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Local church re-enacts Last Supper

Staff Photo: John Bohn Godfrey Mhlanga plays the role of Jesus during a living Last Supper presentation performed by the men of The Episcopal Church of St. Mary & St. Martha of Bethany in Buford on Saturday.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Godfrey Mhlanga plays the role of Jesus during a living Last Supper presentation performed by the men of The Episcopal Church of St. Mary & St. Martha of Bethany in Buford on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Ivan Burba plays the role of Aging Peter during a living Last Supper presentation performed by the men of The Episcopal Church of St. Mary & St. Martha of Bethany in Buford on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Godfrey Mhlanga, left, plays the role of Jesus during a living Last Supper presentation performed by the men of The Episcopal Church of St. Mary & St. Martha of Bethany in Buford on Saturday.

BUFORD -- In a society where the glow of the digital screen illuminates the daily lives of young and old alike, it's vital for churches to sometimes step outside the preach-and-sing routine.

That's how Irene Howell sees it.

"It's important especially for children these days, who are raised on television," said Howell, a longtime member of St. Mary & St. Martha of Bethany Episcopal Church. "People need to be told about the Bible in different ways ... in ways that will really speak to them in these times."

Howell was one of more than 100 who attended the third annual presentation of "The Living Last Supper" Saturday night at the church. Based on the original Gospel story and famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the event also served as a precursor to Holy Week, which begins today: Palm Sunday.

More than a dozen actors took the stage, many of them playing the parts of Jesus' apostles, a mobile spotlight following them from scene to scene, all of it laid out at different stations around the large sanctuary. The centerpiece was a reconstruction of da Vinci's iconic painting.

Director Janet Christenberry said the event is the church's "biggest production."

"We get very excited about this every year," Christenberry said.

She's wasn't alone.

Frances Brooks, a member of the audience Saturday night, arrived early with her friend, Howell, to get a front row seat.

"I'm looking forward to finally seeing this in person," Brooks said. "I've heard good things."

As the lights dimmed in the sanctuary, Brooks and the rest of the audience quieted as they watched a man playing "Old Peter" enter the large room, led by two soldiers.

Prior to the production Saturday night, the man who played the role of Old Peter talked with excitement about his involvement in the Living Last Supper.

"It's invigorating, because it helps us to tell the story of Jesus in new ways," Ivan Burba said. "It's real action. To be involved in something like this, it helps us feel like we are doing something really good to help spread the good word."

Father Tim Watts, who played Judas, agreed.

"This is thrilling ... it always is," Watts said. "And in a time when more and more Christians seem to be less and less Biblically literate than ever before, a dramatization from the Bible helps introduce and reintroduce them to important stories like this one."

Watts' portrayal of Judas, one of the 12 apostles, ended with his betrayal of Jesus to the chief priests of the temple guard.

The presentation ended with the crucifixion of Peter, who hefted a large, wooden cross down the aisles of the sanctuary.

Being able to play the role of Peter, Burba said, helped him to "grow spiritually."

"We've all grown spiritually ourselves just being a part of this," he said. "It's a powerful retelling of the story in a different kind of way."