These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air; into thin air.
— Shakespeare

I knelt and crossed myself because I felt it necessary. A few others observed the ritual, many ignored it, and I sat midway in the pew. Kneeler down, I took to knees, crossed again, raised my eyes to the crucifix. Then, bowing, eyes shut, prayer—that mystical communion between created and Creator, the soul in paraphrase, exalted Manna. When I finished, I crossed myself again. The chatter from parishioners echoed against wood-pews and stone-floor. My mind felt unease, unfocused, despite the calm of an organ at the front. The marbled altar was bare, and a mundane, wood cross that looked as if it belonged to a youth-camp passion skit sat on its side and leaned up against the marble. That cross was also bare. The noisy chatter made it feel as if the people were protesting the music. Are my neighbors here…? The cross had a purple cloth draped around it for no apparent reason, and I wondered which cross shouted more loudly my religion. The one on the wall hoisted an off-white, creamy-skinned, Jewish man, notably beardless. It demanded respect, attention, like the organ.

The building smelt like any other meeting placed fitted with low and low-middle class Vegans. Finally, the woman gave up the organ, never knowing my appreciation, my desire she continue. Another woman discovered a microphone and as if quieting a high school classroom spoke across, around, through each hovering voice and its echo.

But she spoke firmly and with authority, and the parishioners simmered and listened. When she finished giving announcements, she said, “And now, let us observe a moment of silence to prepare our hearts for today’s mass.” No more than eight seconds passed. Another woman. We all stood and opened the books in the our pews to the number. A man strummed an acoustic guitar while a woman, presumably the organ-goddess, pounded on a piano. Some of us sung with the choir-of-five as an old, balding man in slacks and a unzipped, blue-black wind-breaker glided down the middle aisle. Above his head, he hoisted a rectangular wicker-basket. He disappeared from sight the closer he approached the aisle.

Then followed two children, one girl, one boy, clad in white robes, each holding a candle. Behind them a boy carrying a tall pole with another bare, brass cross atop it. The whole building exuded a sort of barrenness—bare walls with only cheap, Sunday School pictures of the Stations and two large murals. The only statue was the crucifix. The priest followed the procession, reading from a large tome, and the parishioners largely ignored him as he made his way to the front. They couldn’t sustain their ignorance, however, when that same priest returned down the aisle with an altar girl, throwing holy water from a large golden spoon. As he approached the parishioners held out to him palm-leaf crosses, and I felt nervous and ashamed, for I had not taken one when I entered the pageant. As they held their crosses and were sprinkled, we struggled through more versus than was our custom, the priest making sure to leave no man unsprinkled. I only waited for the Kyrie eleison.

You were sent to heal the contrite of heart, sings the lady.

We respond, singing,

Crowd: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
Deaconess: You came to call sinners.
Crowd: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
Deaconess: You are seated at the right hand of the father to intercede for us.
Crowd: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.

That works, I thought, sitting down. Why don’t we do that every Sunday? It’s the Greek that does it, for me, I’m convinced. These thoughts were on their way out as we prepared for today’s gospel reading. It’s a long one, I thought. Palm Sunday. Probably won’t be a homily today. What’s this?

Something truly terrifying happened. Whether the spirit of Luther, Zwingli, Billy Graham, or Chris Tomlin had entered into the priest, I cannot for certain say. What I do know is that he sat down in the front pew. Lights went low. A lady stood at a microphone. A youth in white entered the stage. He was Jesus. The lady at the podium narrated. We witnessed the crucifixion before our very eyes that morning. Who needs a crucifix when you have the real thing? Three large men dressed like the Blues Brothers appeared on stage. They took and drug and beat the youth in white. Then, in sudden motion, they all froze. My eyes grew wide with fear, suspense, nervousness, terror. The lady continued her narrative, explaining the inexplicable. She ceased. They carried forth their deeds. With intermittent freeze-frames from the actors and explanations from our loyal and fearless narrator, the crucifixion scene played out before us. Veronica showed up to wipe Jesus’s brow and tears. Simon appeared just in time to help with the cross and offered a stirring monologue revealing his inner psychological and moral reservations at helping. But the Blues Brothers would not let him out of it.

Some parishioners shuffled, antsy with worry how long this would last. Then Mary entered. Jesus was laying down on the cross at the foot of the alter. One of the Blues Brothers had already converted. Now was the time. Whether it was the narrator or a recording, I cannot say for sure, but thunder boomed from the speakers above us. All went deathly silent. Just to my left, in the middle aisle, a woman appeared. Thunder, then silence. It was a terrible moment. She screamed, too loudly, I felt, “Jesus!” She thrust her arms skyward. “Jesus! My boy! Jesus!” She wept and cried out his name, approaching her son. She wept at his feet, froze, let the narrator bind the loose ends, and left the stage with her son in silence. They all flittered away as if evaporated into thin air, and the mass cautiously resumed. There was no homily that day, for there was no gospel. But there was an order to that pageant, an awkward, herky-jerky, even nervous order, that may have mimicked Christ’s entrance on a donkey. I wondered it was not choreographed by the spirit of Postmodernism or the five-hundred-year-old soul of Luther.

Broom Snow
The Jolly Mariner – Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
April 24, 2017

Painting: “Donkey and Lambs”
By Eugene Joseph Verboeckhoven
Oil on canvas, 1849

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