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The strange square-shaped box composed of pebbles suddenly made sense to Paul. It had to be some sort of water container. His mother left the podium and went into a room behind the stage as the pastor came back out wearing a long white robe.
He carefully stepped into the tub while someone rushed on stage and set up another microphone.
“I agreed with Mary that this idea would be the best way to honor not only our Lord God, but also the memory of our dear friend Bill, who we all loved so fiercely,” the pastor, Paul supposed his name was Gabe, said.
“I was very careful to talk to Mary about this,” Gabe said. “It would be easy to understand someone’s desire to share something with a lost loved one. It would be easy to hear someone talk about God just after losing said loved one. What I should have known was that Bill had been speaking with Mary and sharing the gospel for months. It would be wrong to falsely baptize anyone, but after hearing her testimony and speaking with her several times, I trust her judgement.”
Gabe took a breath. It was obvious he was stalling to give Paul’s mom time to change every bit as much as he was using the opportunity to talk more about God. “Baptism is an ordinance. It does not prove or establish salvation. It’s a gesture to reflect rebirth in Christ. Neither will it wash away the sadness we all feel at the loss we suffered. I know I certainly wish it would, but that’s not the case. We all must feel our grief and mourn with those who mourn. But I find a small bit of comfort in this. Mary is living proof that Bill’s work was always for Christ, and she’s a new bond we have in our lives and, in a way, with Bill. It doesn’t make the pain go away, but it does ease it a little for me.”
Paul hadn’t wanted to punch someone so much in months. Was this guy seriously using Bill’s death to advance his religious goals and pad his congregation’s numbers? Were they seriously going to just give a thirty-minute sermon and then move on with business as usual? Paul wasn’t even sure what kept him in his chair. Maybe he was trying to avoid the scene it would cause if he stormed out, but he wasn’t sure.
His mother came back out wearing the same kind of white robe Gabe wore. She stepped into the water and smiled. She crossed her arms in front of herself, and Gabe placed on hand on hers and another hand on her back.
“Mary, have you confessed and repented of your sins?” Gabe asked.
“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, dedicating yourself to serving him?”
Paul gritted his teeth. She was supposed to say those words during a wedding with Bill, not in some stupid ceremony.
“Then, based on your testimony today I proudly baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Paul’s mother leaned back, and Gabe held her in the water for a moment.
“Washed clean by the blood of Christ.” Gabe pulled her back up. “And justified by Christ’s resurrection from the dead.”
Again the people launched in to a celebration. It’s like they’d completely forgotten this was a funeral. Bill was dead, and all they cared about was some stupid ceremony. Paul stood in stunned silence wondering at how crass it all was. His mother climbed out of the water and headed into the back room.
Several people smiled at Paul. One person reached out a hand, maybe to shake it or place it on Paul’s shoulder, but whatever look Paul gave him made him pause and pull his hand back. Good! Paul didn’t want anyone thinking he was anything but angry. This wasn’t some pointless anger. Someone was dead, and everybody just moved on with life as if that death didn’t matter.
He stormed out of the main room and into the lobby. He sat there stewing until his mother came out. She looked at him, a sad smile on her face.
“Let’s go,” she said.
Paul followed her to the car and got in. She got behind the wheel and buckled the belt across her shoulders and waist.
She took a deep breath. “I’m going to ask you to listen.”
She waited. Paul stared out the window. She could say whatever she wanted.
“I know how angry you are.”
That was obvious. It wasn’t like Paul ever hid his emotions well.
“I didn’t forget about Bill, and neither did anyone else in there.” She waited, probably wondering if Paul would argue, but he’d already decided to just let her have her say. “When Bill and I talked about … “ she paused, clearly trying not to cry.
Paul was even more determined to stare out the window. He wasn’t about to watch her cry. Besides, didn’t she just get baptized? Didn’t that make life all better and happy?
“When we talked about the future, I had thought I’d wait until the wedding.”
A tear fell down Paul’s cheek. For some reason, those words caused every memory Paul had of Bill to play through his mind, and each one hurt more than the one before it.
“I’m still sad.” The tremble in her voice made that obvious. “I still miss him. I’m even still angry that he’s gone. I don’t have the answers I know you want. I don’t know why God took him now.”
Paul squeezed the handle of his passenger door.
“I don’t know why God would put him in our life only to take him from us this soon. But I trust Bill, and I trust God. I trust the God who gave him to us in the first place.”
“You wanna know why?” Paul muttered.
“I’m sure you have some sufficiently witty and smart remark to make,” his mother said. “I’m sure it’s full of anger and resentment. But before you say that, just ask yourself if you really want to lash out at me right now?”
“So I’m supposed to just sit here and listen to, like, the third sermon in as many hours? I don’t get any say?”
Paul finally looked at her. Naturally, there were tears in his eyes and on her face. He cared less and less by the second. “You think if you talk long enough I’ll just suddenly realize that you all were right, and we should just happily flock to a God who would let this sort of thing happen?”
“No,” she said. “I just wanted you to know that I’m still sad and angry, too.”
“Well you’ve said it,” Paul said. “Can we go now?”
He did have several more things to say. Those church people and his mom may have some misguided idillic vision of some wonderful God, but Paul just had an empty chair where the man who could have been his father was supposed to be sitting. If Bill wasn’t going to sit there, no one would.”