April 25, 2010


My sheep hear my voice; I know them, & they follow me. – John 10: 27

Because we have heard the Easter message so often, it doesn’t seem to affect us much anymore. Perhaps a more modern version of the story of our redemption would help us here. It has been around awhile, so you may have heard it before.

Early before dawn one Friday morning, I noticed a young man, handsome & strong, walking down the alleys of our city. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright & new, & he was calling in a clear voice, “Rags! Rags! New rags for old! I’ll take your tired rags!”

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

Soon the ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing & shedding a thousand tears. Her shoulders shook, her heart was breaking. The ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping around the tin cans, dead toys & Pampers.

“Give me your rag,” he said so gently, “& I’ll give you another.” He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes, She looked up & he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean & new that it shone. 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 & 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, & I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.

“Rags! Rags! New rags for old!” In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. A single line of blood ran down her cheek. Now the Ragman looked upon this child with pity, & he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart. “Give me your rags,” he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, “& I’ll give you mine.”

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

“Rags! Rags! I take old rags!” cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong Ragman. The Ragman seemed more & more now to hurry. “Are you going to work?” he asked a man leaning 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 with quiet authority in his voice, “give me your jacket, & I’ll give you mine.”

The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman, & I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman’s arm stayed in the sleeve, & when the other put it on, he had two good arms, think as tree limbs, but the Ragman has only one. “Go to work,” he said.

After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath a blanket, an old man, hunched & sick. He took the blanket & wrapped it around 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 & bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling the cart with one arm & stumbling for drunkenness, falling again & again, exhausted, old & sick – yet he went with terrible speed until he came to the limits of the city & then rushed beyond.

He finally came to a landfill & the garbage pits. He climbed a hill & with tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed, lay down, & pillowed his head on a handkerchief & a jacket. He covered his bones with the blanket, & then he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.

I did not know that I slept through Friday night & Saturday & its night too. On Sunday I was awakened by a violent light. I blinked & I looked & I saw the last & first wonder of all. There was the Ragman folding the blanket, a scar on his forehead, but alive & healthy! There was no sign of sorrow or age, & all the rags he had gathered shined for cleanliness. I lowered my head & trembling for all that I had seen, I walked to the Ragman, told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I stripped myself of everything & I said to him with yearning in my voice, “Dress me. Make me new again!” He dressed me & put new rags on me, & I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman! The Ragman! The risen Christ! AMEN!