I came into church late and found the preacher already in the middle of delivering his sermon. I’d overslept, but promised God I would come to church, so I felt obligated. I slipped in through the doors quietly and sat down on one of the back pews, trying to ignore the empty stares now focused on me. Eventually, they all focused back on the pastor and the angel of death passed me a piece of paper.
“Glad to see you made it,” it read, “I was afraid you weren’t coming.”
“I overslept,” I scribbled back before adding, “Better late than never, right?”
“My thoughts exactly,” he whispered after I’d handed it back. I tried to think of something witty to say back to him, but an elderly lady on the other side of him looked at us sternly and I thought better of it. The angel of death smiled at her until she looked away, but he didn’t say anything more, either.
I sat quietly until it was time to sing, then I sang quietly until it was time to pray, then I prayed quietly until God told me to speak up. I didn’t, and he had other people to listen to anyway.
Prayers finished and I began to stand up, then quickly seated myself again. The pastor was up at the front again and had a few more things to say. I had forgotten that today was the Lord’s Supper and in the place of the usual ceremonies of handholding and God-singing to close out the service, we among the congregation filed up to the front to get our allotment of grape juice and crackers in order to reaffirm our religion. It was just the same as it had been since I was a kid, sans the gusto…..
“And to think, God had his people destroy my high places for this very thing,” Moloch said to one of the Baals behind me, far too loudly I thought. We were all near the back again, so I don’t think anyone heard. “As if cannibalism is only okay when he says so. Pfft.”
“I think it might have had something to do with preferring the flesh of children over bread,” I broke in, “Not to mention leading his sheep astray.”
“You didn’t become his sheep until the New Testament, darling,” the Baal said, “before that you were whores, lusting after stallions and things of similar proportion.”
“We were sheep, too-“
“Besides,” Moloch continued, “I gave up eating infants a long time ago. The blood of sons of men is nothing compared to that of the Son of Man.” He made a slurping sound. “Mmm. Goes down smooth.”
We were both up at the front by now, so my retort would have to wait. The pastor placed the cracker on my tongue and I drank from one of the plastic thimbles, then took the long walk toward the back, ignoring Moloch’s subtle jeers. I just wanted to go back to sleep.
[Original title: “Late Arrival”]