In our ongoing quest to find a church that fits the esoteric members of our extensive family we decided to skip the usual Easter morning service. Christmas and Easter services are rarely indicative of the true character of a local body and since it just seemed like a whole lot of work to get everyone up early and ready (so that we could struggle to find parking and then squeeze into a pew surrounded by people who probably wouldn’t be there the following week) we decided to take a different route: The Passion Play.
There is a large church near our house that holds a drama each Easter. I’ve been to this church a few times in the past to see concerts (Rich Mullins twice, Phil Keaggy and Steve Curtis Chapman once each) and once for a service during college where a few people spoke in tongues and no one interpreted. Since that lone service the church body moved to a different location and sold the building off to another body of believers. With little or no research the Mrs. and I thought it would be good to take the kids to this play, a kind of immersive dramatic telling of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that might help us see things in a fresh light.
The ticket said doors opened at six and the show started at 7:30. Having experience with showing up in the nick of time only to search and search for seats for my entire brood, I went by myself a bit after six to save seats. Entering into the church I was immediately impressed. The hallways were made up like the streets of Jerusalem and every member of the cast was in costume, populating the streets in character. You could eat figs or pomegranate juice, pet a camel or a baby sheep, even give alms to a blind beggar. I found seats for us all and immediately called Melynda so that they could arrive early and experience “Jerusalem.”
Eventually the show started with a crowded, noisy, chaotic stage full of (nearly) the entire cast. The scene told of how the census was ordered, complete with a Roman soldier on a horse going up and down the aisles. The lights dimmed and opened again on Mary, Joseph, and a real live almost-newborn. As a joke I leaned over to Melynda and sang “Mary did you know?” And then the music started up... and it was “Mary Did You Know” sung in full-out hot dogging American Idol (or Starsearch for us old timers) style. That was our first warning. It was also about the only song we heard that night whose words we could fully understand. It continued in this way, a scene or two and then a funky loud gospel song sung full of squeals and vocal tricks, often with three or more singers taking the spot light. It was a nice distraction from the “scenes” which were often very large crowd scenes full of people shouting over each other, stretching things out waaaaay too long because the instrumental music needed another minute to complete.
The acting was mostly decent. Except for the lead pharisee. This guy must have gone to the William Shatner school of acting. I... kid... you NOT! It was agonizing to where we were both saying, “Speed it up, man!” Between the music and the spots of bad acting it was impossible to get into the drama.
The worst part, however, was near the end. Jesus was being beaten while a crowd had (it seemed) everyone reaching for something (“What’s my motivation for reaching?”). It was about as close to touching as the play got. And then someone must have pushed the wrong button or something because loud and funky dance music started up. Except it was no mistake. The choir, with a few hot trotting lead singers, went through a jumpin’ ramped up number with a man portraying our beaten Savior laying in a heap before our eyes. It was one of the most disrespectful and irreverent spectacles I’ve ever witnessed.
Shortly after this, with the play having gone on for over two hours and they still hadn’t put Jesus in the tomb, we decided that we knew how the story ended and left. Hopefully we didn't miss a gangsta rap number as Jesus Ascended into Heaven.