I purposefully put a little too much water on the heads of the children who could stand on their own. Let it drip down in to their eyes. Across their cheeks. Behind their ears. The Bishop anointed. A Lay Catechist handed the child a candle. By the end of the weekend, in the various congregations all around the Cheyenne River Mission, there were somewhere around 35 newly baptized.
On Saturday, the Bishop and I were together --on Sunday, Joel took St. John's in Eagle Butte, I went west to three congregations, the Bishop went east to two.
In Cherry Creek, I arrived about ten minutes early. I rolled down the window to listen to the sounds of the small village. A car. Children on bikes. One throwing dirt clods in to a large excavated hole for a basement that hasn't happened yet. I could hear the horses that wander unfenced --but I couldn't see them. I watched the meadowlark flit from one corner of its territory to another, singing its beautiful cascade of a song --if the meadowlark song were in color, I think I would have gone blind. When it was atop the the short power pole by the church, the robin red-breast flew up behind it. In the middle of the meadowlark's song, the robin chirped and startled the meadowlark. The meadowlark tried to chase away the robin --heaven on earth, divided up, disputed, even by the birds... on Easter morning.
I waited about forty minutes past the time church was supposed to begin. A familiar van turned on to the street and began to come to the end of the street where the church is. I rolled down the window --she smiled and waved. 'Oh, you're here!' she said. 'I'll be right back.'
I think she went through town, waking up the families. The children, quickly polished, pushed out of the cars. The older boys, gathering together by the cedar tree, talked and glanced in protest. Their clip on ties shoved in their pockets. The young girl came running up --'she wants to be like you when she grows up' says the grandma from the wheel chair as we work her up and over the stoop. 'I'm honored,' I say. 'So, you really want to be a priest?' I ask her. She nods. She's nine years old, but it's the third time somebody has said that to me --third time she has mentioned it to someone. It's time for me to pay attention to that. I can remember; I was nine.
Starting church one and a half hours late... it didn't leave me much time. We did bless the flowers for the cemetery --to mark the graves of loved ones --an Easter ritual. I didn't get to stay for the ample meal... my heart broke when I saw the beans and ham and taco salad and so much more... I drove the thirty miles of backroad further west to Dupree --and then went north again on seventeen more miles of dirt road to Thunder Butte. The parking area was nearly full. Children rode their bikes over from the cluster of houses above the cliffs to the river --the same Moreau River that runs all the way to Blackfoot and the Missouri River... the rivers are the old 'roads' of the prairie, and there are little towns on the edge of this River --all about a half-day's walk apart --ten to fifteen miles at most between them... Thunder Butte, Bear Creek, Green Grass, On the Tree, White Horse, Promise... but forty or fifty miles apart by road.
We laugh. We pray. We share bread and wine. We go out to the parked cars where some elders wait to receive their communion. It took all the strength they had to get in to the car--and they will wait there for their meal, too, saving all their strength for the journey back to the place they now live --not home, but it's where they are cared for. This village by the cliffs is home... If I had known they were waiting in the car, I would have stood on the church porch for the service --turned the pews around inside the church... .
I go the long way around... I stop at the gas station to use the restroom --first toilet and running water I've seen all day. And then I head back in to the hidden ravines that shelter Bear Creek north of the highway. I sit. I wait. One half hour. Other people I go with get frustrated and alarmed. Sometimes no one shows up... but, I consider it part of my job to remain faithful, to practice faithfulness. So, I wait. And finally, I put the car in gear and begin the journey back to the highway. As I round the corner out of the village, the all terrain vehicle comes down the road, loaded with kids clinging on to any and everything. My kids. I see them. They see me.
I slow down. 'We want church!' they say. 'Is there going to be church?' 'Of course!' I say. And I turn around. There were more children than I could count. Two pick-ups full. And the ATV. They were all over the place. So, I took the corporal, chalice, paten and the all the gear, and set it up on the floor, picnic style. I took the large brass candlestick and the wax candle I carried with me, and lit it, telling the story of creation --and God making light, separating light from dark --first thing. And then I told a story, not a bible story, but a story about the boy Jesus. And then I tell about him growing up, and being baptized, and healing, and telling people how to live a good life --and how he was betrayed... and what God did in raising him to new life, a new creation, a new light for the world in flesh and blood...
And I went right on in to the holy meal --one kid thought it was really gross that it took the work of bugs and wind and sun and rain to make bread, and that all those things were the Body of Jesus, just as this bread was his body... and that we are what we eat...
--and then one kid punched the other and said, 'your name is salad.' And we were off. And we shared the bread and wine in chaos and laughter and song... . Active song... "Christ before me, Christ behind me."
I kind of remember the drive home --noticing that the clouds are changing shape --spring clouds look different than winter clouds... there is something more knowingly ephemeral about spring clouds. And the sky isn't a slate blue --there is more promise in this sky. And I pray for the children --the hundreds of children I had seen in the last day. Knowing the tremendous challenges they face. Wondering. Pushing the stars that were hidden behind the veil of light to respond. Asking God. Asking.
At prayer this morning (Christ Our Passover, 1 Cor. 5:7-8; Rom. 6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:20-22)
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; *
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, *
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.
Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; *
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead, *
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death, *
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.