Bright and early on Sunday morning a frail figure dragged himself for the first time through the front doors of New Hope Church. The two welcomers at the entrance nervously smiled as he approached them. They were not used to seeing people dress in tattered rags for a church service. As the figure got closer, a strong odour filled the air. One of the welcomers quickly gave the regular greeting and held out a booklet, as if to ward off the bad smell. As the man reached out to grab it, the welcomer pointed to the direction of the chapel, eager to move on and greet the next person who had just walked through the door.
The man chose to sit in the last pew. Still shivering, he rubbed his hands violently and breathed into them. It had been another cold and rough night of sleeping. People began to file into the chapel and take their regular seats. Strangely enough, nobody chose to sit in the last pew. A number of people made a curious peak toward the lone figure at the back. Some of them were suspicious of this new visitor. A few brave ones managed to put on a friendly smile when the he looked up at them. A couple of them even managed to ignore the smell enough to approach him and introduce themselves quickly. One young girl sitting near the front asked her mother if she con could say hello to the new man, but was quickly told to turn back around.
The service started off in the usual manner with greeting time, a brief moment to get to know any new people or greet visitors. This gave a couple more people the courage to venture toward the back and speak to the new visitor. At the end of greeting time however, the two church members resumed their usual seats. They never spoke to the man again.
When it was time for the sermon, everyone waited eagerly as the pastor walked to the pulpit. Today’s Bible passages was Luke 15. The pastor did an excellent job first summarising and providing the context behind the three parables and the relevant cultural information. Then, using a number of illustrations he drove home the main point about God rejoicing when lost sinners are found. Finally, the pastor ended with a challenge for the church to share God’s heart for the lost and reach out to others with the gospel. Many people in the congregation were challenged and encouraged by his message. Some of them were nodding their heads throughout the sermon. Some of them repeatedly shouted out “Amen!” A lone figure in the back was crying softly.
As the service came to a close, the pastor gave a final blessing and encouraged all the new visitors to stay for morning tea and a chat. After the service, he quickly rushed off to the meeting room. It was a busy morning. Although there were a number of new faces he wanted to talk to it would have to wait. There was an important meeting now with the youth group leaders.
In the main hall, the new visitor approached the table of biscuits and quickly grabbed a cookie. As he chewed it, he savoured the moist dough and sweet chocolate chips melting in his mouth. It had been so long since he had tasted something that good. He quickly grabbed another cookie. As he was swallowing the second one, he grabbed the plate and began pouring cookies into his jacket pocket with clumsy hands. A number of cookies dropped to the floor. A number of scowling faces stared at him from nearby. Timidly, he put the plate back on the table where he had left a mess of crumbs. He quickly picked up a cup of orange juice and headed to a quiet corner where he could sit down.
The incident was soon forgotten, and everyone resumed their normal conversations. Some of them were chatting about their plans for the rest of the day. Some of them were chatting about sports or work. A few were even still praising the morning’s sermon. As they kept chatting, nobody noticed a lone figure slowly heave himself off the ground from where he had been sitting in the corner. Nobody noticed as he walked toward a nearby bin to dispose of his now empty cup. Nobody noticed as he slipped out of the hallway.
As the man walked out the front entrance of the building there was nobody to say goodbye. There was nobody to wish him a good week ahead. There was nobody to ask him to come back next week. The only thing to announce his departure was a gust of cold wind. It blew right through him and into the building, sending a bunch of pamphlets on a table nearby flying up. Then the wind was gone. So too was the man.