Every April for 65 years, the Mesa Arizona Temple grounds have become the hillsides of Judea, the streets of Jerusalem, and the olive groves of Gethsemane as more than 700 volunteers work together to produce the annual Mesa Arizona Easter pageant, Jesus the Christ. Started as an Easter sunrise service atop an old cotton wagon, the pageant, now an evening program, draws thousands of spectators every year to both English and Spanish performances.

“Many families have a long tradition of coming year after year as a special celebration of Easter,” says pageant director Nanci Wudel. “Some even plan family reunions to coincide with the pageant.”

Supervised by the Church’s Missionary Department, the pageant represents a massive outreach by the Latter-day Saint community in the greater Phoenix area. “Our purpose is to bring people to Christ by bearing testimony that He lives,” explains Sister Wudel. And they are successful as family after family gains a renewed faith in the Savior and the desire to know more about His gospel.

But Latter-day Saint cast members are blessed as much as spectators. “It is like having the best family home evening every day of the week!” comments Lee Pace, whose entire family of 10 participated in the 2002 pageant.

As the actor portraying Jesus Christ ascends above the 400 cast members and 19,000 spectators at the end of each performance, all eyes are drawn to the white figure framed by the lighted Mesa temple and the dark Arizona skies. The scene plays out the Savior’s own words, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

In the end, love of Jesus Christ underscores the entire pageant. From costume designer to cast member, says Sister Wudel, all “volunteer their time and talents each year for one reason—their love for the Savior.”

Brian K. Kelly, Highland 19th Ward, Highland Utah West Stake, and Naomi Frandsen, BYU 154th Ward, Brigham Young University Second Stake

Pageant at a Glance

  • In 2002 it was the largest annual outdoor Easter pageant in the world.

  • The script has been drawn exclusively from the Holy Bible to appeal to audiences of all Christian faiths.

  • An 80-member Hispanic media public affairs committee was formed in 2002, and over 14,000 attended the two Spanish performances.

  • Every Phoenix television station, including three Spanish-language stations, carried television coverage to a prospective viewing audience of 1.5 million.

  • Cast members rehearse weeknights and Saturdays for one month before performances.

  • The stage management, costumes, makeup, construction, lighting, sound, and security are provided by volunteers.

  • Thirty stakes from Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Tempe, and Scottsdale provide, transport, and set up 10,000 chairs before opening night.

  • Music for the soundtrack is by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra at Temple Square, and the Utah State University Chamber Singers.

  • The 9,600-square-foot stage can hold 500 cast and crew members plus sheep, donkeys, doves, miniature horses, and other animals.