Never in my life did I imagine I would ever do this; then again, never did I imagine my wife would die so young, either.
The morning sky was overcast when I pulled into the over-crowded parking lot, cars circling, looking for a spot. I was told it started at ten, but a glance at my watch showed it was already 9:57. I began to worry, didn’t know how everyone would react to a straggler, and wondered if it was like our Wednesday morning office meetings when someone would sneak in, late. After five minutes of looping, I recognized a “Visitor” spot near the front. Since I never even thought about coming before, I figured that should constitute being a “Visitor”. I locked my car, fixed the cuff of my right pant leg, and hustled up a flight of steps to the First Baptist Church of Ebbsville.
An over-smiling elderly man handed me some folded papers, reminding me of those odd people on street corners, Hare Krishnas, or those annoying Jehovah’s Witnesses that would knock on our door during dinner. I smiled and nodded, trying to be cordial, then walked inside, glancing around for a place to sit. Folding chairs were erected in the outer isles, and another usher tried leading me towards the front row, to an open seat. I shook my head and shrugged affably, choosing instead an empty spot in the back. The place was packed. More people went to church these days than I thought.
A chipper, mid-30’s fellow stepped behind the podium, joyfully proclaimed “Happy Easter!” and asked us all to rise to our feet. They sang #324, “He Is Risen,” and I looked around, not knowing the words, and not caring to sing unless it was ‘U2’ anyway. We rose and sat, rose and sat about four times, singing intermittently and hearing the weekly announcements. Women’s meeting Thursday, Youth Group Saturday, a pot-luck somethin’ or other next Sunday. Everyone was smiling, but I was bored out of my mind.
I wasn’t exactly sure what Bridgette saw in this place. Every week she came, every Sunday for the past six years. She taught a third grade Sunday School class, and was a faithful giver, what she called, “tithing”. I hated when she gave our money away, and especially to her church. What did they ever give to us? Only a reduced bank account and a premature death.
Bridgette was on her way here two months ago, 8:30 like always, to teach those little kids about God and Bible-stuff. At 4th and Mercantile, a minivan careened through the intersection, brakes disengaged, ending my wife’s life. I got the call from a “Brother Sandford”. Two months later, she’s still dead, and I’m at church. I promised her I’d go sometime, so in some weird way I think this is how she’d want it now.
After plenty of singing, I looked at my watch, hoping it would be over soon. It wouldn’t. Only 10:23. Another man, more formally dressed than the first, took his place at the podium. Everyone settled in. This must have been the guy they came to see. When he spoke, I realized this was the guy they came to hear. His voice resonated with authority as he opened the tattered Bible, and excruciatingly detailed the death of Jesus Christ. I had a feeling these people had heard it before, that even Bridgette’s little one’s knew the story by heart. But I never had, not so vividly. It never really hit me that this man, this innocent and compassionate man, was murdered. Then, shocking me even more, Pastor Douglas proclaimed that He had come back to life, had risen from the dead. It creeped me out a bit at first, thinking of a few cheesy, eighties’ horror movies. But it was real, was true. He conquered death so that we could live forever. How profound! There was more to life than, than this life. We could be eternally freed from heartache, and even, death. I recognized that Bridgette now lived with this Jesus, happily, and forever.
My pain didn’t simply melt away, but I started to understand a bit why she came, every Sunday, since her “rebirth” six years ago. And I realized too, that perhaps she was actually joyful in a sense to have passed, to have truly been reborn in what this Protestant pastor referred to as, “That Glorious Kingdom”. A warmth pervaded my chest, it heaved a few times, but I kept the tears down. I don’t remember the rest of his speech, just that most of the people cheered, like at a sporting event when the home team comes back after being down the entire game. I felt their passion, began to understand their pride in this man’s actions for them, and felt ashamed for making Bridgette experience this on her own.
Pastor Douglas finished, we stood and sang again, “He Lives” this time, #209, and I mustered a few lines between the tears cluttering my vision. The service ended, people smiled, hugged, and made their way back to the overcrowded parking lot. I sat on the back pew, families passing by, and stared at the large cross hanging above the bathtub behind the stage. I gazed into it, wondering what the pastor would have to say about this man when I came back next Sunday morning.
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