Saturday, April 7, 2012

Alleluia!

At Resurrection Lutheran, we had Sunday services at 8:30 and 11:00am, with Sunday School in between. Our family always went to the late service, even if it meant God's word was in reruns. It was pleasant enough. There was lots of good music and you didn't have to share the peace back then; you could wait until coffee time afterwards in the basement when it felt normal. Our church wasn't big on Hell or anything. Pastor Lange hardly even mentioned the Devil; he wasn't the type to talk about people behind their back. He just talked about God being love, and that we were all saints in His sight, which I sort of doubted. I also had a hard time with "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," which struck me, even as a tiny kid, as being arbitrary and unfair. It made no sense at all. Particularly if God were love. But Jesus loved me, this I knew.

Me and Susie
The neighbor girl Susie was a Baptist, and I got to go to her church once. They had some hell there, boy howdy. And damnation, and I don't know what-all. It was nothing like Resurrection Lutheran, except for that one day we had a guest pastor. He got up there and started hammering on Jesus' death on the cross. I mean specifically: he said that the only place in the hand that you could drive a nail through and hold anyone up was also the place with the very most nerve endings and that would cause the very most pain. He explained how Jesus would have had to push up from his feet to relieve his hands, and then he'd have to  go slack again to relieve his feet, and on and on. I don't know where this guy came from, but he never came back. We were all horribly embarrassed. On the other hand, it's the only sermon I still remember. It really stood out.

So we showed up at 11:00am every Sunday, except for Easter, when we attended the Sunrise Service at 6am. Mom woke me up at five. It felt ghastly wretched to be hauled out of bed that early. If you had told me then that I'd spend 31 years of my life getting up even earlier than that to move the nation's mail, I would have fainted dead away. You sure wouldn't have been able to scare me with Hell.

But the Sunrise Service was magnificent, once we got there. The church was filled with lilies. The pipe organ pumped out uplifting hymns in a major key. Mrs. Crider, who had the only trained voice in the choir, always got her solo. She knew that her Redeemer liveth, and by the time she wrapped it up, so did everyone else. The whole show was thrilling. You wouldn't have thought there'd be enough room in a little kid's heart to hold all that joy, but you'd be wrong.

Of course, before that, we had to have the Good Friday service. There was a retelling of the Passion, with sound effects. Probably it would have been more effective without the sound effects. Right at the point where Jesus says "it is finished," there was supposed to be a big clap of thunder, but this was in the fifties, before technology had advanced to the point of rattling sheet metal. Mrs. McKittrick, in the choir loft, was supposed to pick up the kneeling rail and drop it on the floor. Mrs. McKittrick was a very top-heavy woman, and there wasn't anything spindly about the rest of her, either. She had the massive bosom of a Wagnerian soprano, but not the voice. The choir was a volunteer organization and you had to take what you got. She would pitch and yaw all the way up the stairs to the choir loft and install herself with a whump and a rumble, her bosom heaving like Hell's bellows until well past the Introit. We kids could hardly take our eyes off her.

Thirty years before ADA
So the thunderclap sounded exactly like someone had dropped a kneeling rail, which sort of took away from the somberness of the moment. If Mrs. McKittrick had lost her balance and followed the rail to the floor, it would have been much more convincing. I'd have turned Baptist in a heartbeat.

But one year, there was actual thunder. The sky darkened impressively, and then there was a big boom at four o'clock. Susie and I whispered about it later. It seemed pretty clear that God was getting His word in, especially after my neighbor provided some other details about four o'clock being the exact time Jesus died. We were filled with wonder. Not enough to wonder about what time it was in the greater Golgotha area, or wonder if it was thundering all over the world and not just at us, or whether we'd missed any messages in all the other thunder that occurred around four o'clock almost every day in northern Virginia. When God has something to say, you just say Yes Sir. We spent some time trying to think about eternity, and not getting a purchase on it. But the effort felt exciting, like being spun around until you're dizzy.

I'm sure if I tried to imagine Eternity now, I still wouldn't be able to get a purchase on it, but I'm not sure I'm meant to. That was something ten-year-olds like to do, to try to feel the mystery of it all. Sometime after that age, I discovered that Bach and Handel and all the lilies of the field are available even outside of church, and service can begin any time. That's redemption enough for me.

66 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Well somebody had to bring the tuna hot dish.

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  2. I think Americans have an expression..."a crock of shit."

    There is some fantastic music, no denying that.

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    1. I'm so used to the expression that I never, until now, tried to visualize an actual crock of shit. And now I don't want to go to any potlucks anymore.

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  3. I never went to church until I was old enough to want to go inside one, so I missed all those memories. But we still were dressed up for Easter and I guess we went Easter egg hunting or something. If we went to church we had to borrow one. :-)

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    1. I wonder if we would have gone if Dad was in charge of it. He took us to the outdoors church.

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  4. Look at those beautifully turned out ladies.....Happy Easter....

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    1. Some of those ladies are itchy and can't wait to get into their play clothes.

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  5. I used to go to church with my Baptist cousins sometimes. (I was a good little Methodist in those days.) Their pastor (we had a minister) greeted visitors with an intense stare and a demand to know "Have you been SAVED?" The first time it happened I was paralyzed by it; the next time I was ready with a vigorous affirmative nod. You don't want to admit otherwise, or they'll work on you hard, with the ultimate goal of dunking you backwards in a vat of water.

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    1. I had an intense fear of being forcibly dunked in water, so it was a good thing they hedged that bet when I was wee.

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  6. I love the hats! But as I remember, they all clamped onto your head so hard that you were seeing spots before service was over.

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    1. We also got little white cotton gloves from the Great-Aunts. They had ridges on the sides of the fingers so they'd fit together flat.

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  7. Speaking of boy howdee---your photos sure bring back memories. It must have been torture for my mother to get the two of us girls and one boy dressed and out the door on time for church, which, I'm guessing, none of us actually wanted to go to.
    I didn't put my kids through any of that. I need to remind them that they are grateful for it.

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    1. You've probably got a whole list of things you need to remind them to be grateful for.

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  8. Having been raised as a Southern Baptist imagine my surprise when I discovered that Easter was celebrated thousand of years before Christianity was thought up and that it was a pagan celebration. It is a celebration of renewing life after winter. It is a rebirth. It involves sexual intercourse (which our cats embrace with great abandon) which I thought was a good idea and apparently, judging from the church members activities, they did too.
    Easter is important to us but Christianity is not. Only the uneducated think that Jesus invented it.

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    1. I hope you're keeping them pagan cats indoors!

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  9. Oh God, how well I remember those days. Raised in the Episcopal Church by my mom's family, I would often attend the Methodist Church or the Church of Christ with members of my dad's side. Most of the latter have gravitated to the Baptist Church because it is more "liberal." Oh yes indeedy. I remember those patent leather shoes that pinched and those cute little hats that squeezed and those crinolines that itched. I remember becoming extremely bored at my cousins' church because, unlike the Episcopal church, all you did was sit and listen, which is how I learned that I was going straight to hell if I didn't join their flock. Pretty scary stuff for a young girl that had been taught that God was all about love and forgiveness. By the time I'd get back to my mom's, I'd need an exorcist.

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  10. The teaching that we're all inherently bad/sinners and, therefore, needed an innocent man to suffer a brutal and bloody death 2000 years ago, is quite the morbid mindf***, especially for a kid.

    This world would be a better place if all the children and the Mrs. McKittrick's in the world spent their Sunday's out in the sunshine amongst the lilies and listened to the sermons of the humming bees and the babbling brooks. Now that's some spiritual enlightenment.

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    1. "No child left inside"...it's a start! Yeah, I was pretty horrified by execution even without the lurid description. Stiil am.

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  11. My dad started slacking off on taking us to Catholic about the time my memories started to become permanent. But he still tried to hold firm for Midnight Mass at Christmas and Dawn Mass at Easter.

    The problem for me was these didn't look or sound any different from each other or the regular mass because EVERYTHING was in Latin. Since we could only take Spanish and French in school, I never had a clue what was going on.

    The nuns spoke English, though, and did their best (unknowingly) to turn me away from religion of any sort. I thank them for that to this day.

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    1. They're way different. You got your fir boughs, you got your lilies. It's all in the botany.

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  12. "Bach and Handel and all the lilies of the field are available even outside of church, and service can begin any time."

    Amen, sister!

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    1. Damn. You stole my comment entirely word for word.

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    2. You gotta get up pretty early in the morning, or somewhere in the Ukraine, to beat Pat to the punch.

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  13. I remember being incredibly bored during the sermons given in our Catholic church. As a kid I thought I might become a priest so I could really shake people up with some fiery sermons. I mean, the congregation is a captive audience so why not entertain them. But later I read the fine print on the priesthood contract and was put off by the notion of celibacy. But I enjoyed your stroll down memory lane on Easters past. Happy Easter 2012!

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    1. They don't mean it about the celibacy. You just have to keep it on the down low.

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  14. Murr, the more I read your posts, the more I'm convinced we're "brothers from another mother" - or something like that: Fifty-whatever, Oregon connection (though East-coast-ish born and raised), Norwegian ancestors/relatives, and now the Lutheran church (I guess those last two things do tend to go together). My mom was the Lutheran, a great singer, and occasionally the Choir Director; my dad was mostly absent from these Sundays - he harbored an odd undercurrent of interest in Mormonism, but that's another story --- ANYWAY - I certainly recall the Easter Sunrise Service dress-up, AND sitting in chuch pondering - maybe not Eternity, but of all things - Time Travel, and how I could relate that to God. Thank goodness my time in church resulted in some good think-time, since it didn't result in attendance at church much past my mid-teens.
    And judging by many of the comments, I'm not alone in that!
    P.S. One of my mom's "traditions" was that we got **new underwear** in our Easter baskets - wooo!!
    P.P.S. I do believe that "Jesus loves me, this I know" was the first song I ever learned to sing. Huh!
    Thanks again for writing this stuff down!

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    1. Well, sisters, anyway!

      I'm told I broke the sound barrier (that was a new expression in the fifties) when I auditioned for the little kids' choir. Also in the grocery store, when I belted out "Fab washes clean clear through and deodorizes too."

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  15. You sure brought back some memories! I have photos of myself in a dress almost identical.

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    1. I swear there are some years when the only picture taken of me was at Easter. (Last kid.) And usually scowling. I was a very happy kid, when dressed properly.

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  16. I did enjoy your post and the pictures are great. It seems to me 'hell and damnation' is good for frightening people, but not much for 'peace on earth'! Happy Easter, Murr!

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    1. Seriously, where do they make this stuff up? Oh yeah--"for the Bible tells us so."

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  17. Great pictures! I remember those dresses, those shiny patent shoes with the straps that could go over your foot (if you were a little girl) or behind the heel (once you were older), and the Easter hats and headbands that pinched. I also remember that most Easters here required winter coats so the dresses were kind of a waste :)

    Happy Chocolate Bunny Day!

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  18. I also remember my first low heels and I tried walking on just the heels for fun. We may not have been acquainted with hell, but I caught hell for that.

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  19. We didn't attend Church at all. I did watch other families going and it seemed to me that all of their going-to-Church clothes were designed for discomfort.
    These days while I don't attend services I can appreciate the beauty of many places of worship. (I still don't like the going-to clothing though.)

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    1. If I shut my eyes I can actually feel the pleasure of getting home from church on a sunny summer day and peeling off the duds in favor of my play suit.

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  20. We three little girls were all dressed up at Easter and attended those Lutheran services, too. The patent-leather shoes were very exciting, and looked especially beautiful with little lace edged white anklet socks. We had gloves and always, always a new little purse as well. That way we could hold the quarter or dime to place in the Easter collection plate. I don't remember much about the service itself, except that I loved, and still do, the sound of the trumpets. I haven't seen the inside of a church in years, but this year I am taking my 81 year-old mom because she misses going to church. That's what happens when you count on a heathen atheist daughter to care for you.
    So Happy Bunny Day. That's as far as I will go with it, except to enjoy the music and some candy.

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    1. You had a much better attitude towards the patent leather shoes and ankle socks than I did. I'm amazed they couldn't even get me to smile for most of those Easter photos. I left some out, and I was scowling almost every time. How's a girl supposed to conduct her life if she can't get dirty?

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  21. Peace. Peace to you. I'm practicing for tomorrow. In flu season St. Luke's Lutheran parishoners do a fist bump. Which is worth going to see.
    Loved this post.
    Looking for my lace-trimmed white anklets...do they go with orthopedic Crocs?

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    1. Really? Nothing goes with orthopedic Crocs. Although the anklets would be worth taking a picture of. Do Not Despair, Zick O' My Heart. I will be there soon, and will cure your feet. I promise. Well, maybe I'll just take your toes and turn them into pork roasts for the masses.

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    2. Love the first-bump Julie, think we could start a health trend? And does ANYthing go with orthopedic Crocs, except a big comfortable smile?

      I always had the whole hat/gloves/dress/patent leather shoe Easter garb, until I was 7 and suddenly turned into the Church Pianist- small church with no depth of field. But I'd been studying a whole whopping 7 months by then and knew 3 hymns and an "Invitation" all in the key of C. You can't play piano in gloves and I told Mom that firmly but politely.

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    3. Oops- that's fist-bump....

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    4. But it you could play in gloves, it would be in the key of C.

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  22. Wonderful stuff as ever,Murr.Did you have scratchy nylon gloves?You sure take me down the memory lanes,thanks, it's a lot of fun.

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  23. Thank you for the time travel! Hate to admit it, but I loved the dressing up, the fancy dress, the white gloves, the shoes, the hat. Sadly, being a real Oregonian, I often had to cover it all with my raincoat. I don't remember too much beyond the dressing up in the first 7 years at our Conservative Baptist church, but will never forget the the following years at Assembly of God! Not too much hell and damnation, thank you, but incredible wonderful music for Easter. That is the ONLY part I still sort of miss even today.

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    1. "Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands, for our offenses given." The music was much stronger than the lyric, as strong as THAT was, and that's what makes me cry today.

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  24. My parents were Sunday School Missionaries so I have lots of these memories. But my favorite memory was the Easter I invited several friends to join me at my husband and my camp house and then go to Hodges Gardens for the Easter Service. My car lights had some problem and I only had lights if I held them on for the 45 minute trip. Then we found that the powers that be had forgotton to take daylight savings into account. The choir sang the Halleluiah chorus and expected to reach the climax at sunrise, but we were all still in the dark.

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    1. This is an essay that longs to be written. Go writ it.

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  25. Bear will not be getting up at 5:00 a.m. to make 6:00 a.m. service on the riverbank, just across the street from the church I normally attend. The grandchildren are with us, and I don't believe in waking a sleeping baby. Of any age.

    By 10:30 a.m., I will be joining others to contemplate a mystery. The more years I have behind me, the more questions I ask. Which is good. This Sunday, someone else will lead worship. Next week? Who knows.

    I don't particularly identify with the H**l and damnation stuff. Not even sure I understand that. My heart moves with mystery, indoors or elsewhere.

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    1. This is what you and all good atheists have in common. Thank you for all you do.

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  26. I find God everywhere I go outside. I have heard stories about the Baptist services...*wink*... but never attended one.
    Hey, Murr, check out my website!! Not as high class as yours...http://poetrose24.blogspot.com/

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    1. High class? Whatchootalkin' 'bout! Happy to have the invitation, thanks, Rose.

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  27. Hey Murr! When I need spiritual guidance, I go to visit the badgers. I can't hear them, but I always understand what they mean; that's as close to a religious experience as I tend to get. Indigo x

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  28. Oh, the sunrise services of my youth- how I loved them! Thank you for reopening those memories for me. Enjoyed this post~

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  29. What am adorable tyke. Easter was notable in my childhood home in that my dad actually went to church on that day. Don't remember anything much happening Good Friday, however. Does that mean we all will go to Hell?

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    1. No, THAT's not why you're going to Hell.

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  30. Lovely. While we lived in Windsor we could always count on everything darkening over at three o'clock in the afternoon for a while, then clearing up. We'd always been taught that Jesus died at three. I guess the meteorological signals depend on the local customs.

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  31. It's a puzzler. The whole point of Easter is Jesus springing back, but it happens right about when we spring forward. And he lost more than an hour.

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  32. Oh my! We never had experiences like those. Easter was a time for a new outfit and coloured eggs. The theology was kept to a few hymns. It was quite simple. I guess we were lucky.

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