He slipped into the worship service as handbells were ringing the prelude’s last notes. Though ushers were hastily seating folks in additional chairs placed along the side aisles, he managed to squeeze into a pew . . . . perhaps it was an effort to be inconspicuous – as if that were possible given his attire: red bandana head band, black leather vest emblazoned front and back with the Harley-Davidson logo, frayed jeans tucked into high-top biker boots, a grungy black t-shirt, and an oversized wallet attached to an oversized belt by an overly long chain.
He caught my attention as I processed into the church, not so much for his manner of dress as for his seemingly downcast demeanor. My hand shaking his as I passed prompted a momentary gaze by two of the saddest eyes I’ve ever beheld . . . I stopped to hug him and be hugged by him as he fought back tears. Clearly, he had come among us, risking much, in desperate hopes of being touched in ways that he had come to believe impossible.
Upon hearing me speak about the power of parental influence on children, he wiped his eyes with a second bright bandana. He could hardly maintain his composure as I held the babies being baptized. I suspected he was recalling the warmth, security and love he had known in a childhood that had become a distant and now longed for reality . . . perhaps he was someone’s son for whom Memorial Day had multiple meanings.
His approach to the altar rail attested to his having walked a similar path many times in years past, except on this occasion he was a puddle of emotions. I noticed as he knelt before me: the head band was an American flag; a faded Marine Corps tattoo was visible on one forearm; he was old and weathered, probably from my generation; and he was wearing leather gloves with his fingertips exposed. I paused before placing a wafer in his hands . . . subconsciously the Pharisee in me was trying to send a message that the gloves had to come off . . . but then I was overwhelmed by two realizations: Jesus placed no restrictions on those wishing to touch Him or be touched by Him; and there was a hypocrite at the rail and he wasn’t wearing gloves.
I abandoned the line of those waiting to exchange pleasantries after the service to catch my fleeing friend. In the midst of our ensuing embrace I thanked him for his inspiring presence, assured him of God’s love and mine, and encouraged a return visit. He couldn’t express his response . . . but then he didn’t need to for “the Spirit interceded with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)