Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

08 April 2007

Easter Blues

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. But this morning, for whatever reason, I couldn’t get to the joy of it.

It began before we even made it to church. It was 25° when we got up, and I guessed that the few eggplants and peppers out in my garden that had survived the previous night’s low temperatures could not have survived a second such night, despite the sheets I had draped over them.

Before I was awake enough to go out to my garden and check on them, Charlotte came downstairs in her strapless, white Easter dress, down the front of which she had spilled some of her “body shimmer”—I don’t know what that is but just report her words when she came to me to have it put right—leaving a blood-colored stain on her left breast that she had already rendered indelible by trying to wash it out on her own. My efforts with bleach on a cloth only made it worse. The dress itself turned yellow where I dabbed at it and the red did not disappear. I didn’t tell Charlotte, but I knew the dress—one of her favorites—was ruined.

To my amazement, she didn’t seem to notice the stain. She kept the dress on and, when we got to church, even took her jacket off, leaning across Lulu to whisper, in response to my raised eyebrows, that there was no reason to wear a pretty dress unless you were going to show it off. So, I spent the first part of the service—while the pianist played and an elder explained what to do if you were visiting for the first time and then another elder led prayer for those of the congregation who were suffering illness or grief or fighting in the armed forces—praying that the Father would remove from my mind all consciousness of Charlotte: the stain, the ruined dress, her embarrassment if anyone noticed, her apparent lack of embarrassment thus far.

“Make me just forget about it so that I can think of your Son, risen,” I prayed.

It wouldn’t have taken much effort on God’s part to answer my prayer: I forget more than I remember these days. And, I reasoned, there would be other ways to address my prayer. God could refocus my attention on some glittering, transforming new discovery of himself. Or he could burn into my consciousness the pettiness of worrying about a stain when we were there to celebrate the resurrection of his Son, our Savior, risen up live out of his dead body and out of our grief. Or he could just make the stain miraculously disappear.

He did none of this. Soon we were directed to greet our neighbors, and every time another person turned around and extended a hand in our direction, all I could think about was, Oh no, now they’re going to notice the red stain and the yellowed place and think, “Why does she let her child wear something like that to church, on Easter Sunday of all days, a dress stained and ruined? And strapless to boot?”

While the choir sang and the pianist played more background music, I studied the bulletin to distract myself from my own pathetic worries. The sermon, I read, would be about the “Rise of the Metachoi”—a word I had never seen before but that sounded interesting—and would focus upon Hebrews 2:5-18. When I looked the passage up, it turned out to be one of those obtuse places in scripture about angels: humans—and Jesus, the Son of Man, along with them—the writer of Hebrews argued, are ranked a little below the angels but nevertheless they are crowned in glory and have everything under their feet. I read through Hebrews 2 twice while the collection was taken and more music played, but I couldn’t figure out what the point was, especially in view of the fact that it was Easter and it seemed to me that the pastor must be meaning to make a resurrection message out of it. The answer, I decided, would be about whatever metachoi meant.

It means partaker—or companion or partner, in a slew of other passages the pastor led us to—and what was partaken of was suffering. The message of the sermon was this: There are believers, and then there are partakers, and even though believers go to heaven, only partakers in suffering are going to get their reward, which is to govern in God’s kingdom someday. Some reward for one’s suffering, I thought—to get to suffer some more as an administrator. I’d rather just get there and do my thing.

What really undid me, though, was the man’s opening comment, one of these throwaway analogies from the news I find pastors are fond of beginning with, probably gleaned from the same CNN website where I had read it last night. The 15 British sailors—whose dinghy had been captured by Iran and who had been terrorized into making false public confessions of error—had caved. Unlike our American soldiers in Hanoi, the pastor said, the British sailors had been unwilling to suffer for their country. Unlike the metachoi, I suppose he meant.

Or unlike Peter—I think he might have said—who denied Jesus on the night of his capture even though there was no one there stripping and blindfolding him or lining him and his companions against the wall and cocking their guns. I guess poor old Peter isn’t going to get his reward either. Maybe we can hang out together when I get to heaven.

I left church glum and not a little angry. And then IGA had no lamb, as I suspected they wouldn’t. (Why is it that bad things you know are going to happen are always so much more distressing than the ones that come as surprises?) And then, on the drive home, I noticed lots of trees whose leaves were hanging down all black and limp from the freeze. My little eggplants and peppers, I knew, would look the same when I got home. I felt out of sorts all day.

Anyway, all this to say I feel in need of resurrection this Easter. From the cold. From the scratched, cloudy lenses through which we observe the world. And from my own petty preoccupation with everything but what matters. He is risen. He is risen indeed. Up, away, to the heavens. And I’m still here.

1 comment:

Spring said...

This is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Yesterday Chad and I didn't go to church because we can't agree on a denomination. In the evening, I insisted on watching Life of Brian, a Monty Python movie that helped disassemble my faith a few years ago. I still don't believe in miracles because of it.

Then halfway through, Chad got bored, so we watched St. Elmo's Fire instead, which we had never seen. And it made me feel redeemed, in my own little post-graduate, young adult, heathen way.