In the sanctuary at Christ the King Church in University City, a small crowd pressed close to Jesus as a woman desperately vied for His attention in the commotion.
Susie Sampson, playing the role of Woman #1 — known in the Gospel of Mark as the woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for 12 years — sang her desperate plea:
“I am waiting for this Jesus in my suffering and my shame,
He has never heard my story and He does not know my name,
but my options are exhausted with no other path to choose,
and I know I must approach Him, I have nothing left to lose.”
Matthew Christian, playing the role of Jesus, curiously turned toward the woman tugging at his garment: “Who has touched me? Who has stretched their hand out to me?” Later, when the woman says to Jesus that she believed He could heal her, he sang: “Your faith has made you whole, my daughter. Go in peace.”
The two were rehearsing their roles in Marty Haugen’s musical, “The Song of Mark,” based on Jesus’ public ministry and His resurrection story, as recounted in Mark’s Gospel. The production brings together a team of about 40 people representing nine churches, including soloists, choir, musicians and production crew. Three performances will be held in late February and early March. The performance is directed by Dawn Riske, Christ the King’s director of music ministries; Crystal Ulett is the assistant director,
Through theological reflection, colorful storytelling and accessible music, the cast brings to life the Good News of Jesus’ life and passion. The play includes life lessons from several parables and miracles, including the sower and the seeds, the loaves and fishes, the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the calming of the seas.
“The Song of Mark” is presented with the support of the St. Louis chapter of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Riske saw the musical’s debut at a national conference in the mid-1990s, and soon after, she helped with a production in Dayton, Ohio. Some 25 years later, in 2020, Riske assembled a team in St. Louis to perform, but it was canceled just weeks before due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several key performers have returned four years later, but many of the soloists and choir are new faces, Riske said. “This has been a great way to bring people of faith, churches together,” she said. “We often say, this is how musicians do evangelism.”
Though they remain nameless, three women have an important role in narrating the story of “The Gospel of Mark,” said Sampson, who attends the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis and is involved in music ministry at several churches in the archdiocese. “There’s a lot of demonstrative stories in it … these are all stories that we’re familiar with, but they come to life and fill in some of the blanks around some of the stories,” she said. “We’re able to get in the heads of some of the people who were around Jesus at the time.”
The musical has two main parts: Jesus’ public ministry and His final journey to Jerusalem, as narrated by Sampson as Woman #1, Julie Hickey and Nicky Collett sharing the role of Woman #2, and Victoria Ortiz Romero as Woman #3.
“The women get it, they see who Jesus is, and they acknowledge Him as Lord,” Riske said, adding that the disciples are the ones acting in confusion, with some humorous lines built into the script. Meanwhile, the choir “represents all of us and asks those questions: Where are we? Where’s our hearts in all of this? It helps us who are there to get engaged and remember the story of Jesus and bring it right to our hearts,” she added.
Ortiz Romero, who tells the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, said the moment has given her pause to reflect on her calling in ministry. “There can be so many factors in life that you’re not prepared for what’s coming in the future,” said the member of All Souls Parish in Overland. “But Jesus is there to reassure you that in whatever you do, He is there — even if you don’t see Him. It brings people to think, ‘I fit in this scenario or this relates to my life.’”
Christian, in the role of Jesus, noted that the Gospel of Mark is one of three similar synoptic Gospels, yet Haugen’s musical makes it evident what Mark is trying to convey compared to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
In Mark’s Gospel, there isn’t an explicit resurrection appearance, so Haugen leaves the audience with an empty tomb, leaving them to ask the questions: What do we make of this? How do we become God’s kingdom in light of that?
“Jesus keeps inviting people to know what their calling is … the tomb is empty and we don’t know what to do with it, but out of that, what is my calling?” Riske said.
>> “The Song of Mark”
Marty Haugen’s musical, “The Song of Mark,” will be performed at several churches in the archdiocese in late February and early March.
• Friday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Joseph Church, 567 St. Joseph Lane in Manchester
• Sunday, Feb. 25, at 2:30 p.m. at St. Joan of Arc Church, 5800 Oleatha in south St. Louis
• Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m. at Christ the King Church, 7316 Balson in University City
Performances are free and open to the public. A free-will offering will be accepted.