More than 100,000 people watched the Mesa Easter Pageant April 8, 11-15 on the grounds of the Arizona Temple - setting a new attendance record. In its 57th year, the Mesa pageant, "Jesus the Christ," drew spectators from throughout the United States and from 20 other countries.
"We now believe this pageant is the largest annual Easter pageant in the world," said Pageant Chairman Douglas Holladay.Brother Holladay said pageant-goers came to Mesa from as far away as Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, Malaysia and China. Last year, visitors also came from England, Germany, Romania, Japan, Iran, Tonga and Australia.
"We know now that there is worldwide interest in the pageant and people are coming from all over the world to see it," he said.
Every year during the week prior to Easter, "Jesus the Christ" is presented nightly by a cast of more than 300 on the spacious north lawn of the Arizona Temple. Opening night on Saturday is presented in Spanish. The remaining five nights, Tuesday through Saturday, are in English.
The pageant uses music, drama and dance to portray the powerful and poignant moments of the life of Christ as recorded in the New Testament. The sound track includes music from the London Symphony Orchestra and the Arizona Mormon Choir.
The production opens with actors portraying heralding angels atop the stage, which is 200 feet long and 40 feet high. Special lighting and smoke add to the effects when the actor playing Jesus appears and is proclaimed "The Light of the World."
Then the characters Adam and Eve come on stage and the plan of salvation is introduced as they are taught about the need of a Savior. Job comes out and asks the age-old question, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14.) Then Isaiah prophesies about the birth of the Savior: "Unto us a child is born . . . ." (Isaiah 9:6). That prophecy is fulfilled as "the Word was made flesh" (John 1:14) and the Baby Jesus is born in Bethlehem.
The story of Jesus' life is told including His baptism, calling of the apostles, familiar stories of His ministry, the Last Supper, His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal, His death on the cross and His glorious resurrection.
In the end, the audience is told that Job's question is answered through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"This is the Easter message," the narrator says. "Because of the Savior all of us will live again." This is the purpose of the pageant, to "witness to all who see it that Jesus is the Christ and that He lives today."
Through the years, going to the pageant has become an Easter tradition for many. Gayle Keith of the Sunny Mesa Ward, Mesa Arizona Kimball East Stake, has come since she was a teenager and the pageant was then an Easter sunrise service.
"I used to bring my children when they were young because I wanted them to see the real Easter story and to feel the Spirit," Sister Keith said. "My children are older now, and this year we came with our grandchildren. Now we see that tradition continuing to the next generation."
Pageant director Lund Johnson said the pageant is an "Easter gift to the community. It helps to remind us all of Jesus Christ and His contributions to our individual lives and to the world."