BELTON — The early spring chill didn’t keep crowds away from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s 75th annual Easter Pageant on Wednesday.
The sun was shining down on the green grass of the quad as UMHB students, parents and visitors gathered for the show. Buses from churches in Gatesville and Cameron sat in the parking lot. People came from as far away as Georgetown and Killeen to see the UMHB tradition.
Over the years, being selected as Jesus, Mary and the director for the pageant has become among the highest honors on campus. The president always chooses these students personally from the senior class. This year, Karl Baker portrayed Jesus, Esther Gibbs portrayed Mary and Jason Aleman directed.
The audience was greeted by Aleman and his assistant directors, Alyssa Martinez, a senior music education major, and Tiffany Williamson, a senior psychology major.
“I could not be more proud of our directors,” UMHB President Randy O’Rear said. “They have worked for a year on this pageant. I hope you see that this is not make-believe. It’s real and it can make a difference in your life.”
The pageant opened with an introduction by Joseph and Mary — two of the few speaking parts that weren’t on the prerecorded vocal track. They entered the grassy stage area riding a donkey. They recapped the events surrounding the birth of Christ.
UMHB students Stephen Ash and Kailyn Campbell sang “In the Name of the Lord” as Jesus and the 12 disciples, each personally selected by Baker, mingled with the crowd, providing snapshots of Jesus’ healing, telling parables and performing miracles, which climaxed with the raising of a girl back to life.
But the mood quickly turned somber as Palm Sunday ended and the scribes and Pharisees began to plot against Jesus. From the emotional Garden of Gethsemane scene to Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the music, provided by UMHB’s choral ensemble One Voice, and the crowd’s well-timed shouting and jeering effectively pulled the audience into the crux of the Easter story.
Shouts of “Crucify him!” rang out as Pilate washed his hands. Then the chaos subsided for a touching vocal performance of “Via Dolorosa” by Sarah Flores. The song, using Spanish and English, echoed over the quad as the actors converged upon Calvary, set on the small hill next to the Luther Memorial ruins.
The coming of the angel to the tomb and the resurrection were set to the joyful “Arise My Love,” performed by Catherine Brown and Julia Brown. The audience broke into applause as Jesus burst from the tomb, smiling and greeting front-row attendees with hand clasps and even some high-fives for the kids.
The pageant wrapped up at the foot of the cross, where all the cast kneeled and sang an a capella rendition of “We Exalt Thee.”
“Our prayer is that Christ will become real to you today,” Gibbs said. “That you would see the cross not just as Jesus’ cross, but as your cross and my cross. Each of us deserved to die this way but because God loved us so much, Jesus came to die for us.”