The stadium towered over them. Benny looked up and whistled.
“This used to be the stadium for the Jaguars before they moved,” Bill said.
Gloria nodded her head. “Church sure has changed since I last went.”
“When was that?” Benny asked. “1986?”
“I think it was 1990, actually. Whatever, this is a far cry from the white clapboard Baptist church we used to go to. A stadium, huh? How much of it do they fill?”
“I’ve never been, so I can’t say for sure, but I saw it on Sunday morning TV a couple times. Looks like it’s usually pretty much filled.” Bill covered his eyes to block the sun as he looked upwards. A jet plane flew overhead leaving the scar of a vapor trail against the pale blue sky.
Bill bumped forwards. He tried to ignore his touch as a person rushed by. The man was dressed in a black suit and tie. His thin hair was dyed jet black and combed across a shiny head. The lines of thin hair appeared to be stiff with hair gel. Bill shuddered at the touch. He saw a man with secrets but nothing unusual, the normal sins: adulterous thoughts, murderous rage – that sort of thing. The man passing by was a man with secrets and shame. In short, he was a regular guy.
Bill noted the crowd surrounding them and rushing forward towards the entrance of the church. There was a mix of all kinds of people, all ages. The older ones tended to be dressed in formal wear: business suits and dresses. The younger people dressed like wannabe hipsters in garish colors and denim, with shaggy haircuts and scraggly facial hair. As Bill neared the entrance, he could hear the blaring sounds of the church band. A Christian contemporary act blasted distorted chords providing the entire scene a feel more like that of a rock concert than a Sunday morning service.
The Greeters met Bill, Benny, and Gloria with wide toothy smiles and hands outstretched holding glossy programs for the church service. The program was more like a magazine than the paper flyers Bill usually received at his little Methodist church back home.
Benny thumbed through the program. “Fancy.”
Bill nodded. "Expensive."
They walked inside and looked for a place to sit down. There were no seats near the stage. They had to settle for some seats up near the rafters. The electric guitars and bass reverberated around their heads and drowned out all the vocals. Bill thought he heard the familiar refrain of “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” but could not be sure. It could have been Iron Maiden, too. The sound was simply too distorted to differentiate. He looked to the large monitor behind the band and saw the lyrics and confirmed the song was the hymn and not “Run to the Hills.”
The music died down.
“Good morning brothers and sisters. Isn’t this a glorious day to gather together in worship?” A voice echoed across the steel rafters. Bill looked down and saw a man walking around with arms outstretched. He wore a grey suit that shimmered under the stadium lighting. A wristwatch and large wedding band glimmered. He was the picture of prosperity.
“Isn’t God good?”
“Halleluiah!” the congregation replied. It was a roar.
“We gather here together to lift up His Name, to lift up His glory…” there was a meaningful pause. When the man spoke again to finish his sentence, the tone was hushed. “…and to serve for His purpose. We need to listen, brothers and sisters, for His voice can be found in the quiet. We need to listen! For He still speaks, and we still have work to do. Are you ready for your purpose? Are you ready to listen? Are you ready to hear and to heal and to be healed?”
Bill noticed Benny joined in on that last Halleluiah.
Gloria’s face was still and cool as marble. Her hands were clasped in her lap and white from applied pressure.
Bill rested his head back and tried to ignore the feelings in the stadium seating. There was the guilt of hundreds of altar calls weighing down on his shoulders. He shut his eyes and sighed. Bill opened his eyes. He looked at the track lighting overhead and the sharp lights blurred into a mellow white.
And then the angels descended.
The stadium faded to black. All light disappeared. In the place of the stadium lighting overhead, there were angels, hundreds of them. Bill gasped. He looked over for Benny and Gloria, but they were gone. In their place sat a pair of demons. Bill looked around and saw all the people were gone, the entire audience. Devils were everywhere. Some danced and rutted with one another in a massive orgy where the screams were not of pleasure but of pain and disappointment. Others sat on their haunches and screamed as intestines spilled out of wounds that would never heal. These poor souls tried to stuff their guts back inside, but it was a futile effort. More guts spilled out for every handful they were able to push inside. There were layers and layers of demons. They writhed and seethed with pain and shame.
The angels looked down from above with consternation written across their faces. They had no mouths, but still they sang. It was a song of mourning for the lost saints that could have been saved had they only listened while the angels still had mouths to speak on God’s behalf.
Bill looked down through the layers of Hell that had once been a mundane stadium full of hipsters and old folks seeking salvation. At the center of it all was Satan himself. He walked on a glowing plateau jutting out of a lake of fire. He walked on four legs in a crab-like scramble. His hoofs shot up sparks as they struck the nearly molten stone beneath him. The Devil smiled, and despite his terror, Bill understood the glamorous beauty of the Lord of the Flies. He was powerful and the embodiment of unchecked ego. He was unchecked greed. He emanated the essence of freedom, though Bill knew consciously that that freedom was false. Lucifer was imprisoned in the lowest section of Hell, furthest from God, furthest from good, furthest from light. Satan waved his hands and orchestrated lives in the layers and worlds above, but would never be able to reach up to Heaven. He would never again feel the Heavenly breath of God on his face or glory in His light. Instead, Satan roamed with others’ eyes, others’ hands, and they were infinitely weak, infinitely impotent. He could make a stir in the worlds above. He could control a figure here and there, but despite his best efforts, not even humanity could be ruled by him. God’s goodness was still too strong.
The Devil stomped and raged. He thrust his hands outwards and the throng of devils roared with feigned praise, only worshipping because of their own fears of further punishment, not out of reverence or anything resembling love. There was no love here, only self-preservation.
The angels looked down and continued their song. Tears fell down their cheeks and soaked the soft skin where their mouths would be if they had mouths. The music vibrated like bells, like chimes. It was glorious and otherworldly and emanated from the tips of their hollow wings. Bill felt the angels’ tears fall onto him. They burned against his skin like acid and sent up plumes of acrid white smoke wherever they touched. That smoke smelled like sulfur.
Bill felt himself being shaken. He opened his eyes. He tried to talk but it appeared his mouth had been sewn shut.
“Bill!” It was Gloria. She looked down on Bill. She stroked his hair, and Bill leaned into her touch, grateful for the feel of humanity. He looked around and saw the congregation was singing. None of them appeared to have noticed he had fallen.
“How long was I out?” Bill finally managed to say with much effort.
“Oh, about thirty minutes or so. You slept through the entire message. It was a good message,” Benny said.
Gloria leaned over and whispered in Bill’s ear. “Whatever. I almost fell asleep, too.”
Bill moved his mouth around.
Gloria arched an eyebrow. “You okay?”
Bill nodded his head. “I think so,” he lied.