My family and I lived in south Florida for five years. Each December, the First Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale presents an Emmy-winning Broadway-caliber Christmas pageant.
One year, my friend Madora treated a group of us to a matinee as an early Christmas gift. The sanctuary seats at least 3000 and is three stories high. We had wonderful seats on the ground floor in the first row of the second section.
As the the lights dimmed and the show began, an expectant hush fell over the crowd. The first half celebrated the holiday season with dancing, singing, and numerous set changes. After intermission, the show switched gears to tell the story of the life of Christ, from birth to resurrection. It was an amazing production, filled with real animals (a camel, a donkey, horses), as well as flying angels and the resurrected “Jesus” being lifted several feet off the stage to depict the Ascension.
At one point, during the Palm Sunday scene, the actor playing Jesus rode right past us on a donkey, bathed in the spotlight. He waved and smiled and every eye was on him as he made his way through the sanctuary lined with palm branches and up onto the stage.
As I watched him surrounded by people, tears unexpectedly filled my eyes and I found myself telling Him, “Lord, if I had been on the earth at the same time You were, I would have wanted You to know me. I wouldn’t have wanted to be just to a face in the crowd. I would have wanted You to know my name.”
The show ended to thunderous and sustained applause. It truly was an incredible experience and we all felt blessed at having the chance to experience something so beautiful.
Afterward, I was browsing the wall of books in the large lobby of the church when I heard someone come up behind me. I turned around, expecting to see one of my girlfriends. However…
There, standing in front of me was the actor who had played Jesus.
He was still dressed in his white resurrection robe and his smile was warm as he reached out to take my hand.
Then he asked me my name.
It took me a second to respond but I told him.
He asked if I had enjoyed the pageant, then gave my hand a gentle squeeze before leaving, saying, “God bless you, Susan.”
Then he was gone, melting into the crowd.
I was left speechless, knowing that the real Jesus had just let me know that He had heard the cry of my heart inside that sanctuary. Out of literally thousands of people who were present that day, that actor had approached me to ask my name of all things!
Jesus was reminding me that He does see me. He does hear me. I am not just one of the crowd to Him.
He knows my name.
Just as He knows yours.
That day was also a reminder that there is coming a day when faith will become sight and I will finally see the very Face of Love, the beautiful Face of Jesus Himself in all His resurrected glory.
Brennan Manning has written, “The true Christian is the lover separated from his Beloved; the day of reunion cannot come too soon.”
I love this definition of Christianity. I am not following a myth or a figment of my imagination. I follow and have given all that I have and am to a Person who gave His all for me and has radically changed my life.
Christianity is not a religion. When He walked this earth, Jesus directed some of His harshest words toward the religious elite of His day.
It is a relationship! A stunning, utterly transforming, passionate love story between Jesus and His Bride (Revelation 19:6-9).
After the show that night, my girlfriends and I had dinner, then browsed the charming shops along Los Olas Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. I found a necklace that I admired and as I was trying to decide if I should buy it, one of my friends suggested that I purchase it as a reminder of the day I met “Jesus.” I thought that was a fabulous idea and although it is not an expensive necklace, it is precious to me.
It is a reminder of a day in south Florida when the real Jesus broke through an ordinary day to give me a moment that I will always treasure…and to remind me of a glorious day yet to come.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” — I Corinthians 13:12