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Posted April 6, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Model tomb offers realistic view to Easter re-enactment

Jay Ahlemann, pastor of The Church of the Valley in Strasburg, kneels
Jay Ahlemann, pastor of The Church of the Valley in Strasburg, kneels outside a model of Christ's tomb that members of his congregation are constructing as part of a pageant over Easter weekend. Rich Cooley/Daily

Steve Dawson measures
Steve Dawson, a member of the Church of the Valley, measures the inside of the "tomb" outside Freedom Memorial Park located behind the church. Rich Cooley/Daily


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By Elizabeth Wilkerson -- ewilkerson@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- Though he's no stranger to elaborate Easter pageants, Pastor Jay Ahlemann was struck by a different idea as he considered how his church could mark the holiday this year.

"It hit me: We need to build a tomb," said Ahlemann, who leads The Church of the Valley. The model tomb will be at the center of an Easter weekend re-enactment of events surrounding Jesus Christ's burial and resurrection, he said.

When he shared the story of what he was planning with members of his church, "lots of people said they wanted to be involved," Ahlemann said.

Last Tuesday, Steve Dawson, the church's director of missions, said he had so far spent about three days building the replica of Christ's tomb. Visiting the tomb, which is made of plywood and painted to look like stone, "makes you stop and think," he said.

At about 8 p.m. on Friday, just after the church's 7 p.m. Good Friday service, attendees will follow a procession of costumed re-enactors carrying what will appear to be a body wrapped in white linen to the tomb, Ahlemann said. The "body" will be laid on a ledge in the tomb and a stone -- also made of plywood -- rolled in front of the door, he said.

"For believers and for Christians and for people that want to observe this, it will be very meaningful," Ahlemann said.

From that time on Good Friday until 6:30 a.m. Easter Sunday, men dressed as Roman guards will stand outside the tomb at all times, he said. A total of 12 volunteers will guard the tomb in shifts, he said.

Visitors can stay as long as they'd like on Good Friday and visit the site at any hour during Easter weekend, Ahlemann said.

"It's a great teachable experience for families," he said. "Christmas is wonderful, but if Easter didn't happen, nobody would be celebrating Christmas."

At 6:30 a.m. Easter Sunday, the tomb will open, he said, and the linens will be folded and laid on the ledge. At 7:30 a.m., when the church's outdoor sunrise service begins, three costumed re-enactors will come to the tomb to anoint the body, but will be met by an angel telling them Christ has risen, he said.

For anyone who is not familiar with the Easter story, he said, "this is going to make this come alive for them."

"This is for the community," he said. "It's not just for us."

Ahlemann said this year's sunrise service will be The Church of the Valley's first at Freedom Memorial Park, which is just behind the church and is home to three crosses -- the tallest of which reaches 150 feet -- and two flagpoles that are visible from Interstate 81.

"Churches across America do these kinds of things in a variety of ways," he said. "For us, it just seems so right, in terms of Freedom Memorial Park," he said, since "the empty tomb means that we have freedom through the power of Jesus Christ."

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