Back in 1982, two teachers in Ellsworth, Minnesota created an Easter performance called “The Living Last Supper.”
It lasted for decades until one of the teachers, Dennis Bossman, became a pastor and left town. Now retired and living in Brandon, Bossman is bringing the event back to life with the help of dozens of volunteers.
It took hundreds of volunteer hours, elaborate direction and a lot of faith to resurrect what you see here at Brandon Lutheran this week.
“Well, I’ve always had the idea that if you want to do something, just do it,” Bossman said.
The beautiful display is the result of the can-do attitude retired pastor Dennis Bossman preaches every day. Now a member at the Brandon church, he once made a long-lasting impact in Ellsworth crafting a similar performance called “The Living Last Supper.”
“And it grew so large that we had busloads coming from tourist companies in Minnesota over to Ellsworth to see it. It would literally pack the gymnasium there for quite a number of years,” Bossmand said.
After Bossman left that community, the show eventually came to an end. The detailed sets, costumes and props, were stored in a garage for years.
That is until the choir director in Brandon approached him with an idea a few years back. She wanted a visual performance to accompany music she had found focusing on The Last Supper.
“And I said, is that really what you want? She said, well yes. I said I’ll tell you what the deal is, I’ve got a whole set. All I have to do is borrow it from Ellsworth and we’ll put it together. She had no idea what I was talking about,” Bossman said.
Sure enough, Bossman retrieved the pieces and with some help, assembled them in Brandon. While they were on loan from the Ellsworth community at first, the woman storing the sets in her garage would later need to move.
“And so they called me and said, do you want it? I said, of course I want it,” Bossman said.
Since then, he’s had no problem bringing the show to the Brandon faithful. Volunteers line up each year to help, from singers to actors to a lighting crew and set builders.
“I’m the guy, have we got that? Have we got this? We need this. We need that. We need another extension cord. Have you got one? I’ve been the person so they don’t have to work quite as hard to find it,” Dahlin said.
Gerald Dahlin is the church custodian. With an all hands on deck approach, he’s also now involved in the on-stage performance, trading his muddy boots in for some Roman-like sandals.
“That’s when he needed a centurion and he came and said, ‘Can you and your son-in-law do the centurion?’ I said what do we have to do. He said, ‘Just stand at the door.’ I said ok. We can be tough and stand at the door. Knock people around,” Dahlin said.
While you’d think people would be fighting to play Jesus…
“No I don’t think that I’ve had that many saying that they want to be Jesus,” Bossman said.
Maybe it’s because this group, led by Jesus, has to hold a pose for nearly five minutes as they emulate Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.
Still, from the Savior to the disciples, many of these players sign up to participate year after year.
“The costumes that we use are still original costumes, most of which were made 35 years ago by volunteers in Ellsworth,” Bossman said.
The look may be similar but Bossman and his helpers have dropped in new scenes and ideas here and there.
“With Jesus on the cross, we’ve got some delightful technical stuff. As Jesus is on the cross, it’s all in silhouette. Suddenly as he dies, the head drops and the halo shines through. It’s really pretty neat,” Bossman said.
He calls it a spiritual journey. Dahlin says it gives him a better idea of what Jesus went through.
“Now it has kind of put this all together and told the different parts of what it’s all about and how Christ did come to save our lives and why he sent his son to die for us,” Dahlin said.
Full of emotion, the experience brings to life the Easter story. A song by Jesus’ mother Mary is especially moving.
“It’s an emotional scene. Then of course the soldiers come in. Judas leads the soldiers in. They capture him, drag him out and that’s touching. As he’s going out, suddenly Mary appears and sings this beautiful song. ‘Hey, I love him. He didn’t hurt anybody. What did he ever do to you,'” Bossman said.
While Bossman is proud of how far “The Living Last Supper” has come, he gives all the glory to God.
“There is a spiritual involvement where the good Lord is wanting to reach out to people. We have literally touched thousands upon thousands of lives in the last 36 years when you consider the busloads of people that used to come,” Bossman said.
And they’re not finished. The show will come again.
Roughly 600 people came to watch the performance this past Wednesday. It’s one of the biggest crowds yet for a Brandon performance of The Living Last Supper.