The Easter Sunday Service

 Sunny Church     The week before Easter, in a moment of weakness and Christian charity, Lida Wilkins invited her niece, Jasmine and her husband, Turk, to join her for the Easter worship service at First Presbyterian Church of Watervalley.

By the time Easter Sunday was over, Lida felt confident that Jasmine and Turk had well-defended their title as “ Watervalley’s most bizarre couple.” But not in a way she had expected.

Jasmine was the daughter of Lida’s brother-in-law, Shane Wilkins. Shane and his wife Della had left Watervalley several years before to become full-time missionaries in Belize, having felt God’s call to spread the good news where the surf meets the sand. It seemed a better calling than facing another winter of milking cows. Shane’s newfound love of scuba diving was only a coincidence.

They had asked their daughter Jasmine to come back to Watervalley and look after the house and farm. At the time Jasmine was in her early twenties. She was living in Oregon, working at a coffee house, and writing a book of poetry about seagulls, who, she believed to be one of nature’s more misunderstood birds

They weren’t sure she would come back to Watervalley. Jasmine was a free spirit. But apparently, free house was also in her lexicon. To Shane and Della’s surprise, she brought a husband, named Turk, with her. Turk had grown up in Berkley but had studied agriculture at Iowa State. He was in Oregon working the wheat harvest in the Willamette Valley. They met one day when he came into the coffee shop and ordered a triple, venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato with a shot of soy, which, as the stars would have it, was also her favorite. After a three week whirlwind romance, they married. Two days later they loaded up her Isuzu Trooper and made the drive back east. That had been seven years ago.

Jasmine had always been a sweet child, slim and tall. As a teenager she had discovered an old pair of her mother’s bell-bottom blue jeans up in the attic. Some how these served as a magic key to the doorway of her true self. She became engrossed with the hippie movement of the 60’s… wearing nothing but peasant tops and tie-died T-shirts. She grew her hair long and straight, constantly listened to Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, and the Mommas and the Pappas, and became enamored with the art work of Peter Max. After high school she moved to Eugene, Oregon because somewhere she read that the remnants of the Haight Ashbury culture had migrated there.

Everyone thought it was just a phase she was going through. But it seemed she was blissfully stuck in a time warp; happily making coffee, writing poetry about birds, and living off a diet of tofu and dandelion fuzz. The family worried, but she seemed content despite her eclectic and ditsy ways. In Lida’s words, “That child is blonde, all the way to the roots.”

She and Turk could have been twins. He had a kind face with a big, easy smile, and shaggy blonde hair that seemed in constant need of being pushed from his face. With his knowledge of agriculture and their shared love of caramel macchiato, it seemed that all the cosmic tumblers had aligned. So they had moved back to Watervalley and taken over the family farm. To everyone’s surprise, they had made a pretty successful go of it.

Along the way, their son, Zappa was born. He was now almost six.

Zappa was the real reason Lida had invited them to come to the Easter Sunday service. As sweet as Lida believed Jasmine and Turk to be, she was confident that little Zappa hadn’t had the slightest exposure to Christian instruction. Jasmine and Turk just weren’t church people. Lida suspected that if she asked Zappa to name his favorite Bible verse, his response would be, “When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars.”

On the few occasions that Lida had visited them out at the farm to pick up some organic tomatoes or other vegetables for the Diner, she found Zappa running around buck-naked, happily playing in the yard and having imaginary conversations with the bees and flowers. Despite this, Zappa was a seemingly brilliant child who conversed with great inquisitiveness and insight. Lida had hoped that starting school might open up Zappa’s world a little. But Jasmine had announced that she was going to home school him. “Shocker,” Lida thought.

By inviting them to the Easter service, Lida felt called to try to inject a little bit of the gospel into the child’s life. She wasn’t sure it would do any good, but she knew she was likely the only person sufficiently moronic enough to give it a try.

As Lida expected, they arrived late to the service. She always sat near the front and had been trying to save places for them, embarrassingly turning away a score of people who had seen the open spaces from a distance and hoped to land a seat. It would be the first of many exasperating moments. Finally, they arrived just as the last of the eleven chimes were ringing to start the service.

To Lida’s delight, they all had clothes on. But that was only by the loosest of definitions. Jasmine had on a moo moo dress that she had apparently made from some of her mothers old linen tablecloths. It was white and sheer and given Jasmine’s earth woman nature, Lida could only hope against hope that she had accompanied it with some kind of homemade bra as well. The ring of daffodils Jasmine wore in her hair only added to the magic. Turk had on jeans and a T-shirt and sandals. He had cleaned up nicely but apparently had stuck his head out the window on the drive in to let his hair dry. “Foofy” would be an understatement.

Despite his loose-fitting homemade clothes, Zappa looked like a cherub. His thick towhead blonde hair and pink cheeks illuminated his curious and observant face. As the three of them sat down, he immediately came and sat on Lida’s lap. This delighted her and she hugged him for a few wonderful moments before he scooted over to sit on the pew between Lida and his mother.

With the sound of the last chime the service began.  At first, it all seemed to go well. Lida couldn’t tell if Jasmine and Turk were actually engaging in the service but they at least displayed a respectable reverence… closing their eyes during communal prayer and appearing to be mouthing the words of the hymns. Zappa was reasonably well-behaved; constantly looking around with an inquisitive face at all the people and the choir and at the words of Pastor Joe Carter. He even picked up one of the pew Bibles and flipped through it briefly, noting that there were more Bibles on the surrounding pews as well.

Eventually, he leaned over to Lida and whispered, “Do any of the other ones have pictures for coloring?”

It was during communion that the real trouble started. Usually children Zappa’s age were dismissed earlier in the service to attend children’s church… a nice term for a quick Bible lesson and a much longer play time. Earlier in the service when all the children had made their exit, there wasn’t even a hint in the body language of Jasmine and Turk that they would send Zappa with them.

As the organ played softly in the background, Pastor Carter spoke the familiar words… quoting scripture and symbolically breaking a loaf of bread. The ushers began to proceed up the aisles, methodically passing the communion plates holding the small crackers. Turk, who was sitting at the end of the pew, had bowed his head in what seemed to be a long prayer.  Lida couldn’t help but notice that when the plate was handed to him, he took a small handful of the crackers rather than a single piece.  As Jasmine passed the plate it looked like she was going to hold it for Zappa to take a piece. But Lida grabbed the plate immediately and proceeded to move it on down the pew.

Turk had bowed his head and returned to his prayer. But out of the corner of her eye, Lida could now see that he seemed to be eating the bread pieces one at a time, tossing them into his mouth like peanuts. It was troublesome, but she let this pass. Maybe he had an extended agenda of business to do with the Lord or maybe they just did things differently on the west coast. She couldn’t be sure.

The trays of small grape juice cups were also passed. Fortunately, Turk only took one of these. Just as before, Lida quickly took the tray from Jasmine before Zappa had any chance of grabbing one of the small communion cups. But this proved to be too much for him. In a loud clear voice, he inquired, “Hey, don’t the kids get snacks, too?”

Lida tried to quietly assure him that they would discuss it later but the damage was done. She could feel the heat of a multitude of geriatric eyes upon her along with the faint echo of snickers from around the room.

Communion finally concluded and it was time for the offering plate to be passed before the service finished. Pastor Carter made a short announcement about a special offering collection and prayed at length about the need to give to the work of God’s kingdom. The pastor knew all too well that many of the members tended to be shrewd economists and that often their depth of devotion was confined to their thoughts and fell short of their checkbooks. The occasional gentle reminder was sometimes needed. Zappa pondered all of his words with great deliberation. And as the offering plates were passed along the pews, he once again turned to Lida, speaking in a clear voice that echoed freely across the sanctuary. “If God needs more money, why doesn’t he write another book? The first one seems to have done well.”

Lida’s mortification was now complete. More than any other time in her life, she wondered why their congregation always had to sing all five verses of the closing hymn. Her escape couldn’t come fast enough.

When it was over, Lida took Zappa’s hand and proceeded to make her way toward the church entrance, doing her best to appear aloof and cheerful. To their credit, the members of the congregation enthusiastically greeted and engaged the young couple, making numerous offers for them to come and join them again.

When they reached the narthex, Pastor Carter unreservedly introduced himself to Jasmine and Turk, speaking to them at length. Lida and Zappa went ahead down the front steps and stopped and waited for his parents to join them. It had been a disaster. It was bad enough that the two parents were lost as last year’s Easter egg. But to leave this poor child with no spiritual guidance seemed almost criminal.

That’s when Zappa said the most interesting thing. “Aunt Lida, you’ll have to come out to the farm and go with me to my church sometime.”

Lida was taken aback. “What church is that, sweetheart?”

“Well, God’s church, of course.”

“And where is this church?”

“Everywhere. In the yard, in the fields, in the garden. Like is says in the Bible, silly. ‘The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.’”

Lida kneeled so that she could talk to Zappa face to face. She spoke in a mixture of wonder and disbelief. “And how do you know it’s God?

“Because He told me. ‘Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.’ That’s in Jeremiah, I think.”

Lida could barely believe what she was hearing. “Why, Zappa. You’re quoting scripture. Who taught you these things?”

“My mom and dad. Oh, and my grandparents. They’re on an island, you know. But we Skype pretty much everyday. So we talk about God all the time. Don’t you and your family talk about God everyday?”

Before Lida could respond, Jasmine and Turk joined them.

“Zappa, are you ready to go sweetie?” inquired Jasmine.

“Sure. Thanks Aunt Lida. Your church is interesting. Maybe we can visit again sometime.”

Lida bade them goodbye and stared in stunned silence as they walked away toward the old farm truck parked in the distance. She never got a chance to answer Zappa’s question. But she had a lot of time to think about it.

Out of the mouths of babes.

I’m Jeff High, and for now in Watervalley, that’s pretty much the highpoint.



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