Slim woke to a peculiar noise. It came from somewhere off in the distance. Instinctively he reached for his weapon- it was not beside him. Then he remembered- it was no longer needed. His term in the service was over. He was on his way home. The noise faded.
He rose to his feet yawned and stretched, wondering how long he had slept. He only intended to rest here a few minutes. Savoring the jumbled aromas from budding trees and blooming wildflowers he inhaled slow and deep. Slim blissfully repeated this exercise then looked skyward. It appeared to be around noon. A gentle breeze teased his hair, and he still had a full mane- especially for his age.
He felt great, refreshed and ready for a good walk. Oh he probably could have had someone meet him, but he enjoyed the fresh air and peacefulness of the countryside. Besides it wasn’t as if he had known the exact day he would be released. Only his commander had known for sure and had saved that tidbit of information until the last possible moment. So Slim resumed his trek, gravel crunching beneath his boots.
Slim joined the army at the age of eighteen. Since then he had been engaged in battles too numerous to recall. He raised a family, two boys, both of whom decided to enlist in the same fight for freedom. The eldest decided to make a career of it- like his old man.
“So what if it wasn’t the identical branch of service?” he thought. “What’s in a name, anyway- a man made label. They battled for the same cause none the less.”
The younger son chose to be a physician. He fought the enemy in his own way by traveling around the world four weeks out of each year spreading the hope of health and liberty.
Slim’s chest swelled at the thought of his sons, but he was no less proud of his wife who fought continuously behind the scenes, supporting him and their sons, unfailing, never tiring. Her courage, commitment and faith kept him going on numerous occasions when he deemed it pointless to continue. They lost a battle here and there, but the war was far from over. There remained far too many hostages that needed to be liberated from enemy camps.
Even so, Slim was content that his retirement was necessary and that he was leaving his team in capable hands of well prepared warriors.
The road abruptly changed. From here forward it appeared to be new, clean smooth and gleaming in the midday sun. Further on he heard what sounded like cheering, or maybe an angry mob, it was hard to tell.
Slim rounded a bend and was overwhelmed. Up ahead were two enormous sparkling gates and a banner as big as a bus flying high in the cloudless blue sky. Tied to each end of the banner was a golden rope and each rope was held in the talons of an enormous, magnificent eagle. Each bird was miraculously suspended in the air, perfectly still, wings outstretched but unmoving- feathers scarcely ruffling in the tender breeze.
The Pennant read ‘WELCOME HOME SOLDIER’. Underneath that it read ‘WELCOME PASTOR SLIM’.
The crowd that had gathered at the entrance was immense. As he came nearer Slim recognized a few of the faces. There were relatives and friends not seen in years. Then instantly he identified others, ones he had never met but clearly knew about. On one side were John, Paul, David and Jacob. On the other he saw Moses, Mary and so many others.
Above the crowd hovered a throng of beautiful angels.
This made it all worthwhile, all the doubts and fears- the tears and tough times. Now it was time to receive his reward and rightful place of honor for serving faithfully so many years in God’s private army.
Slim accelerated to a fast walk, then a jog, heartbeat keeping pace with each footfall.
Someone broke from the crowd and rushed toward him with their arms spread wide.
As they reached each other and embraced Slim glimpsed the scars on Jesus’ hands and welcomed this familiar hug with hot tears of joy.
“Welcome home, good and faithful soldier. Welcome home.” Christ smiled, His own tears anointing Slim’s shoulder.
They walked together to the waiting assembly, talking and laughing. Slim had so many questions, but that could wait until after the celebration.
Besides, they had all the time in the heavens.
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