GAINESVILLE – Many of the 150 people tightly huddled inside the open-air pavilion had started their day hours earlier, awakened by the sound of a tornado siren or a cell phone severe weather alert.
Now the steady downpour of rain almost seemed fitting, emblematic of the day: it was Good Friday, after all, and to Christ-followers everywhere the day is one of remembering the death of the one they love.
But that story does not end there: the joyous message of Easter Sunday was soon to come. And for the members of St. Michael Catholic Church waiting for the rain to abate at Laurel Park, their message would soon be shared: the largest Passion Play in Georgia would take place.
Youth Minister CJ Clark sat on a picnic table barely inside the pavilion as rain cascaded off the eaves of the shelter and puddled at his feet. He peered intently at the screen of his cell phone, looked up briefly and told his parishioners the rain would end around noon and the play would take place only one hour past schedule.
How can you doubt the prediction of Jesus; at least, that was the role CJ would be playing in the 29th edition of the church’s annual presentation.
And his mother (not named Mary) had driven all the way from Iowa to see the presentation. The show must go on!
“He’s a remarkable kid,” said the proud mother. “I drove 15-hours yesterday so I could be here for him.”
CJ circulated through the cast telling them to be ready for a noontime production. With his shoulder-length hair and full beard, the former Riverside Military Academy student confided he only had one doubt, and that was his ability to accurately portray the Messiah.
That’s a challenge all Christians face.
CJ confessed he only spoke a little Spanish, something he said he was working to improve as a staff member at the predominantly Hispanic congregation. “All my lines will be in English; everyone else will be speaking Spanish,” he explained.
Lorena Marcaleno and her husband have worked as co-directors of the 2-hour production for the past thirteen years. She said this year’s cast of 110 has been rehearsing since the first week of January, “every Saturday and Sunday for two hours.”
Marceleno said she was in communication with the park supervisor as to whether or not the performance would be delayed until the following day. “But it looks like it might stop,” she said optimistically as she glanced heavenward at the dark sky.
Nearby stood Gabino Flores; his assignment was portraying Barabbas, the criminal the crowd chose nearly 2000-years ago for pardon by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate instead of Jesus. Flores said he never considered the brutality of crucifixion until becoming part of the cast. “Nowadays people are lethally injected where thousands of years ago people were put on crosses,” he said with a shudder.
Sandra Romero said she has been in the play for ten years, but this year was in the ensemble as part of the crowd. “I’ve been doing different characters every year.”
She added, “For me personally, I do this not just to evangelize, but it’s personal in that I offer this to God.”
Almost as if on cue, at twenty minutes before noon, the rain stops and the dark sky lightens. Could it be that Youth Minister CJ Clark (a.k.a. Jesus of Nazareth) was correct when he predicted a noon performance?
Clark was almost perfect in his prediction, and in his portrayal of Jesus.
Enjoy the photos from the performance and the passion the 110 performers had for The Passion of the Christ by St. Michael Roman Catholic Church of Gainesville.