Having looked at what Easter is not about last week (during the Catholic/Protestant observation), the following story about rebirth, renewal, and repentance offers a self-critical corrective. It too comes from the 1916 edition of Werner’s Readings and Recitations, the “Easter Celebrations” volume. The story itself is by Annie Hamilton Donnell.
Father’s Easter Sermon
“Yes, Plumy, why not? If you don’t feel able to go, I can go alone. Only I should miss my congregation sorely—it’s hard preaching to an empty church!”
The pale little woman smiled bravely. She got to her feet and crossed the room to the-stooping old ﬁgure at the desk.
“You shall have your ‘congregation,’ father,” she said. “Is it almost done—the sermon?”
“Yes, almost done, Plumy; I have tried to make it clear and strong.” She got his cane and hat and her own things. Then the old couple went out into the street. It was a beautiful day, with joyous thrill of waking life.
“You ain’t getting tired, are you, Plumy?”
“Tired, father? Why, you talk as if I was old!” smiled Plumy. She had her hand on his faded broadcloth sleeve and tried to lighten its weight. They had walked to church arm in arm for forty years.
In Mrs. Ronald Smythe’s bay window an animated discussion was in progress. Mrs. Ronald Smythe “ran” the little Elmwood church.
“We must have any amount of ﬂowers—mountains and seas of them!” she was saying. “I want this to be a red-letter Easter at our church. It will encourage our new minister. See, there go old Parson Sledd and his little shadow of a wife. VVhat a queer couple they make! Where do you suppose they go together every week?”
“To church,” Mrs. Elsie said. “I’ve seen them going in. The door is always open, you know.”
“Yes, that’s where they go, all right,” chimed in big Mrs. Pingree, “they usually stay an hour or more.”
“These broken-down ministers who’ve lived out their day!” sighed Mrs. Elsie.
“Yes, it’s a problem what’s to be done with them, isn’t it? Somebody—who is it?—asks if they shall be shot!”
The three ladies broke into laughter. Then the talk went back to the Easter preparations and the ﬂowers. Ten years ago Lemuel Sledd had been quietly dropped from his pulpit, to make place for a younger man.
Mrs. Ronald Smythe handled the reins of church government. The following week was a busy one for her. On Friday afternoon she went down to the church with Mrs. Elsie and Mrs. Pingree to plan for the ﬂoral display. At the church door they suddenly paused.
“It’s the old parson; shh! He’s preaching,” she whispered. “Don’t either of you make a sound. It will be as good as a play to hear him!” They stood in the shadow of the gallery and listened.
“It’s an Easter sermon!” tittered Mrs. Elsie. Out in the great dim church sat “father’s” little “congregation,” listening breathlessly. A single lily reared its slender stalk from an old-fashioned vase on the pulpit. The quivery old voice steadied and grew strong. It ﬁlled the empty church. The bent ﬁgure straightened, and “father’s” face was beautiful in the afternoon light.
It was a wonderful sermon preached in the empty church that spring afternoon. The three women in the shadow of the gallery heard it with sobered, wondering faces. The earnestness in it appealed to them where the thoughtfulness penetrated beyond their shallower depths. They sank into seats and sat with folded hands, listening.
After the sermon “father” prayed. “Gracious Lord, Thou risen One, have mercy on Thy servant. Give him of the patience that kept Thee patient. Let him be willing to stand aside while Thy younger servants serve Thee. It is hard, gracious Lord, it is hard to grow old! Thy servant would have liked to die in the harness, his soul longs for one more chance to preach Thee to Thy people in this Thy house. Give him Thy patience, Lord!”
Then the two old voices quivered into song together. “Praise God, from whom all blessings ﬂow.” Then, in a hush broken only by the distant call of a robin to her mate, “father” pronounced the benediction. “Be and abide with you all. Amen.” The three women under the gallery shrank back out of sight as the two old people went out.
Mrs. Ronald Smythe suddenly said, “I want to see the new minister about something.”
“Oh, well, tell him to do his best!” cried Mrs. Elsie. “No common sermon will do—now.”
“No,” Mrs. Pingree murmured, “not now.”
The young minister rose from his desk as Mrs. Smythe was ushered in. “Sit down and write it for me,’Mrs. Smythe,” he laughed boyishly.
“We won’t either of us write IL’: she smiled; “it was that came for. There is a minister—our old rninister—I want you to invite him to preach our Easter sermon to us. I have heard it; it will be a beautiful sermon.”
The old minister preached the Easter sermon in the Elmwood church. There were Easter ﬂowers all about him. His white head seemed uplifted above a sea of them. There was Easter song in his ears as he sat in the pulpit with folded hands. Among the listening faces that ﬁlled the great room, row on row, was one that shone like a face transﬁgured. It was the face of “father’s congregation.”
“Dear Lord, dear Lord, I thank Thee for this day!” prayed Plumy, silently. “It’s the best day of all! Dear Lord, it’s most as if father and I had risen from the dead to-day with Thy dear Son.”