Palm Sunday. A lazy morning. Slept late. Ron and the kids slept even later. Church wouldn’t be an option that morning. I took the second option, reading the Passion while having my coffee.
I read the familiar words, resisting the temptation to hurry through. When I reached the end, I realized for the first time how personal the passage was. Not intellectually, but intimately, in my heart. For the first time I fully realized Jesus did indeed die for my sins. He died in my place. I collapsed onto the dinning table, sobbing.
An overwhelming desire to attend church propelled me into the bedroom. I had to go, even if I crawled the entire distance on my knees.
Ron rolled over and sat up. “What are you doing?”
“Going to Church.”
“Yes. I have twenty minutes to get there. You and the kids don’t have to come, but I have to go.”
By the time I was finished, he was dressed. I had another surprise when I headed for the door. All the kids were ready and actually waiting. That never happened.
As we raced across town I recited my usual mantra “Better late than never.”
We pulled into – an empty parking lot. My heart dropped. No! We couldn’t be that late! Ron pointed to a sign beside the door. Services had been moved back a half hour. Instead of being late, we were twenty minutes early. How I had missed the announcement? Stuffing that question into the back of my mind, we shuffled in and sat in our usual pew.
It happened during the sermon. One moment I was sitting next to my family, the next I was standing in a white void. I was not alone. Jesus was there. He opened His arms and beckoned me. I ran to him and was enfolded in a tight embrace. As my face pressed agianst His chest, I could feel the coarsness of His garment. It was rough, like burlap, not the soft linen I had expected. I could feel the mass of his body, the strength in His arms.
Ecstasy. That is the only word that fit. No sorrow. No pain. No fear. Joy - unparalleled with anything the world had to offer. I wanted nothing, needed nothing. , Unbidden and unwanted, my sins paraded before my eyes. I did not deserve to be in His presence, let alone touching Him. I drew back, my head hanging in with shame.
He urged me to look up. His eyes held no accusation. He loved me just as I was – flawed and imperfect. It did not matter how many times I failed, only how many times I tried. It was the effort that counted.
I reached for Him, but was stopped by the deep sorrow in His eyes. He directed my gaze to my left. There lay a huge pit of fire. Black smoke roiled over white hot flames. I would have to walk through the inferno, not as a result of my sins, but as a natural part of my life. I would endure great pain.
“I can’t! It will be too great!”
He told me I had no choice.
I stepped into the pit expecting and fearing a horrific blast of heat. Instead, I felt His hand reach through the flames and grasp mine. As long as I held onto Him, my faith, the fire would never burn me and He would be waiting on the other side.
The next momet I was back in church. I still feelt the impression of His garment on my cheek. An overwhelming sense of peace kept my head down, unwilling to return to the world. The feeling lasted for nearly a month before the world eventually wore it away. It was months before I could talk about my experience, and then to only a few very close friends and family.