Monday, April 17, 2006


No, I didn't find this geode. Wish I had. Got these pics off the net. But I wanted a geode for this post for its metaphorical contribution and because part of this story includes reference to a well-known one about a stone that was rolled away.


It being Easter, Steve and I felt we should go to church. I often don't when we're on the road, and he's not into it for the most part. He got on the net to look for some. Asked me, "Well, you want Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Assembly of God, Presbyterian....?" I voted Baptist. He found one and printed out a map.

We set out early, to beat the Easter crowd. Drove around the mapped spot and saw no church. Oops, there it is.... I guess. The sign said "Meadow Hills Christian Church" but, um, everything else was printed in Chinese or something. And it was just kind of a two-story shed, with fake brick siding, that tar-backed stuff shingles are made of. It was 9:10 and there were 2 cars in the parking lot for the 9:30 service. We expected a full house by then for Easter. This didn't look right. Steve waited while I went in and checked. Inside, I smelled eggrolls cooking. Bulletin-board materials were all in Chinese or whatever. Everyone there was Asian, speaking an Asian language. Hesitantly I asked someone, "Um, I'm looking for the Baptist church?" "Downstairs!" they said. So I went outside and down the stairs. The only door looked like the back door to a store in the mall, you know, the doors out back with the dumpsters next to them. Except this one didn't have a dumpster. Just the nondescript back door. I went in. It was a room about 20 feet square, with, yes, an altar and a pulpit, and a stained-glass picture behind the altar. 3 or 4 people were sitting on folding chairs.... About 20 chairs were set up. Two children were banging on a piano. I picked up a program." Yup, Baptist service, celebrating the Day of the Resurrection. I went out and informed Steve that this appeared to be it. He looked dubious. He likes big congregations and spectacular music and a lot of pomp and glory.

In we went. Steve looked more dubious and a might disdainful. The kids were still banging on the piano. Steve asked them if they were the music for church and they laughed hysterically. A woman who appeared to be in charge told them no more candy till after church. People dribbled in. Some were carrying styrofoam coffee cups from McDonald's and Starbucks. Some were wearing jeans. There were no hymnals. I saw a stack of books and asked a man if we were supposed to get our own hymn books. He looked surprised, said, "What are we singing?" I pointed to the bulletin and said, "The once-a-year Easter hymns no one knows by heart." He agreed we needed hymnals and went and got a few, handing out about one per two people.

After a while a woman about my age showed up, dressed in an Indian/hippie/LLBean-casually-dressy long dress, crochet/macrame vest, and a hippie/Indian arrowhead/bead necklace. She said to Steve and me, "Hi, I'm Jan, the pastor." OK. I liked her immediately. She went around the scattering of people, handing out typewritten sheets to some who agreed they'd be OK with doing a reading.

It was 9:25. We now had about 16 or so people. A young, nicely-dressed woman came in and sat politely in the back by herself next to the table where the bulletins were. Pastor Jan approached her and introduced herself. The girl was the pianist. Apparently they'd hired her... guess the two kids were OK for everyday but they needed real music for Easter :-) She said, "I'm ready; I just need to see what I'm playing." Oh, my. Whenever I've had to play for a church service, I've practiced all week long.... The girl sat at the piano and began to play her prelude. Well. She definitely knew her way around the piano. And around church music. "Thine Is The Glory," adapted from Handel, embellished beautifully with arpeggios and flourishes of the girl's own impulse. Good, we've got the accompaniment taken care of. Now to see about the rest of the music and the service. This assorted oddment of folks probably wouldn't do too much with these ambitious Easter hymns. Wrong. The girl started the first hymn and the people rose to the occasion. The dozen-and-a-half sounded like twice that many and on key, too. A woman with a beautiful soprano voice stood up front and led. Nice!

On with the service. As in many Protestant churches, there was no liturgy but there was sort of an agenda. The prayers were not standard (except the Lord's Prayer) but they were wonderful.
Ten minutes into it, a family of 4 came in, the parents carrying coffee cups, and took the last remaining chairs. Pastor Jan greeted them and went on with the service. The chosen readers read their parts, a Psalm and two different Gospel versions of the events of the Resurrection morning. (The 4 Gospels do not agree 100% on the details of how many women, which ones by name, how many angels, whether they were in fact angels, what the response of the disciples was when the women ran back to tell them, "He is not there.") Then the sermon.


I wish I'd brought my tape recorder. And my video camera. Pastor Jan delivered her sermon leaning against the pulpit with one elbow, her ankles crossed, and intermittently sipped out of a water bottle. She used no notes, appeared to be speaking off the top of her head, although she had obviously thought it all out and knew where she was going with it.

Highlights that stayed with me:

"Anyone here who may be a doctor or nurse has had this experience, and as a chaplain I've had it. You've been seeing an ICU patient every day, and today when you go to see him today the bd is empty. Your first thought is not, "He has risen." Your first thought is, "He has died." If the nurses were to say to you, "He just got up out of the bed in perfect health and signed himself out," you'd say, "Excuse me? He did what?" No wonder these women were bewildered. And believing myself that He in fact had risen, I'm still bewildered. It it something totally out of my everyday experience and I can't understand how it could happen. And yet my faith dictates to me to believe that it did."

"The women went to the disciples and told them. Mary Magdalene had had an encounter with the risen Lord and recounted this to the disciples. They dismissed it as nonsense. Now, who here has had that happen to them?"

"The disciples were scared to death. They were in a locked room for fear of the Jews -- who knew but that the Jews would come after them next. Now that the body was gone, "risen" as Mary claimed, they were even more afraid. They told no one. Who here has been in that place? Not telling anyone about the risen Lord because you're afraid of what the response will be? And when the Lord made Himself known to them finally, He met them where they were. He came quietly into the locked room. God understands our need for the security of a locked room."

Halfway through the sermon, the door squeaked open and in meandered another handful of people. They got chairs from the stacks by the wall, set them up, and sat down. Pastor Jan smiled, said, "Hi! Happy Easter and welcome!" Took another swallow of water and continued unfazed.

Another one:
"The majority of Christians lead their lives as functional Atheists. They are not thinking about or communicating with God most of the time. God is the farthest thing from their mind, let alone first in their priorities. As an extroverted person, I might speak to 15 people in a day before I remember to pray, and every time that happens, I say to myself, "What am I doing???"

"Look at old Jonah. He was in the belly of the whale for 3 days, and on the third day he prayed and the whale spat him out. Three days. Why the heck didn't he pray the first day? Well... we've all done the same thing."

"Does the way we live our lives reflect who we're following? All the time? When you unload your cart outside the Home and Garden center and realize they forgot to charge you for the stuff in the bottom of the cart, what do you do? My car has cards on it identifying me as a minister. Does that keep me from speeding in Sheridan? I hope so. Because I don't afford another ticket. And because I can't afford to give the message that this Christian pastor doesn't play by the rules."

"Spreading the word does not always mean telling people about the risen Lord. Chances are it will be dismissed as nonsense, or misinterpretation, or having been sold a bill of goods. What will be observed is the way you live your life. If you identify yourself in some inconspicuous way as a Christian, people will be watching. They will be watching to see if they see Christ in you. In this way the risen Lord lives. He lives in you and through you."

Wow. And it was such an unpromising-looking church, such an inauspicious start, such an improbable entire setting. You just never know.


Kranky C Dale said...

He has risen....

Oldman said...

The Holy Spirit lead you to a wonderful Easter experieince! I'nm glad you didn't stop at egg rolls.

He is risen indeed!

Vickie said...

Wow, what an experience, and what a good sermon. Food for thought. Right on target. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Lucky you!

Cliff said...

What a great post.

I go to a Church with about 500-700 in the congregation. I would want to visit a smaller church someday. I am sure the expeirence will be more personal.

Christian..athist...that is such a true comment. I often ask myself...'is there any difference between me and an Athiest?'