The Greatest Story
The Greatest Story
For over 35 years, Eureka Springs, Arkansas has been telling the greatest story ever told. Millions have been thrilled and inspired by their nightly Passion Play. My tour of Eureka Spring’s rendition of the Holy Land demonstrated the life and times of Jesus. Watching the potter shape a pot as he preached a sermon at the creative Potter’s Wheel presentation made it clear that we are to be the clay in the Master Potters hand. The movie in the Bible Museum made me want to keep my Bible close as I was reminded how much people had to sacrifice to get it translated into English. Standing gazing at the giant statue of Christ with arms outstretched to the Ozark Mountains was a holy experience. Spending 2 days hearing a story I have memorized was thrilling and not boring because I knew how important that story was.
When I got on the tram to the Holy Land, I noticed Leroy. Nine-year-old Leroy was the only child on that tour and his mother, aunt, and grandmother accompanied him on board. I enjoyed watching them because Leroy was the center of their attention. All three women hovered over him and it was obvious how loved he was.
Leroy was a tactile learner because he touched everything. Fascinated by the artificial fruit, turning wheels, and rocks, he was clearly enjoying himself. His short “crew cut” styled jet-black hair allowed him to be cooler than the rest of us. His energetic darting up and down the hills reminded us of the energy we didn’t have.
Leroy was built like a football player and quite agile so I asked his mom, “Does he play sports?”
“Yes,” she said as she ran down the common team sports that America’s children spend their afternoons practicing. I remembered those exhausting years of getting my children to practices and knew she was a busy mom.
There was a point in the Holy Land presentation where Jesus suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, walked on the water, and shouted “Peace!” The echoes of his shouts bounced off the mountain walls. A collective gasp and murmur ran through the audience. The illusion that the actor who played Jesus was actually walking across the lake of the Holy Land astounded everyone except Leroy. He understood that Jesus was walking on the water but it didn’t surprise or impress him. He took it in stride.
As I looked at it through Leroy’s eyes, I realized he had grown up watching movies and television where the impossible was made to look real and people could do absolutely anything anyone could imagine. As Jesus the actor’s feet had splashed through the water on that hot afternoon, the platform he had walked on had become visible and we all figured out how they created the illusion. Leroy probably wondered why we were all so impressed when he had easily figured out how they made Jesus look like he was walking on the water.
I realized that it wasn’t the presentation we were so impressed with. It was what it meant to us. A simple parlor trick that was easily understood surprised us and made us feel a little like what the disciples must have felt like when Jesus appeared out of the fog to calm the seas. His miracle had become more real to us. Our familiarity with and love of the story made us forgive the technology that produced the illusion.
I wondered if Leroy knew and loved the story. “Leroy, do you know these stories?’
“No,” Leroy said.
“Do you know Jesus? Are you a Christian?”
“I guess,” he said hesitantly.
“Have you invited Him into your life and been baptized?” I continued to push. His aunt, mother, and grandmother were listening to his response.
“I haven’t been baptized,” he answered.
I kept talking. “Leroy, I love Jesus. I’ve invited Him into my life and He is my best friend. I get up every morning and read the Bible and talk to Him. Do you go to church?”
“I go sometimes with my grandmother. We don’t have any churches in my town.”
“Yes we do, Leroy,” his mother corrected. “We have four.”
“Not our kind,” Leroy argued.
“They’re Christian, Leroy and that is all that matters,” his mother said. She looked at me to explain. “Mother’s church is only 20 miles away so if we wanted to go there, we could. He goes there when he spends the night with Mother.”
“I always take him to church,” the grandmother agreed.
“I guess we’ve been lazy and haven’t taken him enough,” the mother said guiltily. “We’re busy during the week and tired on Sunday. I know it’s not right.”
“Is your husband willing to go to church?’ I asked.
“Oh yes,” she said. “He grew up in church.”
“So have you just gotten out of the habit of going or did something happen to shake your faith?”
“No,” she said. “We still believe as much as ever. Nothing has happened.” I wasn’t surprised because I had noticed that Leroy’s mother had been moved and fascinated by the events we witnessed in the Holy Land. She went on to describe her Christian upbringing that had shaped her beliefs about God. This woman had experienced the power of this story.
“It sounds like going to church as a child meant a lot to you,” I said. She agreed and looked at Leroy. I knew I didn’t need to say what the four of us were thinking. Leroy wasn’t moved by the stories he was hearing because to him, they were just another story among stories. He had no way of knowing he was listening to the greatest story ever told because in his short life, this story was close to the bottom of a packed priority list.
“It’s easy to get out of the habit of going to church,” I said gently. “Many young couples do it. I hope you will find the time to take Leroy to church.”
(See pictures in the Photo Gallery under Arkansas - Eureka Springs - Passion Play, Holy Land, and Christ of the Ozarks.)