What would Jesus drive? 

For once, I've come out of a weekend feeling rested and purified. You see, I went to church on Good Friday ... and I didn't even have to get out of the car to do it.

Praise be to the good folks at the Central Christian Church for making it possible. For the fourth year running, the Ivanhoe Boulevard congregation staged its "Drive-Thru Holy Scenes," an outdoor Easter pageant that allows repentant motorists to witness Christ's death and resurrection from behind their windshields, all in a guaranteed 30 minutes or less. It's an odd tribute to a guy who walked almost everywhere, but Orlando wasn't built with pedestrians in mind.

The traffic on Lakeview Street was backed up eight cars deep when I arrived around nightfall, a pair of my anything-for-a-laugh buddies in tow. Greeters directed us to the beginning of a circular course that wound around the outside of the church; they were attired in robes whose 33 A.D. appropriateness was slightly muted by the addition of reflective safety vests. A cheerful crew, they weren't in the least offended when we asked if we could order french fries.

"Just take your time and enjoy everything," one of our smiling hosts told us. The show had barely begun, and we were already receiving sound theology.

Pulling into the viewing lane, we were met by a cast of Holy Land impostors who waved palms at our vehicle in re-enactment of the Savior's entry into Jerusalem. This ersatz car wash led us past a real live donkey ("Coco," the printed program identified) and then face-to-bumper with the Lord himself. As played by one Tom Tarvin, Jesus was resplendent in a beard, long hair and dour expression that were obviously the trappings of a King of Kings, or at least Frank Zappa.

Honk if you forgive Judas

Christ stared into our car with an urgency that I feared might melt the safety glass. Not certain what to do, I waved; He didn't wave back. I almost felt slighted, but then I remembered that He knew what was in store for Him in the scenes that lay ahead.

Tarvin wasn't required to reprise his role in the remaining setups. Instead, we were treated to many succeeding Jesuses (Jesi?), each the star of his own brief vignette. Dr. Jimmie L. Gentle -- a good 40 pounds heavier than Tarvin under his identical costume -- took over for the "Last Supper" sequence, and Dr. Pete Smith played the part in the "Trial" portion of the story. In that segment, Pontius Pilate offered the crowd a choice between sparing Jesus or the thief Barabbas. When the latter was granted his freedom, Jim Bailiff, the actor portraying Barabbas, pumped his fist in the air and whispered a fervent, "Yes!" Bailiff was to repeat this piece of business for every car that stopped in front of him. He was married to the bit.

The episodes were mostly wordless, but signs planted along the route provided running scriptural wisdom as we motored on. "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" gave way to "I lay down my life of my own accord," then "Remember I am with you always." Defying my prediction, the last one was not emblazoned "Burma Shave."

The pièce de résistance was (what else?) the crucifixion, in which yet another Christ and his two co-victims suffered out their final minutes on the cross, the lights of the downtown bank buildings glowing in the distance. To their right, a young disciple tended to a serving cart that was stocked with bottles of Evian water. Political assassination can make anyone hot and thirsty.

Bless you, drive through

When our tour was completed, we turned right around and queued up again, just to brush up on anything we might have missed. No one seemed to mind. After our second and last trip, we ceded our place in line to new souls that might need saving. A fleet of motorcycles passed by, followed by a Mercedes convertible piloted by a gentleman in full Islamic regalia. Middle Eastern music blasted from his stereo, drowning out the taped strains of the "Hallelujah Chorus." Ah, the loyal opposition.

Standing on the grass was Gloria Miller, the church's administrative assistant. The Biblical thrill ride was her idea, she said, one she had suggested to her flock after she saw a similar display in Fort Myers seven years ago. I asked her what she thought its appeal was.

"I have no idea!" she laughed, but she said she hoped that the faithful were using it as a supplement to their regular Sunday attendance, not a substitute.

Even if she's wrong, there's no reason to beg for forgiveness. The Central Christian presentation is religion like it oughta be: fast, flashy and free. (No collection plate is passed, and you sure aren't paying to park.) You don't have to dress up, or even shave for that matter. And you don't have to endure the worst part of any worship service, namely trying to ignore the hypocritical busybodies who invariably fill the pews around you.

Unless, that is, you can't bear to spend a few minutes in a car with your own friends and family. And if things have gotten that bad, I'm praying for you.


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