Inside Sonrise

Jesus is lifted off the stage as believers raise their handsEvery spring, Southern is full of guys growing out their hair and their beards in preparation for Sonrise, our yearly walk-through Easter play. More than a thousand guests walk through the scenes of a Jerusalem market, the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, Pilate’s judgment hall, and the crucifixion. The highlight is the closing resurrection scene featuring acrobatics, pyrotechnics, and, of course, a risen Jesus.

Sonrise is an all-day event, with several different guest rotations. Each rotation has a different cast of key characters, including a different Jesus. Danny, one of our campus visit student ambassadors, played Jesus in two rotations this year. Here he shares with us how it feels to be on the inside of Sonrise.

What was your first experience with Sonrise?

This was my first experience! It was going straight into it and being a part of it.

How did you decide to audition for the role of Jesus?

The first time I heard about Sonrise was when Southern visited my school in Maryland. One of them said, “Hey, you’d be a good Jesus for Sonrise.” I was like, what’s that? They told me about it and I thought, “Oh, that sounds cool; I might do that if I go there.” And then I came here. I don’t have a lot of gifts to do ministry with, but I’m pretty good at acting. God can use me for this.

How was playing Jesus in Sonrise different from what you expected?

I wasn’t expecting it to be as real because during practices the people weren’t there. There weren’t people portraying you as Jesus. When I was in the practices, it didn’t feel super real because everyone was wearing normal clothes, there was no blood, there was no mob, it was just a few actors working on their lines.

So the hardest part about it was people coming up to you and acting like you’re Jesus, and then you have to act like Jesus back. You have to think about what Jesus would say. Like when people ask, “Can I get a picture?” responding like, “What’s a picture? I don’t know what that is.” That kind of stuff. Or, people would send their kids up to hug me. They would tell them, “Go meet Jesus; go take a picture with Jesus!” Deep down inside I’m thinking, “I’m not Jesus.”

What was the best moment of the experience?

The best moment was actually after I was all dressed up, after my last show time. It was in the gym; I went back and changed back into normal clothes and put my hair back in a ponytail because, you know, it gets kind of tiring having blood-flavored hair in your face. Then I was walking back to the church to turn in my costume and there was this family of four behind me. They had two little boys. I heard one of the little boys talking, and he said “Mommy, I got to hug and meet Jesus today.” That little sentence made it so real. I knew they were from my group because I was walking out with them from the gym. That made the entire month of hard work worth it.

What was the hardest moment?

I think the hardest part was the garden. Sonrise shows Satan and Gabriel both there as Jesus is praying to his Father. At that point Jesus didn’t know if he was going to see his Father again. He didn’t know what was going to happen at that point. Trying to image that while playing the part was kind of hard. I didn’t know how to act. I knew he was in pain; the Bible says he sweated blood. And I just don’t know what kind of pain would make you do that. I wish I could understand it more, but I had to just do my best.

How did it feel to hang on a cross?

It was actually really scary to be lifted up. You’re totally in the hands of the people who are lifting you up there. Being up there and looking down at everyone, I was trying to imagine what it would be like when Jesus was looking down. How he felt about people shouting bad things. I actually started crying up there. It was pretty sad.

I think it seemed more real to the people watching. We had a lot of behind-the-scene things for that part, and it took away the realness for the people participating in it. But we do it so it can be real for the audience. It was still deeply impacting.

How did it feel to come out of the grave?

I was really happy when I did that scene. I didn’t get to practice that scene at all; they just told me what to do. So it was new for me too, just like it was for the audience. It was really cool to walk out of the tomb. I didn’t get to see the part before that. There’s this part when Gabriel and Satan are fighting, and I feel like that would have been cool.

You just come out of the tomb at the end, and a bunch of people hug you. But it was still really heartwarming because I am sure there were so many people in the audience who were super moved. I was super moved and I didn’t even see the entire performance!

What would you tell to a new student thinking about participating in Sonrise?

My experience was that I got really nervous for the audition. I almost didn’t audition. It got to the point where I was just thinking, “I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” and I hadn’t even tried yet. But, a lot of my friends kept giving me support. I prayed about it, and I knew that I could make a difference with this. And if I don’t get this part, it was the Lord’s will and I gave it a good shot. So I went.

I think anyone can get in, honestly. I had never seen Sonrise before my performance. So even if you think, “I haven’t seen it; I don’t know what to do; I don’t know who to talk to,” just come find me. Talk to me and I’ll tell you what to do. Pray about it, and just go to the audition. Just give it a shot. God can use you.

young man with long brown hair

Danny is a freshman mass communications—media production major. If you want to learn more about Sonrise and how to get involved, you can find Danny on our campus like he said, but you can also check out their website.

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Danny Yonkers Story by Danny Yonkers Published: Last Edited:

The views and opinions of campus guests do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Southern Adventist University. An individual's or group's invitation to speak or present on campus should not be regarded as a university endorsement of their philosophies and beliefs.