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March 25, 2008

Joyful Noises

Roy Meachum

If you still wonder what the Psalm meant by "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the world," you obviously didn't visit Walkersville's Calvary Assembly of God church this Easter weekend.


"The Borrowed Tomb" does not bill itself as a spectacle. It is. In the 41 years since I picked up a critic's knife, I cannot summon up the memory of any event that was more spectacular. I do not mean the production itself.


The show's lack of pretentiousness comes across as proper humility in dealing with the last days of Jesus Christ. By way of comparison with Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ," for example, Production Director Loren Fetty has managed to come much closer to the spirit of the feast's significance.


Not incidentally, Associate Pastor Fetty donned wig and beard to become Christians' Messiah; in his acting scenes he was able to check (and correct) his enthusiastic cast.


His wife, Production Manager LaDona Fetty constantly monitored each performance; she looked for ways to maintain the pacing and coloring that both the Fettys wanted.


The Assembly of God's church was built and altered to make a theatrical home for shows like "The Borrowed Tomb." The title was born from the Biblical story that Mary and the apostles borrowed a burial vault for crucified Jesus from a sympathetic merchant, who had bought it for his own use.


The Assembly of God, for readers who may not know, is very evangelical in reaching out to bring new people into the church. Pastors and members approach worship as a truly happy experience. They mount theatrical productions as a means to extend their faith. Their mission succeeded beyond all measure this weekend.


For Mr. Gibson's film, Palm Sunday's hosannas degenerated quickly into incredible sadism. The guards' whips were amplified by the lesser atrocities, mockery and petty cruelties.


Pastor Fetty did not denigrate Christ's sufferings, but the director balances them by the boundless good they created. The triple crucifixions are there; two thieves hang on their crosses in the show's climax. This weekend's audiences witnessed the Roman soldiers' miserable bullying and taunting of all three.


But no feast in the Christian year inspires so many hosannas; even the miracle of Christmas is more subdued than the explosions of happiness heard at Easter.


Amazingly, "The Borrowed Tomb" captured that exquisite pleasure prompted by the Messiah's great pain and suffering in full testimony to man's cruelties to man.


There is no secret to the Calvary Assembly of God's production's wonderful success. It comes from the joyful noises made by the massed singers and players.


Every singer I could see did not simply spout words to the right tempo; each captured the underlying message and communicated the idea to the packed house. There were so many on stage I feared collisions that never happened, and accidents totally avoided.


My approach to "The Borrowed Tomb" was not religious; I went to weigh the show, the successor to last year's performances already seen and felt. By any standard, however, I truly believe Pastor Fetty and his entire team scored a huge success.


They accomplished the teaching that Jesus taught in a parable about a coin imprinted with Caesar's face: they rendered unto the theatrical community what it richly deserved and blazed a towering high bonfire with their faith.


Too late for this year, readers should make plans for next Easter, by all means. For a few nights the church up MD 194, headed for Woodsboro, bid fair to be proclaimed the home for the Greatest Show on Earth. Bravo!

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