The SonRise Resurrection Pageant presented annually at Southern Adventist University draws ever larger crowds to Collegedale to share a story central to Christians of all denominations.
“Does the story ever get old?” university spokeswoman Ruthie Gray asked as more than 9,000 spectators flocked to the campus Saturday. “It is the reason for the Easter season.”
The joint production by Southern Adventist University and Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church involves more 500 costumed cast members who recount the last days of Christ in six scenes beginning with Jesus entering Jerusalem and ending with his resurrection and ascent into Heaven.
“I think it is a real blessing,” said SAU nursing student Kristin Eszler as she portrayed a woman selling bread in a Jerusalem market. “It helps me remember what Christ went through.”
Another of the street vendors, Heather Magee, 19, said she has participated in each of the 13 annual productions.
“Sometimes I don’t think this group will ever end,” she said Saturday as throngs of spectators strolled along a sidewalk which for a day resembled a street of Jesus’ day lined with 60 shops.
Cries of “Make way! Make way!” announced the approach of a donkey bearing an actor who portrayed Jesus as he made his way to the Last Supper. From there, the crowd followed the actors to scenes set in the Garden of Gethsemane, the judgment of Jesus by Pontius Pilate then to a crucifixion scene.
“You can come through it 10 times and take something different away every time,” said Wendy Ennis, who with her husband, Randy, attended the performance with two of their six children. “I think a lot of it has to do with the stage of life you are in.”
“It is the same but different,” Mr. Ennis said. “No matter, the answer at the end of the day is still Jesus.”
The pageant ended inside the university’s gymnasium, where amid special effects — smoke generators and pyrotechnics — the production closed with Jesus, accompanied by angels, rising into heaven.
It was the first time to attend “SonRise” for Billy and Jeanie Noll, of Cloudland, Ga., who brought along their teenage granddaughters, Paige and Destiny, as well as a friend, Lauren Gianaro, 20.
“I was crying,” Ms. Gianaro said after seeing the resurrection scene. “It was so real.”
An annual production since 1996, preparation for “SonRise” takes months of rehearsal and three days to erect sets for its one-day run.
The time, effort and expense — this year’s production cost about $25,000 — to prepare the 90-minute show is a both a celebration of Easter and a gift to the community, Ms. Gray said.
“It brought it to life,” Mr. Noll said. “The Lord has to be pleased with this performance. It will have touched a lot of people.”