-P Correspondent, April 8, 2012

BERRIEN SPRINGS - Visitors to Andrews University's Easter Passion Play on Saturday traveled back in time 2,000 years as they witnessed the events of Holy Week come to life before their eyes. From the Jerusalem marketplace to Christ's trial, crucifixion and resurrection, people had a front row seat to what has been called "the greatest story ever told."

The journey began with reenactments of Christ's miracles on the Howard Performing Arts Center stage. Then, visitors walked to a replica of a 1st Century marketplace and paid a tax to the Roman collectors to get in.

Inside the marketplace, merchants sold their wares, blacksmiths worked at forges and dancers stepped lively to traditional Jewish music.

The marketplace gave people a second glimpse of Christ after he was observed performing miracles such as healing a blind man. Christ rode a donkey through the market as the crowd hailed him with palms.

Nearby, an actor portraying a Jewish priest proclaimed, "He's not the messiah. The messiah would save us from the Romans."

Visitors next viewed a replica Roman encampment where soldiers searched the people and warned them not to harbor fugitives or steal.

The play's fourth scene was the Last Supper where Christ washed the disciples' feet and tried to tell them what is to come, including his betrayal, trial, death and resurrection.

"Tonight, you will all desert me," he told the disciples, adding that one, Judas, will betray him and that another, Peter, will deny him.

Joleen Yasa of Indianapolis was one of the many people watching and recording the scene a camera, her third time seeing the passion play.

This time was more personal, she said, because her son, Tyler, was portraying one of the disciples.

"It's new to me each time," she said. "My favorite scene is the resurrection."

From the last supper scene, visitors travelled across campus to the Garden of Gethsemane where the disciples fell asleep despite their vows to stay awake with Christ.

Christ cried out to God, asking that "this cup of suffering" be taken from him, then that "not mine but your will be done."

Judas' betrayal was portrayed and then Christ being taken away by Roman soldiers.

The trial before Pontius Pilate was reenacted on the steps outside the James White Library. Actors portraying Jewish priests inciting the crowd to shout "crucify him" and yell for the release of Barrabas rather than Christ.

"Why don't they go ahead and crucify him?" a young costumed woman asked.

For many, the trial scene inspired anger.

Niles resident Tammy Golubski was attending the play with her daughter and some friends.

"I wanted to turn around and say something to those yelling 'crucify him' even though I knew it was a play," she said.

The last two scenes took people to the crucifixion and then the resurrection. Christ continued to be mocked by priests and others in the crowd as he was brought in by the soldiers and put on the cross.

"If you are the son of God, save yourself," one yells before Christ dies and a roll of thunder makes everyone fall to the ground.

People are herded away from the crucifixion scene by another of the Roman soldiers. "Move out, there's nothing to see here," he yells out.

The resurrection scene takes people inside the Johnson gym where they experience singing and dancing and see acrobats gliding up and down around the stage.

The rock guarding the tomb was rolled away and a triumphant Christ came out to applause.

"I am with you always, even unto the end of the age," he said.

Andrews faculty member Wayne Perry was among those who greeted people at the end of the passion play walk.

"People say they were very moved by the play, I hear that a lot," he said. "It's a very spiritual experience for people. The resurrection scene is very powerful for most people. Several people said they were moved to tears."

Niles resident Kim Miller said she came back this year to give her daughter the experience.

"The whole thing was great," she said. "Pretty much the whole thing was awesome."

The play is also a powerful experience for the many volunteers, among them Andrews sophomore Jenna Neil.

"I've grown up in the church and know the story but it's still very powerful," she said. "It reminds me that there's hope for tomorrow for me."

The passion play annually draws thousands of visitors to the Andrews campus and is the culmination of several months of work by the volunteers.