An empty tomb will fill the hearts of many Christians on this Easter Sunday.
That includes one such person who will step his sandaled feet from biblical times to tell the story of Jesus risen from the dead, and of his own spiritual hope risen from skepticism. He served as one of the Roman foot soldiers charged with protecting the burial site of the crucified teacher from Nazareth. After the stone rolled from the grave, the guard felt his heart open to Christ as savior.
The Rev. Ed Scherer-Berry, pastor of Newbern United Methodist Church, will portray the man, outfitted in full security regalia, in a one-person drama, “The Guard,” at his own church’s 10:30 a.m. service today — his first Easter since his installation in July — in the small eastern Bartholomew County community.
He will play the same 15-minute role a few miles away at the 9 a.m. service today at Petersville United Methodist Church, where his wife, the Rev. Stormy Scherer-Berry, serves as pastor.
“I think it (the presentation) adds so much richness to the experience of Jesus Christ,” Ed Scherer-Berry said. “And this certainly can enhance the overall worship experience from time to time.”
The 69-year-old minister with a master’s degree in theater from Florida State University launched the dramatization when his own pastor in 1988 at Vincennes First United Methodist gave him the script and asked him to try it.
In the monologue, an aged, anonymous character looks back through the years to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection — and decides that the miraculous and historical combine to prove him to be the messiah — and his own Lord.
“That first time, I had to read it all the way through,” he said while chatting just before his Maundy Thursday service focusing on Jesus’ suffering. “The season of Lent and experiences of Holy Week highlighting the passion of Christ are so powerful to me because they all lead us up to an Easter experience that becomes much more poignant.”
He long ago memorized the presentation. In fact, so have his wife and their four children, so often have they seen him resurrect the portrayal.
“We have a running joke in our house that all of us can lip-sync it,” Stormy Scherer-Berry said. “It’s definitely a good attention-grabber. And even the little kids get excited about it.”
He acknowledged that the visuals help, including a homemade, six-foot wooden spear that a past church member crafted for him and a partial Roman helmet. Over the years, he also has presented his own monologues as Judas for Good Friday and John the Baptist for other occasions.
“I probably will add some other characters in the future,” he said. “These (scripts) are speculation, of course. But if you make sure it’s biblically based, then I think it’s a good way to examine how Christ impacted that particular person.”
Newbern church member Sandy Dosterglick looks forward to today’s message that will serve as the sermon, while acknowledging that the small, rural church has been far more traditional than innovative.
“I think it will be great,” Dosterglick said. “I learn more depth of the Scriptures from him than I’m used to having. So I think this will be fresh and interesting.”
Rebecca Mathews, another Newbern church member, labeled it a fabulous idea.
“If it’s something that can bring someone closer to God, I’m all for it,” Mathews said.
Cheryl Henderson, a 60-year member of the Newbern church, mentioned that she will approach it with slightly mixed feelings, although she admitted she has loved other similar portrayals at other churches.
“It just depends upon how they are presented,” Henderson said.
Amid today’s celebration of the faithful worldwide, the Newbern pastor understands doubters who tell Christians that biblical details of the resurrection strain credulity.
“I know,” he said of the Gospel story that has become the linchpin of Christianity. “From one perspective, it does sound far-fetched, doesn’t it?”
Unless you were a Roman foot soldier who was there that day.
What: The Rev. Ed Scherer-Berry, pastor of Newbern United Methodist Church, portraying an anonymous Roman foot soldier who looks back through the years to recount Jesus’ resurrection — and his own decision eventually to become a follower.
When: 9 a.m. today at Petersville United Methodist Church, 2781 N. County Road 500E, and 10:30 a.m. today at Newbern United Methodist Church, 15786 E. Main St. in Newbern, a few miles east of Columbus.
Duration: About 15 minutes, serving as the Easter Sunday sermon.
Role: Part-time, semi-retired pastor of Newbern United Methodist Church.
Family: Wife is the Rev. Stormy Scherer-Berry, pastor of nearby Petersville United Methodist; grown children, Ryan in South Bend, Doug in Evansville, Michal of Columbus and Kezia of Columbus.
Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida.
Education: Master’s of divinity degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio; master’s in theater and a bachelor’s in dance from Florida State University. Also completed coursework toward a doctorate in theater at Florida State University.
In the ministry: 25 years in United Methodist churches.
Before the ministry: Taught theater at Indiana State University, then served as a sales representative for a firm, and later operated a ServiceMaster cleaning franchise. Also has served as a ballroom dance instructor.