From out of their isolation and stumbling in the glare of the sun they came, those deemed unclean and therefore unable to live within ordinary society. The authorities had condemned each of them to death, the slow death of physical and spiritual separation. Society chose not to hear or respond to the plight of many of this ever-increasing army. In some regions they had achieved some measure of community, but for others isolation was all they knew. Some, too ill to walk, were carried by other outcasts. Some had a price on their heads, accused without any evidence and found guilty by a fearful world needing to name scapegoats.
So many were hungry their bodies were emaciated. Some carried children whose swollen bellies and shrunken limbs spoke of malnourishment. A small army of ragged and dirty children appeared, many with limbs destroyed by landmines planted by armies claiming the right to protect their country. Many people came with crutches and canes, others in wheelchairs. From a multitude of nationalities, women and young girls – raped by the victorious armies during wars – held out their hands to assist others who faltered. Then there were others from many nations who had unknowingly been used, while in prison or military service, as guinea pigs during trials of new drugs and experiments in chemical warfare. There were the casualties of atomic radiation, and others maimed by napalm. Some people were marked by speech that was disjointed and rambling. They were a mixture of colors and races, ranging from newly born infants to those with tired and aging bodies. The stream of ragged humanity continued moving across the globe, not following the star of old, but answering a voice that had spoken to each of them. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” it had declared, and they had responded, initially one by one, and then dozens at a time.
Across the world the media reported this phenomenon, this unheard of movement of people from all nationalities. Representatives of the press from all corners of the world sprang into action, and newspaper journalists and television crews weighed down with cameras boarded planes and helicopters, all scurrying to be the first to capture this strange event on film. Governments were recalled for emergency sessions, troops were put on wartime alert, police forces were given extraordinary powers and church leaders decreed that God would put a stop to this madness. Yet the steady march continued across each and every continent, crossing almost impossible terrain. Some people forded rivers, others moved carefully through desert regions. Some crossed the icecaps. Others struggled through tropical rainforests infested with leaches, alligators and poisonous snakes. Still the march continued as from every compass direction they converged until at last they stopped, and waited, millions of them it was estimated. And at that moment a light, far brighter than the sun, shone on the whole face of the earth. Those who had been asleep were suddenly awakened, while the evangelical prophets declared Armageddon about to commence.
Aircraft circled overhead as military commanders from every nation prepared to land. A protective layer of jets representing air forces of the major powers swarmed overhead with the sound of bees suddenly disturbed from a hive. Calls went out for ground support as at last it was possible to pinpoint the destination of this incredible surge of humanity. Then, as the blaze of cameras spanned the immense crowd, seeking out the ringleaders of this revolution, an unusual sight was captured. People were moving forward one by one to a cleared area.
The cameras could detect nothing in that area, yet people continued to converge there, quietly, slowly and persistently. Journalists radioed their various headquarters, spelling out this conundrum, for how could they file a report on the invisible originator of this astounding event? In millions of homes, factories and storefronts television sets reported the views of commentators as cameras panned the crowd. They looked for individuals or incidents on which to build stories and satisfy the international hunger for sensationalism and excitement to overcome the boring mediocrity of their lives. Speculation became rampant: what was happening, who were these people, what had caused them to assemble in this particular area? Was this a political or economic event, or were these followers of a new religious cult, expecting another doomsday? With each suggestion posed, angry and frightened voices rose from homes, offices and factories, in case this assembly of people could somehow threaten the security of the worldwide audience. When it seemed as though the hush surrounding this assembled throng had lasted an eternity, the silence was shattered. A voice that could be heard in every home, in every country across the world, spoke to every person in his or her own language.
“These are my beloved, the people I have chosen from every nation and who have served me by loving others, no matter how desperate their own circumstances. Today I heal their bodies, for I know their hearts and spirits to be whole. Here are the hungry from every nation, whom you have chosen not to feed. Here also are those who suffer from AIDS whom you have refused not only medication, but also the right to live as respected members of your communities. See among this number those who have lost touch with reality, for stress has upset their balance. I asked little of you, people of the world, but still you refuse to love one another.”
The media had little to say; they were at a loss for words. Military leaders and their jet escorts turned and headed for home bases. Across the world, scheduled television and radio programs were resumed. But to synagogues, mosques and churches came thousands upon thousands to kneel and pray, knowing how utterly they had failed. Laity and clergy alike had been so exclusively self-focused they had simply forgotten how to love.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.