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Locally Grown: Cherry Glade’s “Behold the King”

By Barry Maust, Pastor, Cherry Glade Mennonite Church, Accident, MD

Cherry Glade’s Easter Play has become a beloved tradition, drawing the church family together to produce the play, and reaching out to the community with a vivid portrayal of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This story is an inspiring example of how outreach can be woven seamlessly into the ongoing life of a church.

In the early 1980’s, Edna Bender, Chester Yoder and Esther Yoder were a part of the Special Programs Committee at Cherry Glade Mennonite Church. It was customary to have a Christmas Eve program that included special music and/or a drama, and concluded with singing Silent Night during a candle-lighting ceremony. At a meeting, these three committee members were brainstorming about how the Easter season could be celebrated. God had placed it on their hearts to do something that would bring honor to what the season means to believers. Chester suggested that a passion play should be produced, and Esther was given the task of writing the script for the drama.

Esther’s desire was to write a play that was as close to the scriptural wording and description as possible. She immersed herself in the biblical story of the passion of Christ. She incorporated many portions of scripture into the play. Artistic interpretations were added only as they were needed to evoke the emotions that she felt were present in the biblical narrative. While portions of the script have been refined through the years, a hallmark of the production of “Behold the King” is its adherence to the biblical narrative.

In the spring of 1982, the Special Programs Committee undertook the task of producing the drama that Esther had written. Chester accepted the task of portraying Jesus, and Edna used her artistic gifts to envision the props. Lines were rehearsed, props were built, and music was selected in preparation for the day the play was to be performed. As a young person, I recall the tremendous amount of work that was put forth in order to make the production a success. There was an air of excitement as the day of the production approached.

The celebration was presented in two parts. Sunday afternoon, the drama took place beginning in the church sanctuary. The events leading up to and including the sentencing of Jesus were portrayed. The audience was then invited to a field near the church to witness the crucifixion. The portrayal showed Jesus and the two thieves being placed on the cross, guarded by Romans soldiers. Several of the soldiers were mounted on horses, with one horse not cooperating, running and bucking, with the soldier hanging on for dear life. Observant eyes could catch a glimpse of the sad end of Judas Iscariot’s story, portrayed in a distant tree, as we returned to the church.

That evening, the audience was invited to return to the sanctuary for a time of music. The performances included the band “Rescued,” and Cherry Glade’s Men’s Chorus giving a program of songs with themes of the resurrection. The celebration was a success with many memories for those who had attended.

Approximately a decade later, a desire to again produce the drama began to be expressed. Several people who had been a part of the previous production as youth now rose to the challenge of giving leadership. Darrell Yoder and Conrad Maust were among those who had a special interest in drama and training in the theater. Darrel undertook the role of portraying Jesus. The script was expanded to include a resurrection scene. Theatrical techniques were added (one of which left the audience gasping, as Jesus disappeared in the scene of the Upper Room). The drama was arranged to allow the entire drama to be presented in the sanctuary. The production was given on several days to accommodate the growing demand for those who wanted to view the production.

Since that time, the passion play has grown into an event that takes place every other year, with the only break occurring when we were building a new sanctuary. Over the years, the production has changed as God calls individuals to carry the responsibility of ministering through drama. With the change in actors portraying Jesus, the drama challenges even those who have seen the production many times to think afresh of what it was like when Jesus made the way for our salvation. A scene of Jesus welcoming believers into heaven was a recent addition that prompts thoughts of what is in store for each of us.

As a pastor, seeing what has happened and anticipating what will happen, several thoughts come to mind: First, I don’t believe the Special Programs Committee that met in the early ‘80’s knew what would become of the drama “Behold the King”. It was their desire to do something special to celebrate the sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us. As I think of the gifts that each of those people possessed, I see that God equipped them to make something happen that none of them could have accomplished on their own. It was not happenstance that brought that group together. Second, as I see the drama unfold each time, I am reminded that God continues to inspire and gift people to honor him. Many individuals come together and allow God to use them to accomplish his work.

God orchestrates the production in such a way that it is evident that his hand is over it. “Behold the King” is being used to make Kingdom differences. I know of individuals who would not attend Sunday morning church services, but when invited to the drama, express a desire to more fully understand what Jesus did for them. Every time I see the production, I am moved by Jesus’ great love for me, and I am challenged to allow God to use me along with others in order to advance his Kingdom. I believe that if we are sensitive to God’s leading and faithful in following his direction, he will do more than we can imagine.