Afterlife Promises and a Quick One For the Road

The thurible, laden with charms and smoky as hell, tinkled a soft regular rhythm in the center stage priest’s hands. Golden chains stretched and released, pendulum like with each wave.

The thurible’s smoke filled the alter. Its waifs sent streaming across icons and images of the Virgin and her Son, Jesus.

Stage left, another priest approaches the pulpit.

They traveled in twos, administering the final rights like those centuries before them. Clad in simple vestments, humbled, in service to their God and His people.

Their job, so they say, is the prep work for the souls journey home.

So they say.

Currents of air sliced the layers of smoke. Those layers pushed silently aside like water under a ship’s bow in the priest’s passing from the alter to the coffin.

Jonas would have loved the scene and the chants had he been sitting in the pews.

But Jonas wasn’t saying much, wasn’t doing much at all actually, other than laying there dead in the coffin.

Sitting in the front pew, Rhema, Jonas’ recently widowed wife of fifty years sobbed. Her pain, itself silent, but heard in moans and guttural sounds from deep in her gut captured perfect the human sense of love’s loss and life’s grief. Consoling touches of her children couldn’t touch the pain.

No balm to heal, only words to sooth.

And God’s promise.

Fifty years of passion, fear, tragedy, and love reverberated from her throat for all to hear.  Her loss was complete, though not sudden, but vacuous, and thorough.

Between the staccato chants and punctuating silences of the priests, Rhema’s sobs attacked their message with her own that even though death were inevitable, and God’s promise in death’s exchange for those of faith is life everlasting, the reality of the loss is soul crushing in its sad completeness.

Abrahim sat, silently.

From the twelfth pew back it wasn’t hard to imagine that the circus was in town, at least that’s what Abrahim was thinking.

Heavy red felt curtains covered the alter, perched on a electric curtain rod, the fabric’s split hung heavy in the middle.

Any moment Abrahim expected a top-hat wearing fat man to jump out with a whip and cane, huckstering the audience towards the inside, where in the center ring would be found the evenings entertainment.

“Come see the Grand Egress” He chirped in Abrahim’s imagination, motioning the masses towards the end of a light filled passage.

The nearest thing Abramim could see resembling that were two fat priest chanting hymns, one of them over Jonas’ coffin swinging a thurible filling the place with wretched smoke.

Abrahim took neither solace nor guidance in the resolutions they offered. He looked at his watch.

Lawyer time in two hours.

Jonas was still, silent, and stiff through it all.

One of the fat priest, his black vestment too short, letting Abrahim see his well worn leather shoes beneath, walked to the far right of the alter, stage right as it were, and hit a switch.

Silently, behind Jonas’ coffin, the circus curtain’s heavy split parted, slowly from the middle, exposing the alter.

Religious icons of the passion, in the traditional Byzantine art displayed the birth, the life, the death. Jesus, spear wound and all, hanging above it floating above ornately carved alter marble housing simple bread waiting for consecration.

“Better than the center ring” Abrahim mumbled silently to himself, but not quietly enough for the old woman next to him to sneer at his remark, even though the connection wasn’t fully made.

Abrahim smiled back silently at the old woman,  thinking he should be more respectful perhaps, just before murmuring slightly softer “Wonder when this old bag will be next”.

More smiles, more curtain, and yes, more altar.

Jonas still silent, lay prostrate before the altar, for he had no other real option, as a voluminous cloud of incense descended from above, the thurible rocking now in a cross above him in the priest’s hands, carefully practiced motions skillfully executed in time from years of practice.

The big top was open for business.

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