Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Ragman -- Easter Story

Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear, tenor voice: "Rags!" Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music. "Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!" he sang.

"Now, this is a wonder," I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city? I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.

Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X together. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.

The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers. "Give me your rag," he said so gently, "and I'll give you another."

He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.

Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then he began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.

"This is a wonder," I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from a mystery.

"Rags! Rags! New rags for old!" he sang.

In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl child whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.

Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.

"Give me your rag," he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, "and I'll give you mine."

The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood — his own!

"Rags! Rags! I take old rags!" cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.

The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.

"Are you going to work?" he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head. The Ragman pressed him: "Do you have a job?"

"Are you crazy?" sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket, flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.

"So," said the Ragman. "Give me your jacket, and I'll give you mine." Such quiet authority in his voice!

The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.

"Go to work," he said.

After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.

I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.

The little old Ragman, he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And then I wanted to help him in what he did, but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.

Oh, how I cried to witness that death! I slumped into a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.

I did not know — how could I know? — that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night, too.

But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence.

Light — pure, hard, demanding light — slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow nor of age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.

Well, then I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: "Dress me."

He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!

-------------------

This story illustrates Easter. What do you have to exchange with the Ragman, the Christ?
  1. He is willing to take on your pain. He suffered and died and bore untold agony, and He is offering relief from your pain and your guilt and depression. Will you give Him your bandage that is soaked with tears and blood, and let Him give you a bonnet of peace in its place?
  2. He is willing to bear the scars from your past. He is offering new rags for your old ones. He is offering to take those rags that carry all the abuse and neglect, the mistakes and addictions, the failures and rejections, and replace with new fresh garments, symbolizing a new start. He will make you a new person!
  3. He is willing to take away your disease of sin. Jesus is called the Great Physician, and His specialty is curing the sickness of sin. He will take the jacket of sin that has left you dysfunctional and will heal you of your sin. He will fix you up, and help you live a Christian life. He met person after person who was decimated by sin, and He healed them, telling them, "Go and sin no more." The ragman will do the same for you today!

    • Jesus took all your infirmities and scars and sins upon himself at Calvary, then He died. But three days later, after descending into Hell and proclaiming victory over Satan, He rose again!
    • Today we celebrate His resurrection. He conquered death! He is Lord of both the living and the dead!
    • He wants to give you new rags for your old ones! Who is here today that has some rags they need to exchange? Who here wants to give The Ragman their sleeveless jacket, their blood soaked bandage, their blanket of addiction, their dirty handkerchiefs?
    • This Easter Sunday would be the perfect opportunity to take the new garments that He offers. Allow Jesus to dress you in garments of white, and prepare you for an eternity in Heaven.

3 comments:

Joel Byer said...

Great story!
As a matter of fact, I told it to our church people this Sunday morning.

Joel Byer said...

...and yes, I used it from your blog.

Chris & Esther Hilling said...

glad you found it useful! I heard it several years ago, and last year found a copy of it.