Church re-creates Jesus’ tomb

In the Christian faith, the Lenten season builds each year to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter.

But one Johnson County church will illustrate the final days of that wait in a special live performance this weekend.

Honey Creek United Methodist Church will re-create the mourning period leading into Easter Sunday. Church members have constructed a makeshift tomb, representing the place where Jesus Christ was taken after his crucifixion.

Church members will keep vigil continuously in front of the tomb with prayer from Good Friday until 7 a.m. Sunday, when the church’s Easter service begins.

“We as disciples today need to remember the vigil between the cross and the resurrection. It’s become just a holiday in this country, and it’s so much more,” said Lynda Nietling, a member and youth group leader at the church.

The idea for the live tomb scene came from Nietling. She encountered a similar idea while attending a church in Michigan and thought it fit well with the mission of Honey Creek.

“Without Good Friday and Easter, Christmas would mean nothing. Jesus would be just another baby. So this is very important,” Nietling said.

Performances and exhibitions bringing biblical teachings to life have become a tradition for Honey Creek United Methodist Church. For the past five years, the church has staged a live Nativity scene at Christmas with barnyard animals, actors and a stable. It is one of the church’s most popular events, drawing more than 500 people last year.

“We’ve developed a following in the community for events like that,” said the Rev. Brad Miller, lead pastor at Honey Creek. “We think one of our niches is to re-enact or share in a visible way some of the biblical stories.”

The church’s events will start at its 7 p.m. Good Friday service. Honey Creek normally does a Tenebrae worship, a traditional Christian ceremony also known as the “service of darkness.”

Church members will read a series of Scripture verses about the crucifixion of Jesus. Each time a section is finished, one of the candles lighting the church will be extinguished.

“When the final reading is finished, then it’s totally dark,” Miller said. “After a moment or two I’ll make a loud bang to represent the closing of the tomb and the finality of death.”

The congregation will file into the parking lot of the church for the beginning of the live tomb experience. A covered structure will serve as the tomb, and members will symbolically roll a round stone, made of paper and plywood, in front of the entrance.

“I’m always trying to figure out how we can make the Bible relevant to today and make it resonate with people in their lives. One of the ways you do that is to get real people to portray these stories,” Miller said.

Honey Creek members and additional volunteers from Smith Valley United Methodist Church have signed up to serve two-hour shifts to hold watch at the tomb.

A fire pit will burn throughout the weekend, and a canopy will help provide shelter from the weather. Church members are spearheading the activity, but the entire community is invited to come and pray.

“There will be people here the whole time, representing the two groups of people who stood vigil after Jesus’ death — the guards who stood watch and Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who were out there,” Miller said. “You have the persecution and the death of Jesus and the faithfulness in the midst of death.”

Easter sunrise service Sunday will start at the tomb and then move indoors.

The event will help lead into a new sermon series for the Easter season. Miller has planned a 12-week round of messages to correspond with the start of the television series, “A.D.,” which premieres Sunday on NBC.

“For whatever reason, in the last year or two, there have been a lot of movies come out with a faith-based theme,” Miller said. “We anticipated a lot of people would be tuning into this show and thought it would be a good idea to tie into that.”

If you go

What: Live tomb scene, a live performance representing those guarding the tomb of Jesus Christ from his death on Good Friday to his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

When: Good Friday services begin at 7 p.m. today. Prayer and vigil will be at the tomb continuously until 7 a.m. Sunday during the Easter sunrise service.

Where: Honey Creek United Methodist Church, 2722 S. Honey Creek Road, Greenwood; the church is at Honey Creek and Stones Crossing roads.

Event is open to all.

Information: or

Pull Quote

“Without Good Friday and Easter, Christmas would mean nothing. Jesus would be just another baby. So this is very important.”

Lynda Nietling, a member and youth group leader at Honey Creek United Methodist Church

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.