It was time for the worship service to begin at Mile High Community Church, and the sanctuary was packed with worshipers. The organ’s call to worship swelled in the sanctuary and the television crew were positioned at their cameras. Up and down the aisles, ushers scouted for seats for last-minute arrivals.
Curtis waited for his Uncle Morehouse in the tiny room adjacent the sanctuary. It was there that they gathered before every worship service to pray, then walk out onto the platform together.
Curtis cracked open the door and peered out into the sanctuary. The capacity crowd satisfied him that the publicity and advertising about the TV ministry’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration had worked well. He spotted his uncle coming down an aisle. What is he doing out there? Curtis wondered.
The Pastor smiled as he looked over the crowd. Most of the faces were familiar, but there were visitors, too, and that brought an even broader smile to his face. He walked down the aisle and smiled warmly to Clyde, a man once strong as an ox, who now was bent-shouldered from age and whose hands were gnarled with rheumatism. Across the aisle sat Lucy Downs, a young woman whose husband went through a devastating bankruptcy two years ago, became despondent, then committed suicide. The Pastor walked over to her, rested a comforting hand on her shoulder and greeted her. Her face lit up with a smile.
Curtis smiled, too, and wondered, What in the world has gotten into Uncle?
Further down the aisle the Pastor waved and gave a loving and encouraging smile to Lloyd Ferguson and his three young children. Not long ago Lloyd’s wife ran off with another man.
By this time the congregation had taken notice of the Pastor’s most unusual mingling with the flock. Some thought it was being staged for television.
The Pastor walked onto the platform and took his seat. He scanned the congregation, and to every worshiper’s eye he caught, he greeted them with a nod and a smile.
Curtis walked onto the platform. The Pastor rose from his throne and greeted his nephew with a beaming smile and a firm hug.
“Good morning, Uncle Desmond,” whispered Curtis, looking around in embarrassment over his uncle’s uncustomary display of affection—and in front of the entire congregation!
“Good morning, son,” said the Pastor. His dancing eyes glistened over with happiness.
As they sat down, Curtis stared incredulously at his uncle. He called me “son”! What’s come over him?
Curtis’s puzzled look prompted the Pastor to reach over and affectionately pat his knee. Curtis was so much like his father, thought the Pastor. Michael had a heart for people with problems. That’s why he became an Army chaplain and went to Vietnam. Strange how things work out. I always thought Michael would be here, at my side. But now, Curtis and I will carry on together, ministering to all these wounded soldiers of the cross.
The Pastor returned his attention to the congregation and immediately spotted Annabelle talking with a couple at the back of the sanctuary. Oh, Annabelle, thought the Pastor. Whatever would I do without you? What would this church do without you?
The organ's call to worship ended and Curtis walked over to the podium and welcomed everyone. He read some announcements, gave an opening prayer, then returned to his seat.
It was time for the Pastor to read the morning’s scripture, but he was preoccupied with looking at people and thinking about them. Everyone was waiting for him to go to the pulpit. Some murmured and exchanged questioning looks.
“Uncle Desmond,” Curtis prodded in a whisper. “You’re up—scripture!”
“Oh, my! Yes, of course,” the Pastor answered. He quickly rose to his feet and stepped over to the pulpit. He paused to brace himself, then, with his emotions under control, said: “The storm has passed, the skies have cleared, and the sun is shining brightly. Today is a new day! ‘This is the day the Lord hath made! Let us be glad and rejoice in it!”’
His joyful proclamation was received with smiles, nodding heads and a scattering of amens.
“Before this morning’s scripture reading,” the Pastor said, “I have a few more announcements. I’m thrilled—yes, thrilled that my son Curtis and Roberta Richardson announced their wedding engagement last night. And they honor me by asking that I join them together in holy matrimony—which I look forward to doing with all my heart.”
Curtis glanced at Robbie and mouthed, “I love you.”
“And, now,” the Pastor said, turning his attention back to the congregation, “I...I....” His chin quivered and he wiped away a tear. He took a sip of water from the glass on the podium then continued. “I want to thank Bert Samaran for today’s beautiful flowers—and for all the flowers he has donated to the church over the years.”
Bert, embarrassed, beamed a broad smile on his reddened face.
“Your flowers are a symbol of life, Bert. They will always be a constant reminder to me of your love and—and your sacrifice.”
The Pastor paused for a moment to get a grip on his emotions. Then he said, “Bert Samaran—and many others in our church family—exemplify what Christian love and service is all about. They’re an inspiration to us all. The Word of God says that a glorious day is coming—a day when Jesus will say to you, ‘I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.... Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”
With that, the Pastor nodded to the choir director then took his seat. As the choir began singing a response of amens, the Pastor bowed his head and silently prayed: Lord, You know I have no sermon prepared for this morning. And, yet, I sense that You are moving me to confess to them about that night. So I’ll tell them about Tony and Bert and the cowardly thing I did. I’ll ask their forgiveness for failing them all these years. And after that, please say what You will to them through me. Thank You, Father, thank You....
The Pastor opened his eyes and glanced down at the Bible he rested on his lap. The slip of paper Jonathan had given him stuck out from between the pages. He pulled it free. There was verse written on it and he began to read:
One by one He took them from me:
All the things I valued most;
’Til I was empty-handed,
Every glittering toy was lost.
And I walked earth’s highways, grieving,
In my rags and poverty.
Until I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift those empty hands to Me!”
Then I turned my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches,
’Til they could contain no more.
And at last I comprehended
With my stupid mind, and dull,
That God cannot pour His riches
Into hands already full.
The Pastor smiled and closed his eyes. Thank You, Lord, for answering my prayer and showing me what You want me to speak on.
The choral response ended. and the music director walked up to the pulpit. He lowered the mike. then announced. “As you know, for today’s special music, we advertised that Geno would perform on the concert piano. However, I received word late last night that his flight was diverted from Denver because of the thunderstorm and tornado warnings, so he can’t be with us today. But Geno thoughtfully lined-up a replacement—a young musician whose music of praise is filling the Christian airwaves. So please join me in welcoming Jonathan.”
The Pastor's mouth dropped open. Jonathan! Did he say Jonathan?
As the congregation gave Jonathan a welcoming round of applause, the Pastor watched the sandy-haired singer walk onto the platform. He carried a guitar, and across the front of his white sweat shirt was large red lettering that boldly proclaimed: “REJOICE!” He sat down on a stool and adjusted the microphones.
Jonathan began strumming his guitar, and went on to sing two ballads of praise. Afterward he said, “Now, I’d like for us to sing together—an old hymn that I think most you know well.” He started to sing “The Old Rugged Cross.”
When the hymn ended, the young musician kept on strumming his guitar and said, “Now, if you will look at your song sheets, you’ll find another verse and chorus to ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’ I wrote it sometime ago. It has special meaning to me, as I hope it will to you. Let’s sing it together.”
And with that, he led everyone in singing sweet words of testimony and praise to the Lord:
It was there, on that cross,
Where He gave up His life,
To redeem me from sin and all strife.
With Him there, on that cross,
I laid down my old life,
Then He raised me from darkness to light.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Where for all my dark sins He did pay.
My old life was exchanged on that day,
In me He lives, always to stay.
“One more time,” Jonathan asked, and the congregation followed him in song.
Pastor Morehouse raised his hands and head heavenward in praise, tears of joy streaming down his face. His soaring heart saw a multitude in the heavenly clouds—among them, Curtis and Robbie, Annabelle, Bert and Rosie, Tony, his mother and father, and, yes, Amanda....
Above the throng was a burst of brilliant light and then a host of angels. All in the heavenlies were giving glory and honor and praise to Him who hears the cries of wounded soldiers, and brings them into His healing love and rest.
— The End —
Copyright ©1997, 2015, 2018 by Franklin L. Allnutt. All right reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in reviews, without written permission from the publisher. Unless otherwise noted, scripture is taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The poem, “Empty Hands,” has been quoted by Charles Swindol and others, and appears to be annonymous. If not, please contact the author.
Cry of the Wounded Soldier is a work of fiction. The story and characters were invented by the author. Any character resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
© Frank Allnutt. All rights reserved.