I craned my neck in time to see an animal scamper down. Once it hit ground level it stopped motionless; staring at me quizzically. I had never imagined a creature could look so comical. Its big, floppy, almost unkempt ears were enough to set me laughing. It had the cheekiest-looking face I’ve ever seen. Suddenly it took a flying leap at me, landed on my chest, and began tickling me! The next instant I was sprawled out on the floral carpet, thrashing around, laughing and laughing. If the plant with leaves that followed me – and so much else in this place – had somehow drained me of the negative, this cheeky ball of fur was filling me with the positive.|
During this friendly attack, the ‘cup’ had spilled on to the ground during the commotion. I had been too distracted even to think of it until I saw the animal gobble it up. Apparently, some of the contents had poured on to the ‘carpet’ because he carefully licked it. In two seconds everything was pristine again.
At last, I found my feet. The creature leapt back on me and gave me the biggest hug. It sounds embarrassingly unmasculine but, to be honest, I felt I needed it. With my new friend cuddling me, I continued to wander and wonder.
Suddenly my heart almost left my chest as this clown of an animal shocked me breathless by leaping off me and bolting up a hedge that towered above me. From there he proceeded to pick fruit, some of which he scoffed hungrily but some seemed to vanish. His movements were so fast as to be almost a blur. Then he dived onto a bush and, despite it looking so dense as to be impenetrable, he somehow managed to slip his fingers into it. This time, some berries were swallowed and again some seemed to vanish, but it was all too quick for me to be sure. By repeating this on various other hedges and bushes he found several varieties of fruit, berries and nuts. Until then I had been unaware of any food sources in this garden, other than the cup of nectar. When he finally headed back toward me I immediately noticed his bulging, lumpy stomach. I was amazed at how he must have gorged himself.
As he drew near, his forearm touched his tummy and in an instant there was fruit in his hand. Is this a clown or a magician? Eventually, I figured it out. He had a pouch, rather like a kangaroo’s, stuffed with the uneaten food he had just collected. Then I remembered that only female marsupials have pouches. Is ‘he’ a ‘she’? It was only then that I realized I had originally referred to this creature as ‘it.’ How quickly this rascal had won my heart!
My cuddly companion handed me some of his/her collection. Of course, I knew rationally that just because they were edible for this alien did not mean they were safe for humans, but there was something peculiarly disarming about his/her generosity and mannerisms. In fact, as totally irrational as it is, I did not have the heart to disappoint my new friend by declining his/her kindness. After a little hesitation, I found myself cautiously tasting what turned out to be the best fruit and nuts I had ever eaten.
My benefactor quickly emptied the pouch and the next instant was zooming in and out of shrubs and hedges again, refilling the pouch with another mouth-watering assortment of gifts for me.
The nuts had soft edible shells that were a distinctly different but highly compatible flavor to the nuts they housed. I enjoyed a few of one variety before it dawned that although they tasted salty, no one had added salt. It was their natural flavor. One nut had a sweet-tasting liquid in the center that sent me hunting for more of this type in the mixed assortment that had been left for me.
Most of the fruits had several layers, with each layer being a different texture and flavor. One, for example, was structured a little like an apricot, with a delicious, thick skin quite different in taste from the flesh. At the center was a ‘stone’ that melted in my mouth like chocolate, but tasted more like honey. Another fruit had flesh slightly reminiscent of grapes with soft seeds flavored remotely like macadamia nuts. My attempt is akin to saying snake tastes like chicken but how can anyone describe a unique taste?
As I thanked God for this delightful creature-cum-handbag and for exotic food that transported my taste buds to new territory, I returned to lamenting not having been more thankful to God earlier. I recalled from a well-loved psalm how, unlike the way I treat him, God knows my every thought and is always thinking about me. Instantly, I saw an obvious link I had never noticed before. God knows my every thought because he is always thinking about me.
Could the reverse happen? Could it be that the more my thoughts are on God, the more I’m likely to know his thoughts? If so, and God’s thoughts are unsurpassably profound, important and wise, how can I even conceive of how much I am robbing myself – to say nothing of robbing God – when my thoughts drift from God for hours at a time?
Then another question queued up for attention. If I regularly think of earthly things ten times more often than heavenly things, will that make the mundane seem ten times more real to me than the supernatural?
I was just beginning to puzzle over these possibilities when a bubble drifted by. It was so unexpected that I stared in astonishment; even more so when the gentle air currents caused it to almost dance. Where did it come from? For an insane moment I almost expected to find a child blowing bubbles but the source eluded me.
As I proceeded along the walkway, with my furry comedian playfully clinging to my chest, more and more bubbles of varying sizes greeted me, arousing my curiosity still further. As far as I could determine, a species of plant was producing the bubbles. That raised more questions than answers.
As I relished the sight, I marveled at how in this world, like in many of the others I had ended up in, I was a child again, bristling with questions and wide-eyed wonder. A simple stroll was the adventure of a lifetime. I felt rejuvenated. The crispness of a pristine new world had aroused my senses. They had been jolted awake, however, not just from the jaded emotions created by my recent trauma but from the sleepy haze induced by years of exposure to earth’s sameness.
There was something peculiarly special about the solitude but, with so many unanswered questions, I wished I had a knowledgeable guide. Or would that have spoilt the childlike wonder I felt?
Even without answers, however, I found the bubbles rather fascinating and enjoyable, especially as they gently spiraled, plunged, soared and wobbled in the delicate air currents.
As I snuggled into the sights, sounds and scents of this surreal wonderland, my thoughts reverted to that maddening verse: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always.” As I kept mulling over it, I found that although “always” was unsettling, “in the Lord” was actually beginning to make sense. Life is filled with unpleasant circumstances but I am not asked to rejoice in them but simply to rejoice in the ever-good and ever-thrilling Lord. We can rejoice always because no matter how many tragedies we suffer and no matter how much God might sometimes seem to have abandoned us, he is always with us and always scheming astonishing ways to turn the evil that has assaulted us into something that ends up doing us good.
For the first time ever, I saw a link between this verse and Colossians, where we are exhorted to set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. When earthly circumstances are bad, our ability to rejoice depends on whether we focus on the temporal or the eternal; whether we dwell on the depressing circumstances or on the God who remains perfect and more exciting than any madly in love man feels about his bride on his wedding night.
Hey! With my focus continually slipping from God to circumstances, it’s no wonder I have difficulty rejoicing “always”! This actually is making sense!
As I kept following the flower-carpeted path I drew near to what looked like a regal armchair. Like others I had discovered here, it was composed of flowering plants but alongside this one, the seats I had seen before were more like a park benches.
I would like to reveal what I felt as I sank into this living, functional sculpture but I fear your ridicule. Permit me to ease both you and me into this self-disclosure.
Do you understand that feelings are not rational thought? I am still coming to terms with this myself. I find it hard to let feelings be what they are. I keep wanting to force my feelings to submit to cold logic and reject in red-faced shame any that would dare try to wriggle free from that iron straightjacket. I must face the truth that, even though feelings seldom accurately reflect objective reality, they are still a part of our God-given humanity. As fleeting and fickle and frustrating as feelings are, they are part of what lifts us higher than machines. I do not have to believe my every feeling – and I often should not – in order to be fully human. But neither should I deny their existence or run from them in shame.
So after this preamble, can I trust you not to ridicule me for having feelings that defiantly rage against the confines of logic? As I eased myself into that living chair I felt as if I were on a throne that hugged me and thought the world of me. Now you know why I spent so long preparing you for this. I felt pampered, honored, valued and loved. My heart was warmed and uplifted but instead of inflating with unhealthy pride, I felt humbled in a reverent and yet refreshing way. Holy awe filled me and I flooded with almost overwhelming gratitude to Christ who made me worthy of such treatment by pouring out his love to the extreme of swapping places with me, letting himself be tormented on the cross to bear the terrifying punishment my offenses deserve.
With my fury friend snuggling into me, I resumed exploring until I became aware of a voice. I wrenched my eyes off the enticing beauty of a flower to look in the direction of the voice.
To my surprise, it was the very angel I had been thinking about earlier – the one who had been distracted by the beauty of a flower. Kokbiel had what seemed like a piece of paper in his hand. He glanced at it, then said in a bold, dignified voice, “He’s not here.” He had another go, “He’s not here. He is not here. He is risen.”
I put down my furry friend, feeling the need to focus intently on what was being said. While Kokbiel was speaking I noticed three angels walking toward him. They stopped abruptly and looked quizzically at each other.
Kokbiel, with his back to them, seemed unaware of their presence. Using different intonation and gestures he repeated, “He’s not here. He is risen.” After a pause he had yet another attempt. This time in a grand gesture he swept his hand around, followed by the rest of his body. “He is not –” Suddenly he was far enough around to see the other angels. “Oh – ah – didn’t notice you.” Do these noble entities get embarrassed? I chuckled to myself at the possibility but was it just his reaction to being startled?
“What in heaven are you doing, Kokbiel?” asked Meurel.
“Oh – um – just practicing my lines.”
“Fair enough,” said Gabriel, laughing, “that’s the greatest announcement the universe will ever hear.”
Kokbiel seemed taken aback. “Yes, I guess it is. I never thought of it like – Oh, dear! I’d better practice some more!” He moved on slightly, gesturing and silently mouthing the words again.
“That empty grave will knock them dead!” said Meurel, excitedly.
“What do you mean?” asked Gabriel, in his usual dignified manner.
“Everyone will have to believe when the Son rises from the dead.”
“No one ever has to believe,” replied Gabriel rather soberly.
“They can’t deny the facts.”
“They’ll find a way.”
Meurel sounded mystified. “How?”
“They’ll dismiss it as a hallucination.”
“No way!” protested Kairel, “. . . spread over forty days with five hundred witnesses?”
That caught Kokbiel’s ear. “Five hundred?” he asked.
“That’s how many the risen Lord will appear to” replied Kairel, “And his disciples will touch him and eat with him. Some hallucination!” They all laughed.
“And that still doesn’t explain the empty grave,” added Meurel.
“They’ll say the disciples stole the body,” said Gabriel.
Meurel laughed. “The religion with the highest conceivable morals, based on the biggest swindle in human history? You’re joking! Simple fishermen putting one over a hundred generations?” Meurel, who had earlier fooled me when he acted as if hurt by the boomerang, began walking on his toes in a delightfully comical way. “Tiptoed past blind guards I suppose!” I burst into laughter.
“Oiled the stone so it wouldn’t be heard!” added Kairel, rolling on the ground in hysterical laughter. The others laughed even harder.
“Who could believe that not one of the five hundred, even when dying a martyr’s death, would let it slip that it was all a hoax?” said Meurel. They sobered a little.
“In it for the fame I suppose!” jested Kairel. “They’ll be in big demand all right. The Jews will be demanding their lives. The Romans will be demanding their heads. Christ’s yellow-livered deserters taking on the Jewish leadership and the entire Roman Empire – and all for a sham!”
“Maybe they’re in it for the money,” sniggered Meurel. “They could make a fortune teaching people how to win popularity contests!”
Kairel added, “Or they could write a best seller: How I earned My First Million Bruises.”
“With books like that they could earn enough to keep them in bandages for weeks!” replied Meurel, laughing, then quickly turning serious.
“Cash is cold comfort when you’re looking death in the face,” added Kokbiel, gravely.
“If they want money they’ve got a much easier option. Christianity is set to explode. If the Jews think they’ve killed their problem they’re in for a shock. They’ll soon be running scared. They’d pay big money for someone to prove it’s a hoax,” said Meurel. “No, Gabriel, no one could believe they’re in it for fame or fortune. And if they’re into fraud, the first thing they’ll change is their own account of their actions. Those dull-minded disciples would be so wise and holy in the gospel tradition they leave posterity. If truth’s not important to them then the denying, deserting disciples would in their gospels be loyally supporting the Son when he’s sentenced to death. The Sons of Thunder would portray themselves as calmly in control. Loudmouth Peter would ensure he’s the epitome of diplomacy in the revised version. Self-seeking liars don’t paint themselves as bumbling idiots!”
“Gabriel, no one could deny that those scatter-brains are sincere.”
“They’ll say the Son was merely unconscious when they took him down from the cross,” said Gabriel.
All except Gabriel burst into fits of laughter.
“So he survives a horrific flogging, followed not only by crucifixion, but a spear driven from below his ribcage into his heart,” replied Meurel. “He convinces experienced Roman executioners that he’s dead. Then he fools his mother and followers who’d give anything to find a sign of life as they prepare his body for burial. No breath. No bleeding from his open wounds. Then, without them noticing, he manages to breathe through nearly a hundred pounds of spices and tightly bound grave clothes. Next, he somehow bursts through his bonds, and with nail-crushed hands single-handedly rolls back a stone so massive that several women pushing in unison couldn’t budge it.”
“And the Son was on the inside,” added Kairel.
“Hey, that’s right!” exclaimed Meurel, “This gets better by the minute!”
“I don’t get it,” said Kokbiel, a slightly puzzled look on his face.
“A gravestone is like a solid wheel chiseled out of rock, designed to roll downhill at right angles to the grave,” explained Kairel, “and, of course, its purpose is to fully seal off the entrance. You don’t want odors escaping. From the outside, people trying to move it, push against the rim. From the inside there’s nothing to grip.”
“That settles it! Escape was humanly impossible!” Kokbiel looked triumphant.
“Skeptics will say that by some miracle . . .” Gabriel managed to say no more.
“Skeptics who believe in miracles?” declared Meurel.
They erupted into hysterical laughter. Meurel was bent over, holding his tummy. Kairel was rolling on the ground. Kokbiel was on his back kicking his legs in the air. At length, they began to calm down.
“Okay,” said Meurel, trying to be serious, “by some inexplicable means, what must have been the world’s strongest man and greatest escape artist staggers out of the grave . . .”
“Not bad for someone so mutilated before his crucifixion that he couldn’t drag his cross even to avoid another beating,” interrupted Kairel.
Meurel continued, “Then he eludes armed guards, somehow hobbles out on nail-pierced feet, gaping wound in his side, back flayed, bruises and lacerations from head to foot, blood dripping everywhere –”
“If you could imagine blood left in that tortured frame,” said Kairel.
“Looking the most pathetic human wreck, he staggers all the way back to the upper room, breaks through a bolted door and in his emaciated condition manages to convince even the most skeptical of the disciples that he’s conquered death!”
They were all in fits of laughter.
“Finally,” continued Meurel, “he gives his followers the slip and manages to die in such a way that his body is never found. The world’s greatest moral Teacher becomes the world’s greatest con artist? I think not!”
“They’ll say it was simply someone who looked like the Son,” replied Gabriel.
“Oh no! It’s getting worse!” protested Meurel, “Not only the Son’s closest earthly friends, but his own mother was just inches from him when he died. Then they prepared his body. Soon they’ll be handling the risen Lord, examining the nail holes, speaking with him and eating with him over a period of forty days. And his own brothers – brought up with him from infancy – who didn’t believe him before his death, will suddenly become believers after his resurrection appearances. That’s not mistaken identity, that’s insanity!”
He had them in fits of laughter.
“You’re right, of course,” said Gabriel, “but many will still refuse to believe.”
“Why?” asked Kokbiel and Meurel almost simultaneously.
“I know you’ve never visited earth, Meurel, but I’m sure you’re familiar with the reports of the Son’s teaching,” replied Gabriel. “The Son told the people, ‘If anyone desires to do God’s will, he will know whether my teaching is from God . . .’ You remember that don’t you?”
They all indicated that they did, then Gabriel explained. “Spiritual truths are hidden from everyone unwilling to obey God. It’s insane, but these people close their minds to reality because they would rather be enslaved by their favorite sins than enjoy intimacy with their loving Creator. They prefer ignorance to truth.”
“Even though that truth would fill them with never-ending joy and eternal fulfillment?” quizzed Kokbiel.
“Yes, Kokbiel, even though it’s the most exciting truth in the universe.”
“Like the Son said, ‘Men love darkness rather than light for their deeds are evil,’ ” said Meurel.
“Then why is the Son doing all of this, Gabe?” asked Meurel.
“Because some will be willing to face reality – to admit their need of their Maker and Sustainer – and to let go of selfishness long enough to discover the matchless joy of knowing the Great One. Some will be willing to exchange a life of shame and mediocrity for eternal glory and divine excellence.”
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be redeemed . . . !” said Meurel wistfully.
Gabriel looked at him. “There are indeed so many wonders awaiting them. They are destined to rule over us, but to be redeemed you’d first have to be deceived . . .”
“Oh!” interrupted Meurel with a shocked look on his face.
“And you’d have to sin . . .”
Meurel uttered a peculiar groan and seemed almost to shudder in disgust.
“. . . and be alienated from the Holy Lord until forgiven,” finished Gabriel.
“Of course!” groaned Meurel, “How could I have overlooked that? Nothing in all of heaven would be worth doing that to our glorious Lord!”
There was a pause, then Gabriel said, “Hey, Kokbiel, it’s almost time for your announcement!”
Kokbiel, looking flustered, vanished.
Then everything vanished.
“What’s this?” asked the voice.
Myriads of heavenly beings erupted in thunderous cheers. Eventually they quieted sufficiently for the voice to continue. It paused after each line and, as impossible as it seemed, at each pause otherworldly masses raised their jubilation to yet another level. He had begun in a tone more thrillingly triumphant and authoritative than I had ever thought possible and with every line this infectious passion in his voice kept building and building until I wondered how I could contain the awe and exhilaration welling within me.
From Victim to Victor;
The Lamb has roared.
As that final word rang out, the superhuman throng exploded in a rapturous cheer louder than anything I have ever experienced. I want to call it deafening or ear-splitting but, despite the outrageous volume, it neither deafened me, nor hurt my ears. Instead, it reverberated through my entire being in a way that made those sparklers seem like a mouthful of sugar compared with a banquet. It was as if the energy from that explosive sound entered my body and became my new power source. I was certain I was engulfed in the most stupendous victory celebration the universe has ever known.
The supernatural beings turned cartwheels; flipping and gyrating as only they can. Their feverish excitement was so contagious that within seconds my emotions were on overload. The sky erupted in a burst of color. I know it remains almost incomprehensible, but my best attempt to describe what I experienced is that it seemed the very air was somehow charged with emotion. I recall thinking it was surely on the edge of human tolerance to remain conscious.
Nevertheless, I have one last recollection that pushed me over the brink. When on the very edge of my endurance, I was flabbergasted to realize that what I had thought must be the ultimate was but the faintest echo of what was to come. I was witnessing merely a private, scaled-down rehearsal for the real event. All the beneficiaries of the Victor’s heroism – astonishing numbers of liberated prisoners of war from every ethnic group on every corner of planet earth – had yet to join the festivities. What a time it will be when millions upon millions of not just redeemed but glorified humans who had been worthy of nothing but destruction add the depths of their gratitude and outrageous joy to the victory extravaganza!