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Villa Park church maze reflects on Easter message

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 1, 2013 10:29 a.m. CDT
(Bill Ackerman)
Dena Spencer of West Chicago hefts a 4-by-4-foot beam as her son, Jacob, 3, watches on March 26. Visitors to the Good Friday labyrinth at the Harvard Avenue Evangelical Free Church in Villa Park are asked to put either the 4-by-4 or an even heavier 6-by-6-foot beam on their shoulders for a few minutes to imagine Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha. Bill Ackerman – backerman@shawmedia.com

VILLA PARK — There aren’t brightly colored eggs, jelly beans or Easter bunnies at Harvard Avenue Evangelical Free Church this week. To prepare for Easter, the church has constructed a sensory-driven Easter maze that allows guests to tangibly experience Jesus’ crucifixion.

This is the third time in about nine years that the church has constructed the maze, said Pastor Kevin Gushiken, who has served with church 14 years. It’s a blend of stations of the cross and a hands-on experience that combines the senses of sight, sound, touch and taste.

“Kids are what I really get excited about,” he said. “They know the story but it comes to life (with the maze).”

The maze opened Tuesday morning and on the first day alone, Gushiken estimates about 100 people took the journey, many of them being non-church members.

“We’re excited because we want it to be a gift to the community,” he said. “We’re hoping that it’s not just people here (who attend).”

Visitors traveling through the maze go step-by-step through Jesus’ journey to the cross. They can lift a beam of wood that represents His cross, they can drive nails into a wooden board like the Roman soldiers, they can taste vinegar representative of the bitter wine He drank, and they can even hang on a cross that was built by church volunteers.

“As people have come out, I ask them, ‘Did you like it?’” Gushiken said. “The overall reaction is one of, ‘It’s moved me and made me more appreciative of what Jesus did on the cross.’”

Bible passages and questions are at each station to prompt discussion for the families and groups who travel through the maze together.

Although the individual stations are partially divided by black, makeshift walls, the ceiling is open and noises from neighboring stations can be heard. This design is supposed to enhance the experience.

When one participant is hanging on the cross, he might hear another participant hammering nails or yelling, “Crucify him,” Gushiken said.

Gushiken said he got the idea for the maze after he sat down with a group of people to brainstorm different ways to create a meaningful Good Friday experience for residents.

By the end of the week, he estimates several hundred people will have made the trip through the maze. Historically, many of them come out on Good Friday.

“I think they really appreciate it,” Gushiken said. “We had several people who don’t go to church come up and say, ‘Thank you.’ One wanted to go into the sanctuary and pray. It leads back to a greater appreciation of what Jesus did on the cross.”

Take a trip

Harvard Avenue Evangelical Free Church is located at 206 W. St. Charles Road in Villa Park. The maze will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and again from 6 to 9 p.m. that night. It returns from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call the church at 630-834-2650.

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