After we would get all dressed up, we would wander around the yard and clip dogwood flowers, azaleas, irises, pretty much anything that was in bloom. We'd gather our bouquets and walk back across the road to Hopewell.
Entering the Sanctuary was like stepping into the Communion of Saints at the very gate of heaven. Everyone was as beautiful as the flowers they carried and their hearts burned with Christ's love. I would fall into one hug after another, waving, smiling, greeting, laughing...joy. The Sanctuary was fully restored now and was covered in Easter Lillie's.
We became a jittery, glowy bunch by the time Daddy would invite us to prepare our hearts and minds for worship. We would sing, we would pray, we would experience Easter in full liturgical wonder.
In the place of the Children's Sermon, Daddy would invite the young and the young at heart to come down to the cross. "This cross once stood as a symbol of death, of sin that destroys our lives and world. Today, we remember that the church has been made new. We are forgiven! Christ is Risen!" With that, we would sing "Lift high the cross" and the young at heart would come forward to hang their flowers on the cedar rood.
This part of worship could take up to 15 minutes and no one cared, there was no rush because we came here to worship. We came to gather in the name of the Lord and love him with our lives and actions. It was real for me, for us. People would "oo and ah" at the little tots who would do their best to tuck their tulips into the string that was wrapped around the cross. Daddy would stand by the cross and lift children to the top or usher older youth to help the younger ones plug their blooms into the places where nails once stood. When the last flower was hung, Daddy would step away and stretch out his hand and say, "Look! This instrument of murder, this cross, is ugly no more. It has been given a new life and look how beautiful it is!" He believed every word and we would be consumed if not by our own wonder and awe, but his.
Daddy's last Easter sermon was written to me and to my sister. It was a letter reminding us never to forget what the story of Easter is truly about. He told us all of his own pending death and of the great triumphal joy he knew that was waiting for him on the other side. He would not stay in the tomb and neither should we. "There can be no resurrection without crucifixion," he proclaimed. The true message of the gospel is that we have nothing to fear. Christ has already conquered death and God has given us everything we need. Christ is Risen indeed!
We would enter into a time of communion, not just over bread and grape juice, but remembering Christ's love in our lives and in our community. The Deacons would pass the elements of communion down our aisles as we served one another and called each other by name just as Daddy had taught us. My friends and I would delight over the tiny communion cups and the delicious buttery wafers that Tamie Todd would make from scratch for this special purpose. Christ's body never has tasted so good!
Throughout the service we would sing in celebration...
Hosanna, Laud Hosanna!
All Glory Laud and Honor!
Thine is the Glory!
Jesus Christ has Risen today!
And then, Daddy would send us out into the world in benediction, hands outstretched, fingers pointing high, "Go now with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace."
Families would crowd around the flowered cross to take photos together or with Daddy. People would congregate outside the church and mingle for up to an hour as the reverberations of celebration and joy continued to pass between them and no one wanted to break free of that momentum. Folks would take turns photographing loved ones in front of the giant pink bush of azaleas next to the Sanctuary and then slowly, one by one, we would make our ways back to our cars to join our families and friends for Easter luncheons.
Every year, our family had a place to go and break bread with folks we loved from Hopewell. These are all some of my most favorite memories and I often dream of those decadent Southern meals, served on Easter china, in cozy back yards or front porches. The smell of Mrs. Jane's yeast rolls, Odessa's magically thin fried squash, or Lillian's perfectly salted green beans, still remain in my mind as some of the best dishes I have ever put on my plate or in my mouth.
|Taking the Cross out to the road so everyone could see it- a sign of hope.|