BELTON — The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor will host its 78th annual Easter Pageant on Wednesday.

There will be performances at 12:30 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. in front of Luther Memorial on the UMHB campus. All three performances will be free and open to the public.

UMHB’s Easter Pageant has become a tradition for many Central Texas families and is expected to attract thousands of visitors this year.

The production is student-led and features a cast of over 300 UMHB students and 30 children and grandchildren of university students, faculty, and staff.

The pageant chronicles moments from the Gospel story, including Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, and Christ’s trial by Pontius Pilate, crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

Each year President Randy O’Rear selects a student to serve as the pageant’s director, overseeing the cast and production. This year’s director is Maddie Rarick of Sugarland.

Twelve months before each production, O’Rear also chooses two outstanding students for the honor of portraying Jesus and His mother, Mary. These choices are based less on acting or singing ability than on strong Christian faith and character.

This year the role of Mary will be filled by Sophie Rivera of Round Rock, and Jacob Asmussen of Austin will play Jesus.

“I was surprised that he would choose me,” Asmussen said, “and I had no idea of the journey that it would take me on throughout the next year.”

Asmussen describes the experience of preparing for the role of Christ as having been transformative.

“It’s been life changing,” Asmussen said. “It has transformed my heart

and my way of thinking, and it has really helped me develop a stronger relationship with God and His love.”

As director of the pageant, Rarick was responsible for most of the production’s casting decisions, but she encouraged Asmussen to select the students who would fill the roles of his disciples. For Asmussen, the task offered an opportunity for ministry.

“I wanted a group of guys that could form a great bond, a brotherhood,” Asmussen said, “but I also wanted guys who were at different stages in their relationship with Christ, guys who could benefit from the experience and be changed by it.”

Asmussen said the young men have grown close over the course of the production. In fact, the group has plans to conduct a baptism ceremony in the near future for members who have never been baptized before or who were baptized as children.

“That’s probably going to be one of the best days of my life,” Asmussen said.

Pageant organizers caution that the 5:30 p.m. show is usually the most popular, so visitors are encouraged to attend earlier performances if possible. Audiences are also encouraged to bring sunscreen, as umbrellas are prohibited.

The tradition of the annual Easter Pageant at UMHB began in 1940 when it was held during the afternoon on Easter Day.

At that time, Mary Hardin-Baylor was an all-female campus, so all of the roles were played by women. Over time, the production expanded to include male students and additional performances during the day.

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