Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Hope (05/04/06)
TITLE: One Last Assignment
By Sherry Wendling
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If a cauldron of boiling oil couldn’t finish him, John wondered what would. He rubbed his silvery beard, his gaze tracing the jagged shore of Patmos Island till it curved out of sight. Memories danced in his mind like morning whitecaps frolicking on the azure Mediterranean below. He should have been fried like a fish, his spirit safely delivered into the arms of the Eternal. Instead here he sat, old bones stiffening in this desolate cave. How long, my Lord? His cracked lips spread in a smile. Ah, the shock on those hard, Roman faces when he’d surfaced, blowing rancid oil from his nostrils like water!
He pulled a ragged cloak over his bald head and exhaled. Little brother James had been taken at the very beginning. A merciful death, beheading; John was glad of that. Then Jerusalem, leveled, as the Master predicted. Many thousands pierced with the sword, crucified on the walls, savaged by lions in the Roman sports arena. Peter, nailed upside down. Passion for their News had only burned hotter, fanning into Asia, Africa, India. Lonely eyes fixed on the wide horizon. Strange to think Peter had once envied him. How long, my Lord?
John ran a gnarled finger across the welted scar on his left wrist. His nose wrinkled, recalling the acrid smoke of burning palm oil as knotted rope stripped the skin from hands and ankles. With deft movements, two strapping soldiers had netted him and lowered his body toward the furious brew. Sweat sheeted his body as the cavernous basin bubbled to meet him, rumbling liquid drumbeats of doom. What sweet fullness had swelled under his ribs in that moment! An exploding burst of anticipation scattered his taunting fears to the wind. Yahshua! I’m coming, at last! He slipped beneath the slick, roiling surface and gave himself to the cauldron of death.
The scent of roses in full bloom bathed his gasping lungs.
“Peace to you.” A regal figure approached, striding through banks of wild lilies.
“Yahshua! My Lord!” His bonds fell away. He could breathe easily now. They wept on each other, John savoring the familiar, nubbly homespun against his cheek.
The Master held him at arm’s length.
Ah, those fathomless, clear eyes!
“Your time is not yet, John.”
“We have eternity, my friend.” Sinewy hands massaged his shoulders. “One last assignment, then home.” The beloved face leaned close, His beard brushing John’s.
“Home? Where are we?”
Yahshua smiled and just looked at him. “I am always with you.” The voice faded into great, sighing bubbles. They hissed around him, caressing his arms and legs. John’s naked body shot to the surface.
The memory lifted him from his low perch in the limestone cave and propelled his faltering feet to the edge of the sea. A solitary soldier paced the ridge above, his back to the wind, pretending to ignore him. They still didn’t know what to do with him, these Romans. Especially when he prayed.
Serenius, Matti, Jania, Timaeus. His thoughts darted to the precious children of his spirit, scattered across Asia. They had his letters; was there no more he could do for them from his island prison? How am I to keep you, little ones, from the great deception to come?
Shaky hands lifted to the sky. “Your Church, Father!” he rasped. The Holy Presence surged within him, responding with love-groans. “How can I ever unveil to them enough of Your beauty and power and truth? What can anchor their hearts to Yours, so their faith can never be swayed?” His hands dropped. “Shepherd them, Yahshua. They are Yours, not mine…”
One last assignment, the Master said. Then home… “Not my will, Father,” he
choked into the breeze. “But Yours be done…”
Sunlight danced on the furling waves, teasing, beckoning. Oh, to see Him again! John broke. Rivers of longing surged past his throat and tumbled from his lips in languages comprehended only in heaven. Once more he swam in oil, this time the blazing oil of the Spirit. Streaks of heaven-light flashed beyond reach of his understanding. In an unlearned tongue he wept timeless mysteries, shouted the unsearchable perfections of the Most High.
Without warning, a great horn-blast split the air. John froze, the blood screaming in his veins. Words. He could make out words. Their force seemed to shrivel the very rocks.
“I AM,” trumpeted the Voice. “I AM THE FIRST AND THE LAST…”
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