GREENSBORO — The actors in the drive-thru Easter production momentarily dropped out of character during a mob scene in the fading sunlight and rushed to the car window of fellow church members not seen in-person since almost the start of the pandemic.
They got no closer than 3 feet in their masks before someone blew a kiss toward the couple in the car, then the group of actors returned to loudly calling for the death of Jesus.
The hope of Easter played out in scenes of “The Road to Resurrection: A Journey of Jesus’ Life” on the lawn of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church in the days leading up to the holiest holiday on the Christian calendar, with cars snaking through 16 scenes that stretched across the church’s campus.
But also as many people came face-to-face — with a window as a barrier — for the first time in a long time, since the coronavirus pandemic reached North Carolina last spring.
“And without people getting out of their cars,” said the Rev. Jeff Johnsen.
Each year across the Triad, Christians celebrated Easter by remembering the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and joining together in fellowship.
Children could usually be found scampering across church parking lots in their bright spring colors.
Outside, the earth would come alive with flowers.
People who had seemingly hibernated during the cold winter months were in the pews with friends, neighbors and family.
Until nearly everything changed just before spring 2020.
Churches closed for in-person gatherings before Easter along with other institutions at the governor’s order in hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Easter 2021 isn’t exactly Easter 2020, when at the start of the pandemic some churches went dark and temporarily directed members to sermons archived on websites before taking services online.
This year, many more churches have reopened sanctuaries, even if on a limited basis.
Others, like Mount Pisgah, are now offering an option of in-person service with seats on the lawn or the ability to listen from parked cars using a radio frequency that allows people within a certain distance to tune in.
And this year the congregation put on an Easter production that combines the traditional Stations of the Cross, or scenes of the crucifixion, with the early years of Jesus’ life, including an 11-year-old Jesus in stories taken from the Bible.
“Too often Christians go to church on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and forget the story in between,” said Dana Hanlon, the director of the children’s ministry. “They miss that he was one of us.”
More than 100 cast members took part over the three-day event with stops spread out along the church’s campus. Upon driving onto the campus, motorists were asked to scan a bar code that took them to a link on the Vimeo app with a church member as narrator and sound effects guiding them through each of the stops.
The scenes involved other noted characters from the Bible, including Barnabas, a crazed figure the crowd wants freed when given a choice between him and Jesus.
Jesus is whipped and paraded through the crowds by the centurions.
As the story progresses, Jesus is atop the cross.
The tomb where he is carried is guarded by a soldier, before Jesus re-emerges on his own two feet.
Some of the costumes were borrowed from a sister church. Others were handmade by several volunteers. Jesus, for example, is wearing the same type of cloth from birth to the resurrection because a seamstress in the church made all of those costumes.
Johnsen’s wife, Kristi, first had the idea of a drive-thru production at Christmas and more than 900 people in 300 cars took part. The congregation followed with one for Easter.
“It required us to really think about each scene,” Hanlon said of the actors and others involved. “Not just what we were trying to share from the Bible story but about each individual’s health.”
Even the Last Supper scene, when Jesus gathers with his disciples, is written for them to be 3 feet apart.
All the characters wear masks unless they are in the scene alone, such as the soldier guarding Jesus’ tomb.
The production also gave church members the opportunity to work together on a gift for the community during a time of apprehension, said church member Sarah Reed, who designed the scenes. Some of the scenes are as simple as a table with chairs. Others include the tomb and crucifixion.
A video has been posted to the church’s Facebook account for those who want to follow the story.
“We really wanted to share this Good News in the pandemic,” Johnsen said.
Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.