The Great and Awful Day had finally arrived. Mike paused for a moment and surveyed the scene before him. As far as his eyes could see were people and yet, strangly, he didn't have the feeling that he was simply waiting around. Instead he sensed that his entire being was in a constant state of motion, a kind of transformation from one state to another. He grimaced as he thought of what he had been taught to expect; stern old men in long black robes prodding people along, two long lines, projector screens with everyone's sins splashed across them; maybe those were ahead, he thought uneasily.
As he moved slowly forward He reveiwed his life with some trepidation. His list of regrets were nothing unusual, but like all people with regrets, the knowledge that they were nearly universal didn't ease the weight of failure. Should have gone to church more, should have called my grandmother more often when she was alone, should have worked harder to salvage my marriage, should have been more patient with my son.....suddenly he was jerked out of his musings by a vaguly familiar voice.
"Mike? Mike Wilson? Never thought I'd run in to you again!" Before him stood a clean shaven man in a polo shirt, his hands shoved casually into his pockets. He appeared quite at ease compared to Mike's pensive mood. It was John something. An old classmate.
The two men shook hands warmly with the familiarity of shared youth and began to chat about the usual topics; Professions, relationships, children.
John had been a pastor of a "medium sized congregation, big on ministry" as he described it. "you know, we may have been on the small side in numbers, but we made up for it in zeal", he stated becoming suddenly animated. "You remember Senator Johnson? He declared his candidacy at a prayer breakfast we organized. They say he won because of the church members' support. Had a kid in our church that wasn't allowed to pray during his valedictorian speech and we decided then and there to fight against all the secualarism in public schools. We also fought to get the nativity scene kept in front of the court house. You could say we were a 'politically active' church for sure. Of course you can't win them all. We also pushed for a marriage amendment to the state constitution, but with the secular humanists shoving their agendas on everyone what can you do?". Suddenly, as if noticing the awkward silence on Mike's part for the first time, John quickly changed the subject. "So, what did you do for a living?"
"I was a bar tender", Mike laughed. "It's a little like pastoring really. Lots of time to listen to peoples' problems, give them a sympathetic conversation partner"
John gave a perfunctery laugh then asked "Don't suppose you saw any of my people in there did you?" with mock seriousness laced with, well, seriousness.
"I did know a church member or two in need of a drink on occasion" was Mike's reply. "Most people just needed the companionship, honestly"
"Oh well" said John, "a drink or two never hurt anyone I suppose", and he began to glance around and shift his weight from foot to foot. Throughout the conversation both men had noticed a strange heat that seemed to strenghten by the minute. For Mike the sensation was not completely pleasant nor unpleasant. He felt at once as if something deep inside him was burning, but that that something was somehow breaking away and dissolving into nothingness. In front of him was a blinding light that he wanted to both run toward and hide from.
Beside him John appeared to not even notice the source of the heat radiating at a distance. Throughtout the conversation it seemed he had become more and more uncomfortable, tugging at his shirt collar and mopping his sweating brow. Finally he exclaimed "where is this heat coming from? That's it. I've got to find a more comfortable place to wait" and he turned a half cirlce. He fixed his gaze on a distant group of people that, indeed, were congregating well outside the reach of the light's radiance. They appeared to be wandering aimlessly about, occasionally bumping into one and another or stumbling over the rocky ground. John moved toward them and Mike impulsively grabbed his arm to stop him saying, "I'm not sure, but I kind of think we should stay in the circle from the light..." Before he could finish, John swung around, the contempt in his face catching Mike by surprise. "I think I know my way around this place better than someone like you would", he sneered. And with that, he stumbled toward the knot of wanderers.
Mike watched him for a moment and then turned back toward the light ahead of him. At first he could hardly walk toward it, it's heat was so intense. But with each labored step, the light became less blinding. While it's intensity did not abate, it began to feel like a strong current of energy and warmth instead of a seering pain.
To Mike's surprise, at the nexus of the light was a person. The light was not a shapeless energy but a dazzling, white robed surprisingly ordinary man. He smiled at Mike as if he had been expecting him.
For a moment Mike stood breathless, taking in the being before him. The man appeared at once both very old and very young. Mike had the strange sensation that he has seen the man before, perhaps many times although he couldn't say where or when.
After a moment of quiet Mike spoke. "So, I suppose this is where we talk about what I did wrong, pull out the projector screen to review my life. See if my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds...."
Suddenly the man threw His head back and a laugh burst forth from somewhere deep inside the man. Not a derisive, malicious laugh but a laugh so filled with joy and life that Mike was sure this man must have to laugh often to let out some of that happiness. When he had finished laughing the man said "Oh, I assure you that scale would be very unpopular."
Nervously, Mike shifted his weight and spoke again. "So there aren't any scales?"
"Oh, there are scales, friend. And there are scenes of your life to remember." And with that, the shining man placed His arm around Mike's shoulder. Mike wondered if the man could sense his discomfort. As he stood beside the translucent being, he was only too aware of his own colorlessness and he somehow felt this had to do with his recently passed life.
The man began to talk in a low earnest voice. "you have chosen many many paths in your journey to this place. Every day on earth is a series of choices that could be called steps to the eternal. Some steps that seemed significant to you." He shrugged "were really of little consequence. But others you may not ever recall made all of the difference. As He spoke He turned and looked earnestly into Mike's face. "Do you remember a woman you once met when you worked at The Brave New Workshop? She and her husband were very young and you chatted about politics and European beers. She didn't say much and at the end of the conversation you told her that her coke was on you. You even encouraged her to get a refill."
Mike thought for a moment "Yes, I do remember that couple. There was something so sad about them even when they laughed. I remember when I asked them how they were doing they glanced at one another and for a split second the woman had a look of the deepest pain I think I've ever seen. It was such a little thing to give her a free coke. But, you know, bar tenders are sometimes a little strapped for cash. It was all I could think to do for her".
The Man smiled gently at Mike. "They had just been to the grave of their little girl who had recently died. It was their 5th anniversary and minutes before they had been sobbing over her grave. I was beside her that night though you couldn't see me. And when you gave her a drink you gave me a drink too. Come with me and you will find food and drink you never knew existed. Let me repay you for your kindness, friend"
Mike stood still "But wait. Umm, in the interest of full disclosure I think we should talk about other things I've done. I'm no saint.....
Again the deafening laughter from the dazzling being. "I am well aware of that"
"But a drink seems like such a small price to buy entrance to your kingdom."
"You will find I calculate my pay scale differently than any employer you've had"
"But what about those that worked so hard for you? I mean, my cousin. She was a real Christian. She was always helping out someone who needed it. Won't she feel a little cheated?"
"My son, Those who really love me never bother themselves with how I choose to pay those I employ."
"But Christ...." and the tears began to flow from somewhere deep within Mike. "There are so many regrets, so many ways I hurt those I loved. Have you met my ex-wife? My son? So many nights I've thought about them."
Christ's eyes became sober, the light deepening to a rich red pool. "Your sins are deep and many and those that cannot face their wrongs have a very different experience of me than you are having." And then His voice rose to a mighty roar "But my kingdom is one of great undoing as well as doing. Come with me. We have an eternity to mend that which once appeared shattered." And arm in arm they entered that place of endless light.