The Night Was April

Sleepers You have heard and considered the fast of forty days, that the Man from Nazareth endured? There was yet another fast; more intense in its severity, more painful in its sufferings. This fast also was undertaken willingly. The details are scarce, for He endured it alone. And no one but Him was aware of its awful significance.

The night is April. Pale spring mists creep silently through the branches of trees standing dark against a cloud-patched sky. A brook tumbles musically down the mountainside. The wind moans faintly from some higher slope. Cloud-scattered moonlight brightens the shadowy places, now and then revealing a small group of sleeping men who seem unmindful of the cold and damp. A dark Figure approaches noiselessly. Moving through the trees on bare feet, He pauses in a shadow, observing each member of the sleeping group.

They sleep, for it is late--the darkest hour of night. But the shadowed Watcher has not slept. With agonizing premonition, He has kept a lonely vigil. He takes no notice of the dew falling Heavily upon His garments. It is His last mortal night on earth.

For a long while He has lain upon the ground, facing the sky, searching between clouds, from star to distant star. He has prayed and hoped, struggled and dreamed a wakeful dream of friends with whom to share this last night. With more than sorrow, He turns away and leaves behind the indifferent sleepers.

A cloud obscures the moon, creating a sudden heavy darkness--oppressing gloom. Stumbling, He falls heavily to the ground. Several sleepers stir groggily and peer wide-eyed into the darkness. But all is quiet once again, save for the nearby brook and distant moaning wind. One by one, shrugging in bewilderment, they return to drowsy slumber, dreaming of warmth and shelter and loved ones far away.

With labored breathing, the Man clutches at a nearby rock and pulls Himself to His knees. He tries to rise, but cannot. Again He tries, but with similar result, having grown so weak in His struggle to live. Collapsing exhausted upon the rock, He whispers, 'Father, oh Father! Is there no other way? Will no one give me courage? Will no one give me strength to see another sunrise?'

He moans and cradles His head in trembling hands. How He craves companionship! Summoning His reserve of waning strength, He staggers to His feet and gropes His way through the darkness, from tree to dew-draped tree. His heavy heart is wrung with a crushing, lonely sorrow. He must have someone to talk with, someone who will listen.

He stumbles into their clearing and gently nudges one of the slumbering figures. 'James,' He whispers, 'James, could I talk with you a while?' A mumble is the only answer as James shifts to a more comfortable position and resumes dreaming.

Moving on hands and knees, He tries waking another, 'Peter, Peter? Can you hear me Peter?' But the fisherman is dead to all distraction, so the sleepless One moves on.

A little apart and to one side, He finds the small-boned form of John. Somehow He is confident that John will provide the companionship He seeks. 'John?' and again a whispered, 'John?'

John rouses with the question, 'What is it Master?'

'It's just that I feel so alone, John. I need someone to talk to. You don't have to reply, John, but listen...please? It's enough to know that you're there.'

'Some believe a person could not ask for a better friend than himself, but it would seem to Me, that they have known little sorrow, John. One who suffers places a higher value on friendship. John? John?' He too has yielded to heavy slumber.

The Master stands, sways unsteadily for a moment, then slowly moves away, casting a backward glance in the direction of His sleeping friends. Coming to the stump of a fallen tree, He sits down. Absorbed by a sense of awful helplessness, He gazes up through the space the tree had once occupied. Moon and stars, like His sleeping friends, have disappeared in darkness. Thickening clouds go scuttling before an increasing wind. The heavens seem shut from view.

With nowhere to turn and no one to talk to, He leans forward, hunching over knees, and buries His head in His hands. Wind tosses His hair and buffets His weary body. An internal counterpart to this blowing, screaming wind, seems to be whirling within His brain. He massages His forehead and temples with rough and calloused hands. The sleeves of His loose fitting garment drop away, exposing muscular forearms.

Rising suddenly to His feet, He stands squinting into the wind and at the cloud-laden sky. Eyes searching from horizon to dark horizon, He whispers as to no one, 'I can't go through with this. Could these men go on without Me? Here, while eternity hangs in the balance, they sleep. There's so much yet to do and I am young. So many sick, so many lonely, so many needing encouragement and hope! They sleep! I'm sure they want to watch with Me but they are just too tired. I'm alone. Now, with everything at stake, there is none with Me.

The mental anguish is too much. He sways forward, off balance, and clutches at a small sapling growing within reach. His grip tightens as if clinging to life itself. His nails dig deeply into the soft outer bark. Shoulders hunched and trembling, He falteringly, tearfully pleads, 'Father, please help Me! Oh, My Father, I don't think I can go on. It's so dark and cold!' His grip relaxes and He falls heavily, helplessly forward, face down upon the cold, damp ground. Still He somehow finds strength to form the dying words, 'Nevertheless, not My will but Your will be done.' At last, chest heaving with labored breath, He sleeps the fainting sleep of unconsciousness.

It is more than a loving Father can bare. The wind abruptly stills. Only drifting leaves remain to hint of the storm that was. The clouds disappear as quickly as vaporized breath on a winter's morn. The tumbling brook makes the only sound.

In the stillness of this quiet hour,there appears beside the unconscious Form, a being of light and glory--overcome by emotion. Stooping, he gently lifts the limp body and softly says, 'Jesus? Jesus? I'm here to listen. I'm here to comfort and encourage. I 'm here, Jesus, and I love you! But more than that, Your Fathers does too and He sends His love!'

Eleven men still sleep. A Figure approaches noiselessly on bare feet and moves among them. Standing straight and tall, He gazes tenderly down, as a father would upon His sleeping child. 'Sleep on now Simon; sleep on now James; and you too, John. Take your rest, My friends, for there is One who watches and never sleeps!

Tomorrow He will die, but just now He is rested and at peace. Sitting amid His circle of sleeping companions, He looks down with lingering smile at each one, recalling memories of countless talks around the fire, the long and dusty miles, the storms weathered, rivers crossed, boating and fishing trips, their loyalty through persecution, the mutual trust and companionship. Comrades of time and experience! 'The times we have shared together,' He whispers, 'are only beginning.'

There comes a muffled sound of angry voices. He is brought abruptly from His reverie. Rising to His feet, He looks once more at these sleeping men whom He loves so much. Stooping over first one then another, He rouses them from slumber, saying, 'Rise up, let us go. Lo, he who betrays Me is at hand.'

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The Pleasure of His Company - The Night Was April
Copyright 1994, written by Lee Venden