The crucifixion scene dramatically displayed at Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church in Topton, PA on Good Friday was stunning. The huge cross at center, built by Bill Moyer and Steve Beck, draped with tattered black fabric, was topped with a crown of thorns and backed by an enormous sunset mural, painted by Meghan Smith. The scene was simple yet powerful, dominating the worship space and providing the visual focus for the Cantata, “The Living Last Words” by Ruth Schram, performed at the church on April 18th.
“Truly this Man was the Son of God!” With these powerful words, the centurion revealed his understanding of the meaning of Christ’s suffering. Throughout the Cantata, inspired by the Seven Last Words of Christ, Schram imagines the responses of witnesses at Calvary. Short monologues from each character: the contemptuous, hardened soldier, the sister of the crucified thief, the scornful priest, the anguished shepherd, Christ’s grieving mother, and the heartbroken disciple further enlarged the scene.
The choir, dressed in black, interpreted the last words and made them more accessible for the audience. “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they do… They’re just following orders, they’re soldiers through and through…it’s all part of the plan…” “Today you have been set free…” Elizabeth Schucker and Jonathan Quier were the soloists for “You Will Be With Me.”
It was amazing to hear the attitudes expressed by different characters. The arrogant priest, for example, said: “…Why doesn’t he save himself? …Surely this will break up this little band of brothers…they will fall apart, and we will rid ourselves of this threat…” and the choir responded, “Cling to the faith that binds us, care for one another…” “Woman, behold your son…” as Mary wept, “Oh Father God, give me strength…” Matt Ehrig and Wanda Scarl were soloists for “I Thirst.”
One of the most dramatic and touching characters was that of John the disciple, whose black hooded cloak covered his face most of the time. He flung back his hood to openly explain to us the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice. Grief-stricken at the suffering of his friend, John was incredulous at the angry crowd’s rejection of Christ. We jumped when he agonized that the crowd had “rejected Him!... they refuse to open their eyes and to see the truth..” John pleaded with God to help him understand and “Somehow, turn this sorrow into rejoicing…”
When the choir sang, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit,” we realized, “When death approaches, we will not fear…” The characters left the scene as the choir sang finally, “It …is…finished.” However, with the last song, “What Wondrous Love,” the choir made us see that there is hope and that victory will come. Resolution came as the congregation and the choir sang together, “…we will remember, we will not forget…”
The Cantata was organized by Stephen Schucker, who conducted the choir. Suzanne Mabry provided the piano accompaniment. Pastor Scott Staub delivered the homily after the Cantata.
Major roles were played by:
Pharisee: Terry Schartel
Roman Soldier: Carl Wischner
Shepherd: Ron Leister
John: Steve Reinhard
Sibling of Thief: Kassi Yocco
Mary: Marie Fenstermacher
Supporting Cast: Jacob Fenstermacher, Carl Wischner, Jr., Olivia, Reece and Midia Fenstermacher, Jere and Wanda Golden, Andy and Jimmy Ludwig, Emily VanBilliard, Braden Geiger.