There was once a popular church in the south not all that long ago. The church, in most ways, was merely adequate by the world’s standards. Its music was tame and uninteresting. Its pastor put no sinners in the hands of an angry God, yet did just enough to not quite put them to sleep either. The building the church met in was unremarkable. Yet despite all of its common aspects, the church grew and grew over the years due to the one thing it did excellently. That thing was the yearly Easter Pageant.
Oh yes, congregants and the unchurched, believer and skeptic alike, would flood to the annual event. Men and women of every race and persuasion would pepper the sold-out audience to see the spectacle before them. The city had little to no art scene and few concerts, so the annual pageant was always, well, a godsend.
On the year in question, a decade or so ago, things were no different. People bought their tickets in advance and arrived early for the event of the year, some driving for hours to make their pilgrimage to the sacred occurrence. Friday night’s show was, as usual, a smashing success, and Saturday’s brought a deafening standing ovation.
And then came Sunday’s fateful matinee, the final show that would close the curtain on the annual performance, and would hopefully open the door of faith to many in the jam-packed auditorium.
A bit giddy to celebrate after months of work, the cast twittered excitedly backstage pre-show, and then the lights came on, the music swelled, and the finale had begun!
Part of the pageant’s prestige was based on the absolute perfection of it. Year in and year out, audiences lauded the preparation and the excellence of the production; neither line nor note ever went astray.
But that Sunday was different.
The first blunder was a simple oversight, and a dangerous one at that. After Christ was flogged, two Roman soldiers rushed offstage, as Jesus was marched up the hill with his cross. The soldiers were to hang backstage, wipe the sweat from their brow, make a slight costume change, and wait until Jesus’ death before re-emerging to finish out their roles.
The time came and they sauntered back onto the stage to inspect the body of Jesus there upon the cross, and see if His legs needed to be broken to assure death, as was the manner in Roman crucifixion. Keeping with Old Testament prophecy, Jesus was “bruised not broken,” and these guards inspected Jesus and found that He was already dead and therefore didn’t need to have his legs broken to speed up the dying process. To prove the point, they, in the biblical account, thrust a sword into Christ’s side.
And so it went here in the pageant as well. The trouble was, on this day, the men playing the Roman soldiers—in all their excitement for their big moment and the near-end to the pageant and months of work—forgot to make the slight costume change when they were offstage. Namely, they forgot to switch out their real swords with the collapsible prop sword that imitated going into Jesus’ side by collapsing into itself.
They uttered their lines perfectly, and then the bigger of the two strode forward, drew sword, and pierced Jesus’ side . . . REALLY pierced his side!
Jesus “resurrected” there on the spot, uttering a holy “YAWP” (and then much more) and bleeding real blood upon his side, the stage, and the pointy blade of the stunned Roman guard, who looked on at this “Christ” in utter disbelief.
911 was called and the EMTs rushed onto the stage, removed Jesus from his cross, and paraded him to the waiting ambulance. Jesus, who had moments before wailed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” seemed anything but forgiving to the dolt who had stabbed him.
The crowd looked on captivated, and then, after a brief, unplanned intermission, the show went on; the show must always go on after all.
It picked up at the tomb, where Jesus was to be resurrected—following the actual biblical account this time. Since the pageant seldom had a hitch, the understudies rarely were thought on that much, and this oversight was clear on this day, for the man playing Jesus was a full seventy-five lbs. lighter than his chiseled predecessor—now occupying a room at the County Hospital—had been. But aside from the dramatic size difference, this new Jesus had Charlton Heston chops, and delivered his lines with power, precision, and aplomb. The crowd, it seemed, had nearly forgotten the former stabbing altogether and were once more enthralled by the story of Christ.
And then came blunder number two. On the stage, Jesus had gathered his disciples in order to tell them goodbye and give them final, moving instructions for life on earth without him. It was a gripping scene, and the final line was delivered, the orchestra played their swelling ascension music, and Jesus lifted his hands skyward.
In the two previous shows, Jesus steadily levitated, higher and higher, until he was out of the scene entirely, while those on the stage bowed and watched his glorious ascension with reverence. It was an excellent finale, and made seamless way for the pastor to come and invite people to church, as well as give an altar call for any who had been moved to conversion.
And the whole of the scene hinged on the counterweight pulleys Jesus was “rigged up” with. Clear cables clung to a harness around his waist and back, and a counter-weight pulley system was used to hoist the 225 lb. Jesus smoothly to the right hand of his Father.
But this was no longer a 225 lb. Jesus, for that particular Jesus was being stitched up in room 118 of the hospital. No, this was a 150 lb.-when-soaking-wet-Jesus, and without the proper adjustment the sensitive counter-weight pulley system jerked this Jesus skyward like a rocket. The visual was frightening, but worse still was the thud his body made when he collided with an overhead beam at his apex.
His voice was raised in agony as his body—flailing and then limp, in starts and stops—was lowered, and the same EMTs as before rushed out on the stage and carted him off, neck-brace and all, while the pastor tried to clarify the difference from the day’s events and the actual story of Christ.
“In the real story,” he explained, “there was only one Jesus, and He was killed once and for all for sin, there were no EMTs and Jesus never cursed like you may have heard today—sorry about that for the children, by the way—and . . .”
The explanation went on and on, but it did little good—the image of “Christ” had already been set for the people there that day.
And so it goes in life. The Bible calls Christ-followers to be ambassadors of Jesus, to show His love and His character, to love as He loved. None of us were there 2000 years ago; we weren’t at the cross or the tomb, we didn’t see Jesus ascend to the Father. The Christ the world sees is initially seen through the lives of Christians. “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” Paul told the early Church.
I wonder where my own life confuses and confounds who Jesus is? Where do I cause confusion or comedy to the name of Christ?
It isn’t that I need to get all the lines right or practice for months, polishing everything for the perfect show. But I do need to be in line with who Christ actually is on a daily basis, and not settle for who I merely want Him to be. It is the role I was born to play, for it is the one to which He calls me. Lights. Camera. Action.