The feelings and thoughts of those who heard the last words of Jesus Christ before he died on the cross are the subject of this weekend’s production of “The Last Words,” presented by members of First Presbyterian Church in Morris.
The production is in observance of Holy Week, the week before Easter, and will be presented twice — once on Sunday, April 1 and again on Thursday, April 5, both at 7 p.m. at First Presbyterian.
A moving and thought-provoking production, organizers said they had such a good response from doing it last year that it was requested they repeat the performance this year, with some cast and music changes.
“It went off very well last year,” said Jay Roth, who is co-director along with his wife, Cheryl. “From the comments we received, people were very moved by the presentation. The mood of the presentation is very solemn and serious. It’s a very personal experience during Holy Week.”
Easter, the Roths said, is a time of joy and celebration of the Resurrection, but the days before, as Jesus went through many trials and tribulations as he was sentenced to die on the cross, are a more solemn and reflective time for Christians.
“It’s a spiritually moving experience,” Cheryl said, “understanding Jesus’s final days. We would like people to feel like they were there first hand.”
The drama begins with Jesus on the cross, as actors enter one at a time with their thoughts on his last words. Jesus is portrayed by Zac Mitchell, a Morris Community High School junior, for the second time.
His father, Ray, plays Simon of Cyrene, whom Roman soldiers made carry Jesus’s cross on the final journey to Calvary. This was Ray’s first time in the drama, and he found it wasn’t an easy role, with his son right in front on him on the cross.
“When they asked me to do it,” he said, “the main reason I decided to do it was for the opportunity to do something with my boy. I’ve never done anything like this before. I decided I’d give it a shot.”
Ray had a role in the church’s drama of the last supper a couple of years ago, but this was a piece with a monologue with a lot of lines. He said he listened to the advice of those who had done it before, which helped. But seeing his son in his role was something else.
“It hits me pretty hard when I turn and see my son on the cross,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
Ray said last year when his son played the same role, he was in the audience. It wasn’t easy to watch at times, he said, but it has been a little harder to adjust to this time.
Zac said his role is very physically demanding, to be in the one position for such a long time. Last year, he said he wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it would really be.
“I’ve been working out pretty hard core this year,” he said. “At practice, I was shaking so bad they made me go home. ... But last year, with the adrenaline that night, it was fine. You don’t feel it until afterward.”
Zac said that even though he knew it would be difficult, he accepted the role again this year because he knew he was right for it.
“Every person out there is there for a reason,” he said. “I’m just honored and in awe that they picked me twice in a row. ... It’s nice for the community to come together and see what Jesus went through for us.”
One difference in his role this year is that he will have lines, although the audience might not hear them. Zac was asked to learn some of Jesus’s words in Latin and to mouth them near the end, such as the translation of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Ray said it awes him when he thinks that someone might come to Christ through the drama or that someone who has strayed might return to believing.
“It is powerful,” he said of the drama. “It is extreme. It’s kind of overwhelming when you think about what he went through. I would recommend anybody to go see it. I think it affects everybody in a positive manner.”
Just before the drama, Pastor Roy Backus will present a brief worship service, and communion will be served. Visitors are welcome to participate. Plates for freewill offerings will also be available, the profits from which will go to mission work.