My pastor has asked me to lead a scene in our Easter pageant and I am grumpy about it. It’s not that I don’t like Easter pageants or directing. I’m just ill-equipped to direct this one. Work is kicking my tail, my husband has been traveling, and my kitchen is a revolving door of kindergarten shoebox dioramas. I am exhaustion covered in glitter glue. The pastor has recruited dozens of people to take part in a silent motion stage performance of modern day resurrection scenes. The enthusiasm surrounding this Easter pageant is infectious and the opening scenes are always very powerful. But when I get an e-mail with our rehearsal schedule, I just want to drop out. I want to stay home and watch “The Great British Baking Show” on Netflix, even though I know how every season ends.
Alas, my kids are gunning hard to be in the pageant this year. Every other year I demurred thinking the day would be too long for them. My son has campaigned very hard for the last month to play the part of “Bearded Guy.” He settles for a Syrian refugee boy, but continues to ask when he is going to get to wear the beard every 4 minutes. My husband can only make part of the rehearsals due to his work schedule. This does not help my grumpiness. Nothing can help it. Not even our pastor who is is all of a twitter about this Easter pageant.
The pastor and his family are the saltiest salt of the earth and I will follow them to the ends of the earth. But this play rehearsal, y’all. It is feeling a little extra. When we arrive at rehearsal, the pastor sells the idea of each scene to us. He is especially excited about scenes reminiscent of the recently released “Hacksaw Ridge,” the trailer from which he pulled the music for the opening.
We divide into groups and try to figure out how to portray the action. We’ve been given a skeletal script, basic notions of what we’re trying to represent. I know a few of the other actors in my scene, but I’m not entirely sure what we are supposed to accomplish and how this is supposed to play out in the seconds we’re given. The basic plot is that we are a bunch of political protesters holding signs with pithy political messages. We square off in two formations, showing angry, violent opposition to the other formation of political protesters.
Some of the actors have a vision of how we can assemble and I defer to them. Others don’t know where to enter; others are concerned that they won’t be seen. My son keeps wandering out of his scene to tug my shirt and ask me when he’s going to get his beard. For three nights in a row, I am somewhere between Syria and Washington DC, surrounded by soldiers being lowered down Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa. None of this makes sense--especially our political scene which ends when two angels appear. Enter: cherubs. Then, the protesters throw down our political signs, hoist a huge American flag, and hug one another. Two teenage girls even snap a selfie, political opponents no more! I glance at the other scenes and I can recognize the true beauty that rises from the ashes of refugee camps and tragic school bus crashes and wartime heroics. But our scene just feels hokey.
At the end of practice, I make sure the American flag we use as a prop isn’t left on the ground. I drape the flag over a church pew. As I arrive at rehearsal each successive night, the flag has been folded neatly and lovingly into a triangular formation. It becomes my obsession, keeping the flag lifted and not falling on the stage where it can be trampled.
As the final rehearsal finishes, I am proud of my little group of protesters. We have worked hard to get our scene right. As the angels emerge from out of the darkness, we’re all in position and the flag is where it needs to be. The “Hacksaw Ridge” trailer music queues like nightmare on loop. I don’t know how we are going to do this for 13 consecutive performances. I text our pastor and his wife. “When do we get to debrief about this?” The pastor replies that the best part of this is not the performance but the chance to build community. I feel bad for being one more grumpy church lady he has to deal with.
We are up at 6a the day of the pageant for makeup. My hubby and kids are sponged and dusted with cocoa powder and make for convincing refugees. My pack of protesters are outfitted in our best patriotic garb: tattoos, bandanas, red trucker hats that say “Make America Great Again.” In between scenes, I get to know the protesters who are students of nursing and psychology; single mothers and new drivers; socially liberal singers; former members of the police reserves who just like to carry guns.
I am barely awake for the first few performances but by 11a.m., the church is packed to standing room only. Cheers cry out for Desmond Doss as he climbs Hacksaw Ridge to save “just one more,” and it all comes crashing down on me and the tears come and they just keep coming. The flag that we raise and the ladder that the soldier climbs are not mutually exclusive as symbols go. In fact, they are the same. This is not mixing religion and politics--trust.
Christ came to save us all: the tattooed and the trucker hatted; the schoolbus driver and the new teen driver; the gun-toting soldier and the refugee. He would not let one fall to the ground without regarding it as precious. Not a sparrow falls without his notice. In the same vein, this flag that we revere, the one we cannot let fall to the ground, is one for which blood was shed so that all could enjoy freedom. What could be freer than love? Freedom and love are regularly compromised and trampled on the battlefield for our hearts, but the war has already been won by the One.
We throw down our signs as we throw down our crowns. And his name shall be Emmanuel, God with us. photos by Andy Nash.