Passion Week, also known as Holy Week, began with a bang in the Baltimore area. This is the week between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday, which commemorates, in the Christian religion, the journey of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to the cross to His being raised from the dead.
At the invite of a friend, this writer had occasion Sunday, March 20, 2016 to attend St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, 810 N. Carrollton Avenue, to experience an event that would be sure to transform and save lives. The event was entitled, “Lead Me To Calvary” and featured performances in song, dance and drama. Although this free event was held at St. John AME Church where Dr. Peggy Wall is the pastor, this edifice served as the host church for Word 4 Life Ministries on Frederick Road to benefit their building fund.
From the beginning of the program, Rev. Harrison Johnson, pastor of Word 4 Life Ministries, gave credit to the person who had “fathered” the production. The concept was birthed by Jason Vereen, the Minister of Music. As the visionary, he brought together members of various denominations to create the 40-member choir, which carried the weight of the program. He was the backbone behind the music, costumes and scenery used in the production. The story of Jesus’ journey to the cross was told through the clear baritone voice of narrator Gabriel Burgess. With Kris Fickling’s portrayal of Jesus, the story was told with veracity and authenticity as the audience was taken through the chronology of the events leading to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
The acoustics of the 160-year-old building were ideal as the strong melodious voices tugged at the emotional heartstrings of the congregation assembled there. The choir, dressed in formal black attire, sang many emotionally-charged songs to give honor and remind those in attendance of the suffering Christ had to endure as well as the rich heritage and history inherent in the Black church. The repertoire included:
- “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
- “At Calvary”
- “I’m Covered By The Blood”
- “Nothing But The Blood of Jesus”
- “For Me, He Let Them Nail Him To The Cross”
- “Oh Jesus”
- “Will The Lord Remember Me?”
- “He Was Hung Up For My Hang Ups”
- “He Would Not Come Down”
- “There Is No Greater Love”
- “Death, Where Is Thy Sting?”
- “Oh, The Blood” and
- “Jesus Is His Name”
The congregants were on their feet, some swaying with hands lifted in the air. There were shouts of,”Thank you” and “Yeah, Lord” along with hand clapping and tambourine beating. In addition, there was liturgical dancing, which also moved those in attendance.
This performance was so realistic that a youngster was overheard asking if Fickling, as Jesus, had really been nailed to the cross. Rev. Dr. Joan L. Wharton, pastor of Hemingway Temple AME Church in Cherry Hill, was in attendance. She said the production was “awesome, amazing and spiritually uplifting”. She said it depicted the “entire story of Passion Week leading up to the Resurrection”. She went on to describe it as anointed, colorful and real.
“Lead Me To Calvary” was a great way to reaffirm one’s faith, while reflecting on rising above any obstacles one might face in life. It is anticipated that this will not be the last time this production is presented.