BURLESON, TX — Christians observe many traditions around Easter. Some start 40 days before Easter Sunday with a time of reflection, fasting and penance that represents the 40 days Jesus spent alone in the wilderness before starting his ministry. Some continue 50 days following Easter Sunday, including the celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The season is a time when Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the salvation He brought to the world. Justin Bond observes Easter in a unique way — by playing the role of Jesus in the semi-annual Easter Pageant at Cana Baptist Church in Burleson where he attends with his family. He contributes his time and talent in the hope he can spark deeper spiritual growth in his church and in his community.
Justin grew up in Burleson. He married Lauren Mankin in 2007, and they have three young children: Elizabeth, Ryer and Joy, who was born in December 2014. Justin joined Cana Baptist Church, where Lauren grew up attending. “At first, it felt like Lauren’s church to me,” Justin admitted. “But, with all the support we have received and the friends who have become important to us, it quickly felt like my church, too.” Getting involved in church activities is a good way to feel connected. Melissa Tullos, the Easter drama director, promptly asked Justin to be one of Jesus’ disciples in the upcoming performance. “I felt involved and began to build relationships in my new congregation,” Justin said. The next year, Melissa asked Justin to play the role of Jesus. He admitted he was both nervous and excited.
“Some of the scenes simply require that I wear a lot less clothes than everyone else,” Justin explained. “It brings a whole new meaning to the term church family!” Justin was apprehensive, but accepted. He had to start growing a beard, which he had also never done. “I don’t feel like I am more important because I play Jesus,” Justin said. “We are all important in our different parts. When Jesus was on the earth, the focus was never on Him but on other people.” Justin feels like he is just one guy with some lines who creates a great opportunity for people to learn what Jesus did for them.
There are over 100 cast and crew including the choir. Each member has talents needed for the production such as singers, set designers, construction designers, painters and photographers. “The pageant is the embodiment of a true community effort. Every person is significant and important,” Justin said. “I am amazed people ended up at Cana with each of the talents we needed.”
Within the congregation, a real sense of ownership exists because every aspect is provided by congregants in the form of costume designers, makeup artists, lighting and sound people, prop and stage managers. There is even a special assistant to Jesus. “Between scenes, I am throwing off clothes, applying makeup and wrapping up in a shroud to quickly start the next scene,” Justin said. “With so many functions, it’s neat to see things work together smoothly.”
Practices start in January and focus on the music. About four weeks before Easter, the practices get tighter and more frequent. They are performed on the stage where props and makeup are introduced. Yet, there is only one full dress rehearsal. This year, performances are at Cana Baptist Church on Saturday, April 4, at 3:00 and 6:00 p.m., and again on Sunday, April 5, at 10:00 a.m. “This will be my daughter, Lizzie’s, first year to perform in the pageant,” Justin said. “She is so excited.” Before each performance, the parking lot is transformed into a market scene complete with Roman soldiers wielding spears on horseback, farm animals and food from the time period, all of which are donated by members in the congregation. Attendees get to experience what Jerusalem was really like. “Not many churches do this on such a large scale anymore,” Justin said. “But, we have always been a church with time to care.”
The music for the pageant is coordinated by the full-time worship minister, Brian Tullos. Every year, he tweaks the program by choosing some different songs. Music is at the core of the production, so everything starts there. The drama director, Brian’s wife, Melissa, then builds the script around the music. “There are different elements every year so the story isn’t exactly the same, and Melissa is very creative and has great leadership skills to rework some parts,” Brian said. “We do not take dramatic license. We follow the Scripture.
“As Justin prepares himself for the role of Jesus, his humble spirit shows,” Brian said. “Justin is a humble person, and so was Jesus.” The impact of the pageant is evident in people’s lives. “Our children have been involved in the pageant their entire lives, so they have been exposed to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus,” Brian said. “I believe this has played a large part in their early decisions for salvation.”
The impact is evident among the 1,200-plus people who attend the pageant every year. The pageant is used as an outreach to the community. Historical accuracy is very important. “I appreciate Lauren and Justin Bond are united by their faith.
Brian and Melissa keeping traditional Jewish elements of the times in the production,” Justin said. “Every year people remark about the theological correctness and the energy felt during the performance.” The pastor, Dr. Charles Stewart, presents the Gospel at the end of each performance, and many have made decisions to follow Christ. “This is all about changing lives,” Justin said. “The pageant shows elements of praise through music, and what comes out of it is up to God,” Justin explained.
Justin’s vision is to create stronger communities of people that are involved in one another’s lives. In his professional life, he is an economic development manager for the city of Burleson. His goal is to help Burleson flourish and thrive, and he strives to create relationships that focus on the future. He admits it can be hard to find a sense of community in a town of 40,000 people. “We have to know our neighbors,” Justin said. “I want a community and a church that knows everyone and helps everyone.” The pageant brings the two together and is a powerful tool to help people interact.
“It is such a blessing to be a part of a ministry that focuses on using members’ talents to build relationships,” Justin said. He will always have a passion for helping others find deeper spiritual growth. Playing the role of Jesus brings meaning to peoples’ lives during the Easter season. Justin knows he is playing the role of a lifetime.
Written by Eric McEndree.