I’m at a small church. It’s evening. The glowing sign by the highway reads: “Passion Play. Free to Public.”
The parking lot is full.
I have a thing for Easter plays. As a kid, my steelworking, hay-baling father took the role of Jesus in the church pageant.
“You want me to play WHO?” Daddy said into the telephone receiver one night. Then, he laughed until he was hoarse.
Of course, it was ridiculous. Sure, Daddy attended church. But he also had a scar on his hindparts from a glass flask, shattering in his back pocket.
He was no Bible character.
So I walk into the small church. I find a pew near the back. I sit beside a large family. The sanctuary is chock-full.
Beside me: a little girl wearing an Auburn T-shirt. Her name is Catherine. We shake hands.
Pleased to meet you, Catherine.
Anyway, when Daddy first agreed to play the part, he swore off beer and cussing. He bought a tape recorder. He sat in the barn, reading the red words into the microphone.
“What’re you doing?” I asked.
“Practicing,” he said.
“Is that Seven-Up?”
Catherine shushes her little brother. The lights dim in the chapel. Piano music.
Actors take the stage, dressed in bedsheets. These are salt-of-the-earth folks with Alabamian accents and Birkenstocks.
The night of Daddy’s first performance, he was a nervous wreck. His hands shook while he drove to church.
I asked if he was scared. He didn’t answer—he was busy practicing the Sermon on the Mount.
When they crucified him, they painted him with strawberry syrup. And during the final scene, Mister Rick fired a shotgun blank while the foam stone rolled away from the tomb.
The choir sang. People applauded. It was maybe the highest moment of Daddy’s life.
Months later, his funeral was held in the same chapel. Minus the choir.
That was ten lifetimes ago.
Catherine applauds. The lights come up in the little sanctuary. The passion play is over. I wave goodbye to her and slip out back.
A teenage boy follows me to my truck. He wears a necktie. He’s maybe sixteen. He asks if I have a minute to talk about my eternal salvation
“No thanks,” I say.
“Sir, wait!” He’s jogging after me.
He asks if I know where I’m going when I die. He hands me a flyer.
I’m waving him off. “No thanks.”
He is unphased. He asks if he can pray for me before I go.
I feel sorry for the kid—he’s only doing what they tell him. So, I ask him to make it quick, I have a long drive ahead.
He places a trembling hand on my shoulder and bows his head. But he doesn’t say anything. He stands silent, eyes closed, listening to crickets.
“Can’t really remember what I’m supposed to say next,” he finally admits.
So we shake hands. He says, “God loves you, sir.”
I never meant to start crying like that.
You missed another fine Easter, Daddy.