Way Of The Cross 2017

 

Bridgewater churches to re-enact

Christ's final hours in Way of the Cross

By Marsha Keefer mkeefer@timesonline.com

WOTC GOOD FRIDAY TIMES ARTICLE PHOTO (Web large)

BRIDGEWATER -- Sometimes people get so caught up in the emotional realism of Way of the Cross they forget the Good Friday event is a re-enactment of Christ’s suffering.

Bystanders actually “get mad” at cast members tormenting Jesus as he carries a cross to his crucifixion, said the Rev. David Howells.

Howells, pastor of Church of the Living Christ in Bridgewater, is the visionary behind the outdoor drama that has become a borough tradition, attracting hundreds of people on this holy day. This year’s event on Friday is expected to be no different.

Bridgewater United Methodist and Bridgewater Presbyterian churches join Church of the Living Christ to present Way of the Cross, an approximately half-hour procession beginning at noon from Bridgewater Presbyterian Church on Bridge Street to Church of the Living Christ on Riverside Drive. There in the church’s parking lot, people can watch on a large screen the final 20 minutes of “The Passion of the Christ,” the 2004 movie directed by Mel Gibson.

Re-enacting Christ’s final hours, Howells said, enables witnesses to “get the whole gist of what the Crucifixion was about; what he (Christ) went through.”

And that’s important because Easter today, especially for children, he said, often becomes commercialized, focusing more on chocolate bunnies and egg hunts.

“We decided we wanted to do this because we wanted to take the attention away from what Easter has become.”

The focus should be the realization that “Christ gave his life for us,” Howells said.

Scriptures tell the story; dramatization brings it to life.

“It becomes real, gets down in people’s heart,” he said. “Even I’m moved every year to tears.”

Way of the Cross begins with Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate who sentences him to be scourged and crucified.

The trial takes place outside Bridgewater Presbyterian Church. After sentencing, Jesus, portrayed by Jim Smith of Koppel, an elder at Church of the Living Christ, is taken behind the church where flogging occurs out of eyesight.

“You can’t see,” Howells said. “You can hear him being beaten,” his anguished cries broadcast over an amplification system.

Jesus, his body scarred with stripes, re-emerges and picks up a cross. Roman soldiers push and mock him as he proceeds to Golgotha.

Onlookers will join some 45 cast members -- among them Caiaphas, the high priest; Barabbas, the prisoner Pilate freed instead of Jesus; Simon, whom guards ordered to help carry the cross; Mary, Jesus’ mother, all garbed in period costumes -- and walk along Bridge Street, turn left on Market Street, right on Fulton Street to the final stop at Riverside Drive.

The borough’s police and fire departments block streets to vehicular traffic and monitor safety.

Smith, who’s played Jesus each year, strives for accuracy.

“Usually around this time of year, I read through the first four Gospels of the Bible just to get the feel for everything that went on in each of the books,” he said.

At cast practices, he tells guards and mockers to “hit me, spit on me, pull my hair.”

The cross Smith carries is realistic, too -- a “weathered telephone pole” Howells estimated to be 10 feet long with an 8-foot crossbar.

“It’s very heavy. I’d guess it probably weighs 120 to 140 pounds,” he said.

As Smith carries the cross, he tries to focus on Christ.

“I try to let the people feel what Jesus went through,” he said.

At times, he connects with observers by “looking into their eyes. That way they can see I focused on them. Jesus actually saw them.

“I just want people to realize what he took upon himself that day -- carrying the cross, the bruises, the beatings, spitting on him, pulling his hair. He did it for us.”

This will be the fourth year Way of the Cross has been presented. The first year, 2013, drew about 450 people, Howells estimated. The following year, 600 came. Inclement weather the third year kept numbers down to about 300. The drama was not staged last year.

There’s a contemporary twist this year.

Some cast members will be dressed in hoodies emblazoned with words that say “addiction,” “depression,” “suicide,” Howells said, because Christ died for these afflictions, too.

At the conclusion of the movie, Howells invites the cast and “anyone else who wants to participate,” to have lunch and share their reactions to what they witnessed -- what they saw, what they heard, how they feel.

“I call it a debriefing,” he said.

Each year, the production “just keeps getting better and better,” Howells said.

He praised the town, too.

“The whole community is involved in this. That’s what’s so wonderful about this whole event.”