'Journey to the Tomb' is 'moving, wonderful experience'

Cary Ashby • Apr 21, 2019 at 8:35 AM

The red light focused on the only items on the table — a pile of coins. In the blackened room, participants listened to a recording of a man’s raspy voice creepily sharing the temptation to betray Jesus of Nazareth in exchange for that very same money.

Mist filled another room fashioned after the Garden of Gethsemane, complete with the gentle sound of flowing water.

The Foundation Church in Norwalk hosted the “Journey to the Tomb,” a self-guided tour that involved all of the senses, over three days of Holy Week.

Participants started the experience by walking through a darkened room full of TVs with white noise. That led into a marketplace with booths featuring rich colored fabric and pens with six chicks, a donkey and sheep. 

About 70 people helped make the experience a reality.

“It took about three days to put together. We started Sunday afternoon and got done just before Wednesday, so it was a lot. We have the animals that came in every night,” Pastor Bob Hudberg said.

Nearly 130 people experienced the event Wednesday. Another 35 people had gone through the tour nearly an hour into the four-hour event the following day. “Journey to the Tomb” was open for eight hours Friday.

“We’ve had people from Shenandoah; we’ve had people from west of Clyde; we’ve had people from Lorain who have said their hearts were stirred as they went through this,” Hudberg said. “Facebook has exploded with it too.”

Beyond the marketplace was a space with an overturned table with change scattered on the floor. Participants watched a video and then took off their shoes to walk through sand in “the Hosanna path.” Palm leaves brushed them as they walked the short distance in front of the church stage.

Jeff Schuller, of Monroeville, assisted the participants at “the Hosanna path.”

“I was instructed to be low-key and not talk too much,” said the man, who swept the sand after each person or group walked through the area.

Schuller saw many somber faces and recognized about 90 percent of those people.

“A somber mood is a key element,” he said.

“The Journey to the Tomb” used nine rooms in the church.

“It’s a different part of the Passion Week — whether it’s the washing of the feet, whether it’s taking communion, whether it’s hearing Judas’ story or experiencing the Garden of Gethsemane; it’s moving,” Hudberg said.

In “the Judas room,” the pastor said it made people realize “we probably have betrayed Jesus at various times in our own — and we didn’t take any money for it; we just did it.”

“Honestly, I think every room has its own unique (atmosphere). So when you go to get your feet washed, you’re just remembering what Jesus did. … Every room is so different,” he added.

To end the tour, participants were invited to place a cloth on the “body” of Jesus in the tomb. 

Julie Gardner, of Norwalk, found that moment to be one of the most powerful experiences on the tour. She said it reminded her of the sacrifice that Jesus made being crucified. Her daughter and son-in-law, Elise and Dalton Vaughan, also of Norwalk, attend The Foundation Church.

Gardner was asked what stood out about the tour.

“So many things really,” she said. “We walked through the sand, we washed each other’s feet, we had a Last Supper together and ate that meal. We prayed in the garden.”

On Thursday, Norwalk resident Bob Janik portrayed a Roman guard who was stationed at the opening of the tomb. Even when nobody else was nearby, he never flinched or stepped out of character. 

Several years ago, Joette Hudberg, the pastor’s wife, brought the “Journey to the Tomb” concept back to the church after attending a conference on children’s ministry.

“We modified it to make it adult-friendly,” she said.

When The Foundation Church was at 87-A W. Main St., the tour used different tents in the sanctuary for each designated space. Event organizer Wendy Marett, who called the first event “overwhelming” to organize, said having significantly more space in its East U.S. 20 building added to the flexibility of what the church could do.

“I actually had gone through it at their old church (building) and it’s just a moving, wonderful experience to go through on Maundy Thursday and Holy Week,” Gardner said.

Norwalk Reflector Videos