Since 1979... The Last Days of Jesus
The Last Days of Jesus started in 1979 as a high school Sunday school class project of First Christian Church, under the direction of George Sargeant, youth director Linda Cosgrave-Ashbrook and senior pastor Ron Coleman. The idea was to do the Easter story outside, much the same way as a nativity scene displays the Christmas story. They really didn’t foresee it becoming a yearly production, but they love that The Last Days of Jesus continues year after year.
Within only a few years, the production outgrew First Christian Church, having to move “The Last Supper” scene to The Dalles High auditorium, with a few years at other venues (the Granada and Calvary Baptist Church). “The Garden of Gethsemane” scene also moved from across the street at the library lawn to down Union at The Dalles City Park. “The Trials of Jesus” scene was moved down to the Wasco County Courthouse steps. And for a while, before buildings were placed there, “The Crucifixion” scene was in the library’s upper lot. The only site to remain stationary is the tomb where both “The Burial” and “The Resurrection” scenes take place.
Besides locations, it also became necessary to find volunteers from the many other churches of the community, as it was just too much to ask of one body of believers year after year. And it continues to draw people from even outside of The Dalles, not only to view the play, but to participate in it. Some have come from Dufur, Mosier, Goldendale, Rufus, Maupin, Hood River, Husum and beyond. We have even had the actors portraying Jesus move as far as Salem and Seattle in their second year, yet come each Sunday to rehearse.
Those who have participated over the years have come from all walks of life: those in full-time ministry, those in school as either students or educators, those serving their families, those working in private businesses, those serving the public, those with disabilities, those in recovery and those enjoying retirement. They have also come from different places in their journey with Jesus: some are just starting out, some have walked with Him a long time, and some have returned after time away. But through this drama all have a desire to grow closer to their Savior and to each other, as well as to invite into that same fellowship those who have yet to take that first step.
Those who participate also serve in many different ways: actors, directors, singers, counselors, ushers, helpers with makeup, costumes, sound, lights, props, set-up, clean-up, publicity, casting, printing, fundraising, food preparation and many other unseen but much needed ways, such as praying for this ministry. This outreach has also become a year-round one for those on the ministry team (now The Last Days of Jesus, Inc. board of directors, since becoming incorporated autumn of 2017). We are very grateful to all who have willingly served our Lord through doing their part in order for the Gospel to go out each year.
In the beginning, Luther & Ressie Patton researched the foods that were traditional to the Passover Meal and learned the symbolic meanings of each food. The food committee would place small notes next to the foods on the table to let the disciples know what they were, as there were mix-ups in the past (like when some drank the salty water intended for the dipping of the bitter herbs). Also, as part of the Lord's Supper, besides the grape juice, the audience shares pieces of the unleavened bread during the time of communion.
The script was written by George Sargeant from looking at the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) in the Bible. And although the play has grown some over the years, we continue to look to the Scriptures for our script. In fact, in the last few years, the cast & crew has been challenged to be reading through the passages the play is based upon during the months preceding the performances. This also includes passages from the Old Testament that foretold what was to happen to Jesus (like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 52-53).
Over the years, the many who have participated in the play have expressed that it is so much more than just entertaining an audience. It has put them in a place where they realize just how much Jesus has done for them, especially as they play the parts of those who denied, who betrayed, who mocked, who wounded and who killed the Son of God. They realize it is their sin that put Him there, and that all the agonies the Lord suffered, He suffered for us.
Participants have noted that even the audience understands that it is much more than a play and sometimes get so immersed in it that they have forgotten that the actors are just that, actors, and have rebuked them for mocking Jesus.
Come Sunday morning, though, it is a different story… there is rejoicing together because of the hope that is proclaimed in Jesus' resurrection. Actors and audience get excited, knowing the risen Savior has gained victory over sin and death for us all. The play shows us that what Jesus did wasn't just a story, but what He did for us is real and His promises for eternal life are real.
If it was just a play, those who have taken part as actors and behind-the-scenes crew probably would
ave quit early on, and not put in the many weeks of time needed. There are often many hardships that come in the lives of those who make such a commitment to bring the saving knowledge of Jesus to the world. God's enemy, the devil, does not want people to hear the Good News of salvation through our risen Lord & Savior Jesus Christ, and will throw as many obstacles in the way as he can. Over the years, cast & crew have endured health problems or personal injury to themselves or family members, loss of loved ones, and had social and economic difficulties. On occasion someone will have to drop out, but for the most part everyone perseveres because we know the value of what we're doing.
And each year, through all the tribulations and trials of getting all the people and details together, we are very aware that this is a God thing. Sometimes it can seem like there is no way it will come to be, but thanks to God's Holy Spirit working in answer to the prayers of many, God shows us it all depends on Him; and He ultimately brings glory to Himself as we faithfully lift up His Son before our community.