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Dancers help portray the parable of the 10 virgins during a scene in the Mesa Easter Pageant.

MESA, Ariz. — Tucker Denton of the Mesa Arizona East Stake first participated in the Mesa Easter Pageant at age 12, when he portrayed a temple guard. He has since been a part of the cast seven times, and this year, at age 25, he plays a Roman centurion. This prominent character asks followers of Christ, at the beginning of the pageant, who Jesus really is, having seen and felt things that make him want to know more.

Denton says his character comes to understand that Jesus is "more than just a man."

That centurion is one of several who mocks and whips Jesus, screams at him and then stands near Him when He is crucified, Denton says. Then he hears Him ask the Father to forgive them as He dies on the cross.

"That's the moment of my character's conversion," Denton says. "That message of Christian forgiveness is what this is about."

The marvelous message of the Easter season, including the powerful and poignant moments of Christ's life, has been shared for nearly 80 years on the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple.

The beloved tradition, featuring music, dance, drama and narration, is presented by countless volunteers committed to the mission of the Mesa Easter Pageant — bringing others to Christ.

What started as a small sunrise service on Easter morning has grown into the largest annual Easter pageant in the world, featuring a cast of 500 on a four-story high stage and nightly seating of more than 10,000.

Pageant officials anticipate that more than 80,000 visitors will attend the production of "Jesus the Christ" this year.

But for the cast and crew of the production, like Denton, being in the Mesa Easter Pageant is a special, sacred experience which proclaims, from beginning to end, that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

Twelve-year-old Barbara Hoyt of the Phoenix Arizona South Mountain Stake is experiencing this with her family for the first time this year.

Before the pageant began, she had already extended 28 special invitations to classmates, teachers, aids, therapists, friends and bus drivers.

Barbara has cerebral palsy and spends much of her time in a wheelchair, but the pageant has given her another opportunity to share her testimony with those she cares about.

"I want them to feel the Spirit," she says.

Her parents, Andrew and Stacy Hoyt, along with her three younger siblings, participate in scenes where Jesus is portrayed healing and teaching among a multitude and later riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. Andrew Hoyt carries his daughter onto the stage and helps hold her during these scenes. He says being in the pageant gives his family a great opportunity to discuss the life of Christ.

Tyler Maxson, who portrayed Jesus for nine years in the pageant, now serves as assistant director. He says he can't think of anything "more unifying, more humbling" than being involved in the production.

"It's a great message; people need this," he said. "We all come together with the same desire to testify. It's a refuge from all the noise of the world."

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During its long history, the pageant took a hiatus at the request of Church leaders in the 1970s, when the Mesa Temple underwent extensive remodeling and was rededicated in 1975.

The temple will again close in May 2018 for extensive renovation and local officials anticipate, as a likely result of construction, the pageant will take a two-year break from production.

The Mesa Easter Pageant runs March 21-23; 27-31. There will be a Spanish-speaking performance Saturday, March 24. ASL is provided March 21-24. All performances begin at 8 p.m. on the north lawn of the Mesa Temple, 525 E. Main St. More info at easterpageant.org.