I’m writing here with pjs, a shirt, sweater, socks and robe on. I should have my windows open at this time of the year enjoying the welcome spring breeze but, no. Instead, I’m freezing because it’s still freezing outside and I feel as if my heat isn’t working. It’s bad enough that I didn’t even have hot water yesterday. It’s even worse that I feel sick and have to warm myself with aspirin and coffee. Tim is still in bed, still asleep and bundled up in my blanket and comforter. (I luv how he infuses all my sheets with his manscent.) It’s Easter Sunday morning and he, my ex-Southern Baptist bf, agreed to go to Catholic church with me today. (He even brought nice clothes to wear for the event – which means I have to do my usual attire of jeans and shirt up a notch. I guess an Easter service and him going to church – a Catholic one too! — are each events in themselves.) But I don’t feel like going anymore. More than my flu that’s weighing me down, it’s my lack of desire to go to church, or go back to it that’s keeping me in. I’ve already had my Easter fix last night when I went to culminate the Triduum in the Easter Vigil at Xavier. Even better, also unexpectedly, I already had my satisfying Easter message in watching the matinee yesterday afternoon of Matthew Passion, the new play by Phil Hall at the Chernuchin Theater.

The Vigil was a full 3-hours long filled wih pompous prayer and pageantry. I have always loved spectacle, and delivering it meaninguflly (against its normal bent which is hollow showmanship) is quite satisfying. There were the lighting of candles, the blessing of water, the anointing with chrism, the holding of hands and greetings of peace; even the breaking of the bread was cast in fresh, radiant glow. There was this buff man at the altar, littered with yellow and orange tulips and cascading white trim, dancing to the story of Moses’ liberation through the water and lithe women moving to the song of Ruth’s faithfulness to her sister. The choir and orchestra climaxed in a powerful rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus as the congregation was blessed with incense. The cantor invoked the saints (which included Gandhi and Oscar Romero this year; Matthew Shepard was mentioned a few years ago) to bless everyone including the newly-elect who were washed at the basin — a shellful of water, very wet clothes and a churchful of people — to welcome them into their new faith. (Sometimes, I wonder how my life would’ve turned out, what [religious] choices I would’ve made, if I was not baptized as a baby and raised Catholic.) Even the congregants, old couples in spring colors, families in easter outfits, even the gays decked out in suits (some of whom I recognized from my gym’s steam room and some from Manhunt) and the lesbians still in denim, were swept away in sharing song and prayer. Fr, Joe, the Jesuit priest, spoke of the image of the tomb in his homily. But I was only half-listening. I was still consumed by the message of Matthew Passion, the play I saw a few hours before.

Tim had mentioned the play to me before but I must have dismissed it as some outlandish idea. But the NYT (decent) review on Thursday prompted me to go see it before it closed (today). Matthew Passion follows the play-within-a-play format wherein 9 actors play multiple roles (not to mention also double as stagehands) as they tell the parallel stories of Jesus, Matthew Shepard and Jim, an HIV-positive actor under the guise of developing and rehearsing the play of the same name. (So watching Matthew Passion is basically watching the actors rehearse for a play also called Matthew Passion.) The theater is rundown and the transitions are clunky and the stories widely-arcd yet seemingly loosely-tied (but this, as Tim reminds me, is simply an Equtiy showcase which means the actos are basically given $4 for commutefare and a stipend if lucky and so all is forgiven.) But the acting is earnest (Jay Sulllivan notably anchors the dramatic arc of the show) and the singing is endearingly good (Andy Redeker, Chad McCallon and Jeff Applegate restore the good and the gay to the Greek chorus.) But who cares?! Next to Naked Boys Singing, this is a damn hot cast of actors (and they have their clothes on!) and watching them on stage is already a (visually) satisfying treat. James Royce Edwards, playing Jesus, clad in a V-cut tunic that shows off his perfect pecs and sculpted 8-pack and later on in a loincloth on a cross showing off his bulging biceps and quads must be the hotttest Jesus guy I’ve ever seen. (Damn, I’d be going to church every Sunday if I knew…..) But, seriously, it is the message (in the words more than the music) that still gets to me most.

I was watching it and was asking myself, what tormented homosexual Catholic mind can write something like this? Then, I realized it was something, if I had the talent for writing a play with music, I would have totally done. Tim corrected my Catholicentrism by saying that Phil Hall doesn’t have to be Catholic. His questions were profound (what would Jesus do if he wandered into a gay club?) and his theology was astute (the tumbling of the walls of Jericho to Joshua’s horn was paralleled with the ripping of the temple screen to Christ’s last breath.) His telling was heartrending. Jesus Christ and Matthew Shepard are deemed parallel stories. Both died senseless deaths. Christ died slung on the cross because he was an innocent defenseless Jew; Matthew died tied to a wooden fence because he was an innocent defenseless homosexual. (Tim had a problem with this deification of Matthew Shepard because he was, allegedly, a crystal meth addict who bought the drugs from his murderers. He feels that this linear parallelism would have been better served by a fleshier, more human enactment of Matthew’s passions.) This show reminded me of what I had forgotten about the cross; it was a historic hate crime, yet another statistic of a senseless killing.

I also learned 2 new things from the play. First, that Matthew Shepard was HIV positive. Second, that the news of the Resurrection was first given to Mary Magdalene, the prostitute. The cornerstone of Christianity was laid in the heart of a woman who sells her skin for sex. If the message of Christmas was born by the Virgin Mother of Immaculate Conception; the message of Easter was born by someone who is the opposite of immaculate; whose virginity has been defiled many tmes over. Here is the crux of her story; the hurt and the hollowness is never the finality, there is healing and there is fulness. There lies heaven, not even in the afterlife, but already in the struggle for sense.

The cross was about hate and senselessness; the empty tomb was about love and meaning. As told in Phil Hall’s play (and as written in news many times over),Matthew Shepard’s dad talked about pardoning the killers during their sentencing and Judy Shepard, his mom, established the Matthew Shepard foundation and is now an outspoken activist against hate crimes and for human rights. They have enobled their son’s senseless death with renewed purpose. Unknowingly, they have rewritten the Easter story in a context that is more contemporary and hits easier to home.

I am hopeful of continuing to write my own this Easter morn; inking word for word a slice of heaven.

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