It was to be the Easter service to end all services. Ever since I had come to Louisville people had spoken of the great Easter service at the church. I was a bit skeptical. The church was very conservative and was actually one of the voices against our having a woman minister.
But my friend (who did not go to our church) were insistent. If you ever get a chance you should go. Which of course left me enough leeway not to go. After all they were not the best references; they did not go to Church except for extravaganzas such as an Easter Service. But a few years went by and I never got a chance. One of my excuses was the tickets were so hard to obtain. All of their eight Easter extravaganza performances were always sold out. So I told my friends one of those white lies we tell friends that I tried but could not get tickets. Well, as life will teach you white lies can eventually bite you in the ass.
Dale called me up excitedly; guess what he had? Now a while back we had talked about getting tickets to a concert of a group we both liked. No he said not that group. I told him I had no clue. He, with pure joy and triumphant voice said, “I got tickets to the church’s Easter Service.” I grimaced; really, I said. ‘Oh yes,’ he continued, ‘I was in line and they would not let me have more than my usual two. But I told them about you and your church and how you were always trying to go but could never get tickets and the next thing I knew they gave me two more free tickets.’ I was taken aback, “They charge for an Easter Service?” He said, ‘Ten dollars apiece’. ‘Oh’, I said. ‘The dates are such and such’, he continued. ‘Does that work for your schedule? , he asked. I prayed fervently that my calendar would be full that day. Curse God, he denied my prayers. I was free.
We discussed how he would get the tickets to me. I was going to an Easter Service of a church that was trying to kill my church. Whoopee, I thought. I could not explain to Dale, an unchurched man, the politics of how they were always voting against our bloc of more liberal churches. No one but the churched can understand the poison politics of the church. But I thought how bad could it be? It is an Easter service after all.
I would not be going the same night as he would. But he wanted to get together after the service for dinner to discuss, I assume, from his viewpoint how wonderful the service was. I was wondering how many white lies I would be telling that night.
The night of the Easter service had finally arrived. Finding parking was difficult as cars were everywhere. Finally, I parked and headed to the door. There a member of the church who volunteered for my homeless work saw me and greeted me. I had not realized he went to this church. And church politics being as they were I did not imagine they knew of his church’s attacks on ours. It was a war more among pastors than congregants.
I went and sat; it was packed. Eventually the minister came out and did the customary greetings and directions to the bathroom gig. After he spoke the musical extravaganza started. The music was the usual pop church music of the period. The choir had wonderful voices. The set was good. But the musical had a problem; it was an Easter service so the theme was to be upbeat and yet they were starting before the crucifixion. The crucifixion is not exactly upbeat. Then the problems started
Jesus was in Gethsemane sweating blood, the scripture said. He was struggling whether he really would commit himself to the Cross. The choir came on with the most beautiful cheery Mr. Rogers song you could imagine. It was jarring and confusing. Was it a hard decision or just a beautiful day in the neighborhood? But I was willing to forgive this even if it was a pet peeve of mine that American Christians had trouble with the suffering part of their faith. What Deitrich Bonhoffer would call “Cheap Grace.”
Then came the scene with the lashing of Jesus with the cat of nine tails whip. A scrim screen came down. The centurion who was to administer the lashings was a stout muscular man. I thought this would be interesting. Until the whipping started. The stout muscular man developed the worst case of limp wrist I had ever seen. He placed the whip on Jesus’ back as if it was some soothing massage. And Jesus took the lashing like a man; he did not scream and when it was over he sprung up like a gymnast from the floor. This was no Passion of Christ movie. There were many more interesting parts that I could fill pages with, but will spare you.
But the part that blew my mind was after Jesus was raised. Scripture says he ascended into the heavens. So in the big Ascension scene Jesus started rising from the ground. But as we all knew this was Jesus’ first Ascension so the apparently tiny box he stood on to ascend was a bit shaky. Jesus wavered back and forth and you wondered if he was about to fall flat on his face. This was most worrisome as his eyes widened and his stance wobbled at the two story level. No one wanted a dead Jesus during an Easter service. But Jesus was the son of God after all so he did complete the Ascension.
After the musical, the pastor came out and gave an altar call. The altar call was long. Maybe thirteen verses long with intermittent pleas from the pastor for someone to come forward. The reason the altar call was so long was not a soul in that packed house came forward. The minister was convinced that he could coax or cajole at least one person to answer the call of the Lord. Finally, he left off the song and started to bring our time together to a close.
As he stood up front he declared that he knew many were touched by the performance tonight. If they were and they wanted to be saved all they had to do was take the envelope on the back of the pew and check the box on the card. That done, you were saved tonight. I thought of all the martyrs of the Christian faith if they had only known all you had to do was check a box on a card, the trouble it would have saved them. He dismissed us with prayer and the doors were opened and we were freed.
But not me; I had a pizza date with my friend to discuss the service. How many white lies could I tell at one dinner? What was my Christian duty to him? To Christ? Where was that card to make my mark and skip this dinner? In the end I told him the truth. It was not heresy but how Christian it was was in the eye of the beholder.
He looked at me and smiled. “You did not like it. Thank God. Everyone else I know loves it. I thought there must be something wrong with me. So I trust your opinion and knew if you liked it, there must be something wrong with me. But you hate it too.”
I was taken aback. The weight of white lies that would never have to be told were rolled off my shoulders. The pizza suddenly had flavor. The night sky was suddenly full of wonderfully bright stars. My friend was a friend indeed. All was well with my soul.
That was until I noticed at the table next to ours was a prominent member of the Easter Church. I could tell by his scowl he had heard our conversation. His church would vote even more vehemently against our work at the next district meeting. Oh if only I had that card to make my check on.