Yesterday at all three Vintage Faith Church worship gatherings, we started our new series called "Awaken". This is a series which is going to teach through some of the last days of Jesus before He was crucified and resurrected. We will be primarily walking through Matthew's account and Luke - and will be teaching through the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter's denial of Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
Our church has a mix of people who have heard this story multiple times if they have grown up in a church as well as those who are hearing about it for the first time. But whatever it is, we want to try and catch people up into this incredible story of Jesus' last days. I was recently speaking at a conference with Ralph Winter who is the producer of all the X-Men movies and the Star Trek films and I had the great opportunity to learn from him about films and stories. He said something that stuck in my head (amongst many things) is that for the blockbuster movie The Titanic, people didn't go see that film wondering what was going to happen to the ship. We all knew the ship sinks before we go. But the film was powerful because it drew people into the story.
With "Easter" (and I explained the origin of that word and why the name of mythological goddess is used generally for Resurrection Sunday) – there is tremendous story of Jesus as He "awakened" His disciples (thus the name of the series) to what His story, purpose, who He really was and what their mission would be. So we intentionally are trying to teach this in a way of drawing them into the story – even though, the ending – the resurrection, is generally known.
So as I prepped and our teaching team met, it was thought what better way then to teach about the Last Supper, then to recreate it as we teach it. So we had the entire passage from Matthew read outloud by two people and then I asked for 13 people to come up on the stage and "recline" at the recreation of what a table and seating would have been for a Passover meal at that time. We went back to Exodus and taught about the original passover and Israel's rescue from Egypt and where the Passover meal originated.
For those that have studied this, you learn that the DaVinci painting of the Last Supper with a straight table with the disciples sitting in chairs was not accurate. But it was more of a "U" shaped table and the disciples would have been literally laying down and reclining as they ate. So we even assigned roles to "Jesus", "John" and "Judas" who had lines they each said from Scripture and we placed them at the table where most scholars believe would have been their table seating. And we had "Jesus" act out the various cups of the meal, the sop being dipped, the bread being broken etc. and whenever there was an actual line from Scripture the person who was in that role said it.
It was quite enjoyable for me, as when I asked volunteers to come up on the stage, I didn't say what they were going to do – so for them it was totally impromptu and they all did great. Even a closing "hymn" as the scene ended and we taught how from there they went to Gethsemane and we will pick it up there next week. We took communion as a church at the end of this night as well.
A highlight for me was in one of the gatherings, a 7th grader came up and volunteered and he ended up being "Jesus". He read all the Jesus lines from Scripture I had pre-printed out and did great. I found out that it was his very first time in a church gathering and was brought by a family who has a son his age and brought him to the church meeting. So it was great seeing him being brought into the story of the Last Supper and even repeating the Scriptures of what Jesus said at the Last Supper.
I used to do these types of impromptu pull people up on the stage to engage with the Scriptures and act things out when I was youth pastor, but haven't done it (I don't recall) at all since I left youth ministry to serve with adults. And after hearing Ralph Winter talking about how people engage with "story" and seeing today the huge way pulling people into the story of Scripture, it makes me wonder why I haven't done that more. I know it is the Spirit who reveals truth and the Scriptures themselves are inspired – so we are merely instruments of proclaiming the truth of Scripture. But what an incredible story to engage with – and then ending by taking communion to me was such a beautiful thing that Jesus told us to do in remembrance of Him.
After one of the gatherings I got to chat with another college student who I learned was atheist and was their first time with us as well. So wonderful conversations and another Sunday …. I shall forever remember the 7th grader who did the role of "Jesus"… and I look forward to the next 4 Sundays as we engage with the greatest story ever told and that ever happened with Jesus and His resurrection. I am going to be taking 2 weeks in isolation to finish the "Churchland" book. But what a joy it is for all of us in churches all across the world to teach through this incredible story at this time of year. May many lives be changed as they hear the wonderful story of the gospel of Jesus all across the world over the next several weeks.