Mesa Easter Pageant – Jesus The Christ

Mesa Easter Pageant palms for Jesus

Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. (John 12:13)

Last Thursday evening found my family enjoying the Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant, one of the world’s largest annual outdoor Easter pageants. In Jesus the Christ the story is told of the Savior’s birth, ministry, death, and resurrection through speech, music, dance, and drama. The pageant is not a passion play focusing on the crucifixion but rather a celebration of the resurrection of the Savior.

Mesa Easter Pageant our family in our seats

At the pageant: Jill, Rick, Paul, Jake, Sarah, Bryson, Derek

Pageant History

The Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant, from its beginnings as a sunrise performance on the back of a cotton wagon in 1928, has grown into a full-scale theatrical production involving nearly 1,000 cast and crew and a 9,600-square-foot stage. The presentation was not held during some of the war years but has been held every year since.

Mesa Easter Pageant and the temple

The pageant is performed on the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors Center grounds

Mesa Easter Pageant Paul by the temple

Paul by the Mesa Arizona Temple

According to the official website, the pageant is appropriate for children:

It is very colorful and fast-moving. There are beautiful scenes showing Jesus teaching and healing children, as well as scenes which use animals such as sheep, miniature horses, doves, and a donkey. The betrayal, scourging, and crucifixion of Christ are portrayed, but these scenes are presented as tastefully as possible. Although children of all ages are permitted to attend, children under the age of 3 years may not be able to see as well and may be uncomfortable in the chilly weather.

Our grandson Bryson is 2 1/2 and did not watch the pageant for long. He had to be taken from the seating area so he wouldn’t disturb the people sitting near us. We noticed that some of the parents of other very young children had to do the same thing.

Mesa Easter Pageant before the performance

View from the side of the stage towards the audience


Cast members were available for photographs before and after the pageant, in the audience or in the Visitors’ Center. We were allowed to use our own cameras. However, during the performance no flash photography or video photography is permitted. One could presumably take photographs of the performance without using a flash but I didn’t try this — I just relaxed and enjoyed the presentation.

Pageant Costumes

Mesa Easter Pageant father and son shepherds

Father and son shepherds

The costumes are beautiful. I was impressed at the variety, color, and quality. I learned that a 20-person costume staff works year round to research Biblical costumes, create, design, and sew them. No costumes are rented; they are all constructed by pageant volunteers. Most of the fabric is donated (some even coming from Saudi Arabia and Israel). Great care is taken to make sure the costumes are historically correct.
Mesa Easter Pageant cast members
During Biblical times, cultures from throughout the Mid-Eastern World, and as far away as Africa, gathered in Jerusalem — making it a very eclectic gathering place of native costumes of all colors and designs. Of course, the pastoral people dressed more humbly in color, fabric and style. The only scene in the pageant with which is taken creative license for outdoor theatrical costuming is the Dance of the Ten Virgins’ Parable.

Mesa Easter Pageant ten virgins

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. (Matthew 25:1)

The Romans

The Emperor of Rome, with the title Augustus Caesar, confirmed Herod as king of the Jews. Herod owed allegiance to Rome, but was free to do what he wanted within Israel.

Rome ruled all of the known world. Rome was not at war but were prepared for it. Roman soldiers were professionals who had enlisted for 25 years. They were armed with heavy javelins, called pila, and short swords of 24 inches long. They wore helmets and chainmail shirts and they carried large curved wooden shields.

Mesa Easter Pageant Bryson with a Roman soldier

Bryson listens to instructions from a passing Roman soldier


At the time of Jesus Roman soldiers would have been found only around Caesarea Maratima where the Roman procurator lived. They would have been called into use when the great festivals were being celebrated in Jerusalem to prevent uprisings, or they would be needed in the execution of criminals by crucifixion.

Living under Roman rule had some advantages. Generally they allowed freedom of religion and did not interfere with the religious practices of the people they governed. The governors of provinces built temples to their own gods, where sacrifices were conducted daily. But it was the Roman method of taxation that most stung. Provinces had to pay taxes. An amount was estimated and the country split up into tax districts. As Rome had no civil service, taxes were collected by private syndicates who made a large profit by over collecting. Taxes on goods were very high. Not surprisingly, tax collectors were despised. (The Romans in Israel)

Mesa Easter Pageant Jill with a Roman soldier

A Roman soldier, on his way to a scourging (note the flagrum), obligingly let me take this photograph

Attending The Pageant

The pageant is free and runs 65 minutes. No tickets or reservations are necessary, but space fills up quickly, with more than 100,000 people attending over the nine days. Nightly audiences range from about 4,000 to 12,000 people. On the evening we attended it was easy to find good seats but during the second week of performances the seats fill very quickly and I would recommend arriving at least two hours early. See Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant for more details.

Pageant Scenes

Mesa Easter Pageant Jesus and parents

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)


Mesa Easter Pageant Jesus before the teachers

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. (Luke 2:46)


Mesa Easter Pageant Christ resurrected

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. (Matthew 28:6)

Photo Credit The five scenes from the performance: Mesa Easter Pageant Now on Stage
Watch a Video Mesa Easter Pageant Teaches of Christ

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100 Years Ago: Leading You Around The Gallery

The following was adapted from the Improvement Era magazine of 100 years ago.

In the spring of 1894, Elder Squires was serving as a missionary in Leipsic, Germany. He welcomed a new companion, fresh to the mission field, and showed him around the city. After touring the great market-hall and the library, they went to the art gallery.

On the inside the pictures had been placed in a series of rooms each connected with the other in such a way that you may pass from the first room into the next, and so on through all of the others and back again to the first. The new elder—I will call him Elder Green—did not know that they could thus move from room to room, and at last return to their starting place.

Improvement EraThe walls of the different rooms were crowded with the master-pieces of German and Italian artists. In one room was a life-sized portrait of Napoleon which Elder Green admired very much.

They passed on around through the different rooms, chatting and admiring the paintings, as they went, and had returned to the portrait of Napoleon.

“My goodness!” exclaimed Elder Green, “there is another portrait of Napoleon!”

Elder Green was not aware that they were on their second trip around. Elder Squires quickly led him from the portrait—he was curious to see how far he could lead Elder Green—before he discovered that he was looking at pictures for the second time. He kept up his interest until they returned again to Napoleon. “Well, well, another picture of Napoleon!” he exclaimed, as he viewed the great warrior for the third time.

They left the gallery. Elder Green had not discovered that he had seen all of the pictures twice, and some of them three times. As they walked away Elder Green wondered that the Leipsic gallery contained such a vast number of fine paintings, so many more than he had seen in the art gallery in London.

Elder Squires told him he had not yet seen the London gallery, and did not know how it compared with the gallery in Leipsic, but he ventured the assertion to Elder Green that London could not produce so many fine portraits of Napoleon.

Elder Squires never told his companion how he had led him around. The new elder had such confidence in him that he hated to let him know how he had played upon his confidence.

Leading You Around The Gallery

Do you have an acquaintance showing you how much greater and better and grander your opportunities for advancement, work and progress will be if you leave your good home and people to go there or yonder?—beware lest he is leading you around the gallery!

Have you a friend who tells you that the people of the world are so much freer than you are, and that your religion tends to make you narrow and one-sided, and then invites you to come out into the open and see the big world?—take heed that he does not lead you around the gallery!

Have you a so-called friend who tells you of the pleasure and freedom and manliness you may gain in the club room, at the gaming-table, in the saloon, in the pool-room, with up-to-date companions, as compared to the hum-drum of home and school, and the Church ward organizations?—set it down, he is leading you around the gallery! Every time, too, that you express surprise at a new Napoleon, he laughs in his sleeve at your ignorance and credulity.

Adapted from: Edward H. Anderson, “For the Development of Character”, Improvement Era, Vol. XIV. January, 1911. No. 3.
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United States LDS Church Membership Statistics

2011 Deseret News Church Almanac

The complete updated membership statistics are available at United States LDS Membership.

I have updated the United States LDS Membership table using numbers obtained from the Deseret News 2011 Church Almanac. Half of the book is devoted to membership details from around the world. I have placed some of these numbers into online sortable tables.

The United States membership is broken down by states in this sortable table. I have added the change in membership from 2007 to 2008 (2008 Δ) and 2008 to 2009 (2009 Δ).

By sorting on the “2009 Δ” column I found that only one state, Michigan, had a decrease in membership during 2009. I discovered that the five biggest increases came from Utah (26,710), Texas (8,410), Arizona (6,405), Washington (5,294), and Idaho (3,993).

The largest LDS state populations by percentage are in Utah (68%), Idaho (27%), Wyoming (11.5%), Nevada (6.7%), and Arizona (5.8%).

The states with the most members are Utah (1,884,377), California (757,895), Idaho (410,757), Arizona (381,235), and Texas (286,902). The most temples are in Utah (15), California (7), Arizona (5), Idaho (4), and Texas (4).

The most districts are in Texas and New York (3 each). Rhode Island is the only state without a stake (District of Columbia is not a state) while two states (Delaware and Vermont) have only one stake. 24 states have 10 or more stakes each and 13 states have a Mormon population of over 2%.

If states were countries (by combining tables — sorry, you have to do this manually) then the most membership would reside in the U.S. (6,058,907), Utah (1,884,377), Mexico (1,197,573), Brazil (1,102,674), and California (757,895). The most membership by percentage would belong to Utah (68%), Tonga (45%), Samoa (31%), Idaho (27%), and American Samoa (22.5%).

You can add up the permutations yourself, try it. The WorldUnited Kingdom and Canada memberships have also been updated.
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World LDS Church Membership Statistics

2011 Church Almanac

Deseret News 2011 Church Almanac

The complete updated membership statistics are available at World LDS Membership.

Last week I obtained a copy of the Deseret News 2011 Church Almanac. There is a lot of information packed into it’s 624 pages. My favorite is the membership statistics that are itemized country by country.

All these membership numbers are all very fine but they would be a lot more useful if they were in an online sortable table. It is the comparison that is interesting — seeing the growth in many countries and the stagnation in a few others.

So I put the world’s LDS Church membership statistics in a sortable table. I added the change in membership from 2007 to 2008 (2008 Δ) and 2008 to 2009 (2009 Δ).

By sorting on the “2009 Δ” column I found that 11 countries out of 168 had a decrease in membership during 2009, though they were small amounts. I discovered that the five biggest increases came from the United States (84,866), Brazil (42,118), Mexico (39,337), Peru (18,463), and the Philippines (17,300).

The largest LDS populations by percentage are in Tonga (45%), Samoa (31%), American Samoa (22.5%), Niue (19.1%), and Kirabati (11.9%). The United States comes in at 14th with 2%, tied with Palau.

The countries with the most members are the United States (6,058,907), Mexico (1,197,573), Brazil (1,102,674), Philippines (631,885), and Chile (561,920). The most temples are in the United States (75), Mexico (12), Canada (7), Brazil (6), and Australia (5).

The most districts are in the Philippines (86) but there are 13 countries with only one stake. However, there are 15 countries with a 2% or more Mormon population.

You can count on finding many more permutations. Try it.
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Apostles on Religion

Elder Dallin H. OaksThe Williamsburg Charter reminds us that despite our constitutional prohibition against establishing a state religion, in many areas of the United States during the nineteenth century there was “a de facto semi-establishment of one religion in the United States: a generalized Protestantism given dominant status in national institutions, especially in the public schools.” In contrast, the Charter continues, “In more recent times, and partly in reaction, constitutional jurisprudence has tended, in the view of many, to move toward the de facto semi-establishment of a wholly secular understanding of the origin, nature, and destiny of humankind and of the American nation.”

Over time, these “wholly secular understandings” have attained “a dominant status,” until there is a “striking absence today of any national consensus about religious liberty as a positive good.” The Charter concludes: “The renewal of religious liberty is crucial to sustain a free people that would remain free.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Religion in Public Life,” Ensign, Jul 1990, 7)

Elder James E FaustThere seems to be developing a new civil religion. The civil religion I refer to is a secular religion. It has no moral absolutes. It is nondenominational. It is nontheistic. It is politically focused. It is antagonistic to religion. It rejects the historic religious traditions of America. It feels strange. If this trend continues, nonbelief will be more honored than belief. While all beliefs must be protected, are atheism, agnosticism, cynicism, and moral relativism to be more safeguarded and valued than Christianity, Judaism, and the tenets of Islam, which hold that there is a Supreme Being and that mortals are accountable to him? If so, this would, in my opinion, place America in great moral jeopardy.

For those who believe in God, this new civil religion fosters some of the same concerns as the state religions that prompted our forefathers to escape to the New World. Nonbelief is becoming more sponsored in the body politic than belief. History teaches well the lesson that there must be a unity in some moral absolutes in all societies for them to endure and progress. Indeed, without a national morality they disintegrate. In Proverbs, we are reminded that “righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Prov. 14:34.) The long history and tradition of America, which had its roots in petitions for divine guidance, is being challenged. (James E. Faust, “A New Civil Religion,” Ensign, Oct 1992, 69)

Elder M. Russell BallardIndeed, some people now claim that the Founding Fathers’ worst fear in connection with religion has been realized; that we have, in fact, a state-sponsored religion in America today. This new religion, adopted by many, does not have an identifiable name, but it operates just like a church. It exists in the form of doctrines and beliefs, where morality is whatever a person wants it to be, and where freedom is derived from the ideas of man and not the laws of God. Many people adhere to this concept of morality with religious zeal and fervor, and courts and legislatures tend to support it.

While you may think I am stretching the point a bit to say that amorality could be a new state-sponsored religion, I believe you would agree that we do not have to look far to find horrifying evidence of rampant immorality that is permitted if not encouraged by our laws. From the plague of pornography to the devastation caused by addiction to drugs, illicit sex, and gambling, wickedness rears its ugly head everywhere, often gaining its foothold in society by invoking the powers of constitutional privilege.

We see a sad reality of contemporary life when many of the same people who defend the right of a pornographer to distribute exploitive films and photos would deny freedom of expression to people of faith because of an alleged fear of what might happen from religious influence on government or public meetings. While much of society has allowed gambling to wash over its communities, leaving broken families and individuals in its soul-destroying wake, it reserves its harshest ridicule for those who advocate obedience to God’s commandments and uniform, inspired standards of right and wrong. (M. Russell Ballard, “Religion in a Free Society,” Ensign, Oct 1992, 64)

Elder Russell M. NelsonThe dismal dusk of today’s spiritual drift provides a rare opportunity for the radiance of religion to light the way to a new tomorrow. This can happen only as we proclaim eternal truths that have the power to engender spiritual strength. Human nature cannot be changed by reforming public policy; that kind of change comes by exposing the human mind and heart to the transforming teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have learned that when we teach His correct principles, people govern themselves appropriately.

We at this world parliament represent many religious persuasions. Because there is much that is praiseworthy in each of our faiths, it is important for us to maintain the integrity of our religious institutions and to preserve tolerance of each other’s sacred beliefs. These factors are essential to the strength of a pluralistic society. Tolerance and understanding are enhanced as we teach clearly and courteously the tenets of our religions. (Russell M. Nelson, “Combatting Spiritual Drift—Our Global Pandemic,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 102–8

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Free Books #1

Free booksMy bookshelf is overflowing so I have used books to give away. The guidelines (subject to refinement) are:

  • Request a book in the comments.
  • You must be local to Kaysville, Utah. I will not mail books.
  • Currently requests are limited to those who know me and/or know where I live.

The books:

  1. The Majesty of Books Sterling W. Sill
  2. Mormon Fortune Builders Lee Nelson
  3. Abraham Lincoln Carl Sandburg (softcover)
  4. The Church Years J. Reuben Clark
  5. Gospel Ideals David O. McKay (softcover)
  6. Halo The Fall of Reach Eric Nylund (softcover)
  7. Children of Dune Frank Herbert (softcover)
  8. What To Expect — The Toddler Years Arlene Eisenberg etc. (softcover)
  9. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (3 volumes) Bruce R. McConkie
  10. Letters From Rifka Karen Hesse (softcover)

Update

Receiving no takers, I have recently donated these books and several others to Deseret Industries.
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Hugh Nibley on Religion

Hugh Nibley

Science without religion, like philosophy without religion, has nothing to feed on. . . . It is my contention that any branch of human thought without religion soon withers and dies of anemia. (“Science Fiction and the Gospel,” The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 12:519)

The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism. (“What Is Zion?,” The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 9:54)

Religion becomes magic when the power by which things operate is transferred from God to the things themselves. . . . When men lack revelation they commonly come to think of power residing in things. . . .

In time the Bible became a magic book in men’s eyes, conveying all knowledge by its own power, without the aid of revelation. So also after a fierce controversy on the matter, priesthood itself acquired the status of a thing that automatically bestows power and grace, regardless of the spiritual or moral qualification of its possessor — it became a magic thing. (“Some Fairly Foolproof Tests,” The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 7:261)

Humanism is very ancient. It turns up regularly as an Ersatz for religion when religion goes sour. The settled tradition is that while humanism and science represent straight and honest thinking religion is a primitive, prerational, emotional, wishful type of thinking, essentially superstitious, that humanism and science represent bold new thought while religion represents traditional, hide-bound uncritical thinking. What this view overlooks is the fact that the bold original thinking of today inevitably becomes the hide-bound authoritarian tradition of tomorrow. So that the theory itself, the belief that we have a body of study that is fresh and forward looking and that we can easily spot it and give allegiance to it, is itself a hoary superstition. (“Humanism and the Gospel,” 1)

So universally is religious ritual today burdened with the defects of oddness, incongruity, quaintness, . . . mere traditionalism, obvious faking and filling in, contrived and artificial explanations including myths and allegories, frankly sensual appeal, and general haziness and confusion, that those regrettable traits have come to be regarded as the very essence of ritual itself.

In contrast we find the Latter-day Saint rites, though full, elaborate, and detailed, to be always lucid and meaningful, forming an organic whole that contains nothing incongruous, redundant, or mystifying, nothing purely ornamental, arbitrary, abtruse, or nearly picturesque. (“What is a Temple?,” The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 4:369)

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Mitt Romney on Religion

Mitt Romney

We separate church and state affairs in this country…. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. (Fri, 7 Dec 2007 National Public Radio)

I’m not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired … so grand … so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too ‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe’s churches. (Sun, 9 Dec 2007 American Rhetoric)

In recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America –- the religion of secularism. They are wrong. (Fri, 7 Dec 2007 WCVB TV Boston)

I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. (Thu, 6 Dec 2007 MarketWatch)

I believe in my Mormon faith, and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers; I will be true to them and to my beliefs. (Thu, 6 Dec 2007 Austin American-Statesman)

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Meet Mormons at the new Mormon.org

Mormon.org website
I wrote recently about the new Mormon.org and the inclusion of 1,000 profiles of Mormons. Each profile is a collection of stories and testimonies from Mormons. Profiles of members just like you and me. In my case it turns out that I do indeed have my profile for all to see in the “Meet Mormons” section. I looked through many of the profiles to see if I recognized anyone but they were all strangers to me.

My profile was not edited in any way and I was permitted to place a link to my blog and Facebook page with my profile.

The Mormon.org site is meant to introduce the Church to the world. Questions are answered, accurate information is given, and the opportunity is provided to learn more. The “Our People” page introduces its readers to Mormons who tell their own stories about how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has blessed their lives. “Our Values” highlights some of the cultural priorities of Mormons, such as strong families, service and good citizenship. Core doctrines that underpin Mormons beliefs are in the “Our Faith” section.

What do you think about having personal stories about your faith online? Do you have your profile on Mormon.org? If so, post the link so we can read your story.

Update

It turns out that there is one person I know on Meet Mormons: Marc Lee

Mormon.org Meet Mormons section