I wanted to send this story to you on Easter morning or the night before, but things got away from me, what with the glazed ham and the hashbrown potatoes and the early service and hosting all the family and dyeing of inappropriate eggs.
(I distinctly recall saying nobody was allowed to draw penises on the Easter eggs with the magic crayon. And yet, here we are, with eggs strategically placed in the centerpiece on the Easter table.)
(Please don't clutch your pearls at me. Despite my best efforts, it turns out that I'm raising very normal boys.)
Anyway, here we are, the Tuesday after Holy Week, and I get to tell you this now.
It's a favorite story from our family history, and I can tell it like it's mine even though it happened before I was born.
A few lifetimes ago, my dad was a youth pastor and the director of a chorale, a musical group of about twenty high school juniors and seniors. At the time, their church was the largest in Ohio, which only matters because you have to picture the scene.
You need to picture the biggest church auditorium, worship center, or sanctuary you've ever been in. Then, picture it filled with adults of all ages, but mostly the senior citizens of the congregation, those who gladly get up before sunrise (truly!) to worship at the earliest Easter service on Sunday morning. Picture a couple thousand of them, all dressed in their Easter best, unbelievably early on Easter Sunday.
The chorale had the privileged honor of opening the service on Easter Sunday. (Truth be known, my dad’s chorale probably had that privilege of opening the “sunrise service” on Easter Sunday because while the majority of the congregation would gladly come at a later hour, having this group of high school students sing meant also gaining the presence of their parents, their grandparents on both sides, their grandparents’ next door neighbors…you know: all the sleepy-but-loyal people who show up to watch beloved children sing or play or do whatever they are about to do. A respectable size crowd is ensured if all those people want to see Junior sing.)
If you've ever been part of an Easter production, you know how essential those first few moments are. After days of contemplating the darkness of Good Friday, the people come hungry to celebrate.
Well. This would be the very opening song of the service, the first sounds that would announce the reality of Easter! The chorale had invested weeks preparing and practicing this song that began with a monologue my dad would present about the empty tomb. The production moment was so essential, and my dad rehearsed the delivery ad nauseum with the sound crew. His careful and repeated instructions went something like this:
"The room will be dark and quiet, and the chorale will sing a few opening bars with purposely dissonant chords, and then I'll say this: It's an age old question. Where's Jesus? And guys, hear me on this: it is SO important that the first words of this monologue are the first spoken words of the morning, so NO ONE will speak into the microphone until I begin with these words. The microphone will need to be turned on and ready. Right? Let's make sure we're on the same page so neither of us misses that cue.” So important. Really important. Get this right, everyone in the sound booth. If ever we need your careful attention and help, it is now.
This was in the earliest days of the Sound Track era in church, so when the music started, there was no turning back. Hence, the careful instructions.
They practiced for several weeks. They rehearsed on the Saturday before the big day. The chorale, the monologue, the sound guys. Ad nauseum.
(Here's where you picture the large worship center, the thousands of old people, all of them with their silver hair, sitting in rows before the sun came up.)
Finally, it was time. My dad was ready, the singers were ready, everyone waited with anticipation.
The chorale sang their somber, opening bars. Then, exactly as planned, my dad stepped up to the microphone. Surveying the room with his eyes, he said the line
"It's an age old question."
But the microphone wasn't on. His words went nowhere. He could hardly be heard by even the front row of grandmas.
Frustrating isn't a big enough word for his pent-up emotions at that moment.
But, my dad has a big voice that carries when he needs to use it, and he could compensate for this sound failure. In the second between his first line and the second, he took a deep breath and SHOUTED into the crowd.
And it would have worked. His voice could have filled the room.
Except that in that same second, the sound guys realized they missed their cue. They turned on his mic, they turned up the sound, and then my dad projected like nobody's business.
So, as far as the silver hairs were concerned, the first sound of Easter morning was a young whipper snapper shouting into a microphone,
An entire room of two thousand senior citizens all physically jumped at once. Nothing like a group startle.
Happy Easter, early risers. He is risen, indeed. And clearly, this guy wants to know exactly where he is. Right now.
Once the audience began to breathe again and the youth began to sing, everyone calmed down. Easter celebrations proceeded without further incident. Nearly forty more Easters have come and gone. Perhaps many have forgotten that sudden shock to their ears on that early, sun-barely-up, sleepy morning. But my dad and mom, and those singers who watched the spectacle of the surprised crowd, and probably the sound guys who missed their cue, never have.
Every year on Easter, it's a race in our family to be the first to send a group text: "It's an age old question."
And then we each picture my dad screaming his head off into a microphone.
And we laugh, all over again. Our own Easter family tradition.