Chapter 31 Yuri enters Zion

Yuri ladled some steaming vegetable stew into the bowl presented by the last person in the line.

“Thank you,” said the woman, with a grateful smile.

Yuri returned the smile a little awkwardly. He had never considered how it would feel to be trusted and appreciated until arriving in this community at the start of his seventh jubilee.

Yuri spent a whole day once a week cooking up a vast feast for everyone in his village. The idea had come to him after a neighbour had commented on the delicious smell emanating from his kitchen. Yuri had invited him to share his supper and, discovering that he rather enjoyed the experience, resolved to do it again.

With increasing frequency, he extended the invitation to more of his neighbours, until he had the idea of spending a whole day each week cooking for everyone. On those days, Gulag would lie at his feet and many in the line would stoop down to stroke him as they queued for Yuri’s much-loved stew. The whole community, about eighty people, treated those evenings as a weekly celebration and would sit in the open air, eating, laughing and sharing stories.

More than the compliments that people paid him on his culinary skills, it was the openness with which people approached him and their obvious delight in eating his food that caused Yuri to glow with satisfaction. It didn’t seem long ago that he had wanted people to fear him, or more recently, to leave him alone. Now he was popular and liked. It had taken a while for Yuri to accept that people could take a gift of food from him and not treat him with suspicion.

Scraping up the last of the stew from one of the large cooking pots, Yuri took his bowl and found a place to settle down on a wooden seat near his cooking station, tired but happy. He noticed that people seated in a group nearby were glancing in his direction as they spoke to one another. Yuri nodded at them and smiled before making a start on his meal.

To his surprise, the people in the group stood up and moved over to where Yuri was sitting and were soon settled around his feet.

“Everything ok?” he asked them.

“Absolutely,” said one of them. “We just wanted to be with you. This is our favourite day of the week, thanks to you.”

“Will you tell us how you came here?” asked another of them. “We don’t know your story. You always seem happier to listen than to talk, but we care about you, Yuri.”

Yuri swallowed his mouthful and put down his bowl, rubbing his hands on his apron. He felt touched by their kindness but was still a little embarrassed at finding himself the centre of attention.

“Well…” he began slowly, “my childhood in the Previous Age was tough. I learned quickly that the world owed me nothing, so I took what I could to survive. I used violence to get what I needed, but that soon turned into getting what I wanted too. The choices I made hurt people, and I am sorry to say that I killed people, too. I thought the only person I could trust was myself, so I built high walls to keep people out. I had a girlfriend but I knew nothing about love and I destroyed her.”

Everyone in the group by now had stopped eating and were listening intently to Yuri’s story. Yuri felt a surge of regret and sorrow wash over him.

“The only things I wanted were wealth and power, but these still left me feeling empty. I got into gambling as the high stakes and euphoria of winning at least made me feel alive. Except I lost and got into debt… big time. Some of the people I owed money to attacked me on the street, and that’s when it seems my heart failed. I don’t think anyone shed a tear for me.”

“What did Jesus say when he raised you?” asked one of women in the group.

Yuri paused and felt a tsunami of love so strongly that he thought he might pass out. It was as though a freight train had gone through him, shaking his whole body. It passed, but tears were now streaming down his face.

“He gave me my dog. The only thing I ever truly loved in my life.” Yuri looked down at Gulag who returned his gaze.

“Jesus showed me love from the first moment I met him,” continued Yuri. “He welcomed me with a shot of vodka and gave me back my best friend. But I didn’t know how to receive love, so I pushed him away. I thought he was weak. I had such twisted ideas back then. Jesus put me in a community where I began to learn that violence could no longer be used to control others. In the second jubilee, I found that I had a basic understanding of injustice and that I could feel empathy for those abused by people with power. In my next community, I discovered that I could make friends and that kindness was not weakness. In the jubilees that followed, I learned more about myself and about other people from their stories. I have come to see how wrong my attitude and actions were. I want to do better! And so here I am today. I feel accepted as part of this community and I trust now that Jesus accepts me and that I can trust him.”

“Jesus has always put us with people that are best able to help us grow,” said one man in the group. “My story is similar. At first, I thought Jesus was punishing me by putting me with people who had come from the same rough background in the Previous Age. They were all just like me, but then I started to see that in such communities we could grow and learn from each other. And the first thing we had to learn was to listen to each other. To see ourselves in each other was the first step.”

 “And it’s not just you men who were violent,” said the woman who had been the last in the line to get her food. “I beat and neglected my kids. Lord knows I am sorry for what I did. I took my own life in the Previous Age, because I hated myself and believed I didn’t deserve to live. I thought if there was a God that I deserved to be punished, but Jesus and his friends treated me with kindness and respect. That was the start of the healing process. For a long time I felt numb, but I feel things now. I’ve had so many flashbacks – like a waking nightmare. But I understand that it is my conscience showing me the truth.”

“I believe with all my heart that we will all get to say sorry to those we abused,” said Yuri. “I know that’s what I want to do now.”

“Do you remember the people that Jesus placed among us to be an example of love?” asked one of the men seated nearby.

Yuri smiled fondly, thinking of Thomas and Bull. “Man, I gave those guys a hard time!”

Heads nodded.

“All they ever wanted to do was cheer us on towards a better way of living. They really were a gift from God,” said another.

“I can’t wait to see them again,” said Yuri. “And believe me, I never thought I’d say that!”

“And you won’t have to wait long.”

A voice called out from behind Yuri. He turned and saw a man quietly sitting by the cooking pots.

“Jesus?” said Yuri, in a whisper of disbelief.

Gulag sprang up and bounded over to Jesus, excitedly licking his face. Jesus laughed and stood up.

“I’ve been listening with such a happy heart,” said Jesus. “You are all such a delight to me!”

Gasps and joyful whispers went up as the community realised that Jesus was among them.

“My friends,” said Jesus, “I have seen the way your hearts have opened to one another and how, time and time again, you have chosen agape love. How I have looked forward to this day!”

Yuri’s knees buckled and he found himself kneeling on the grass with Gulag at his side.

Jesus turned to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Yuri, my brother, you are to come to Zion, to my home. Each of your friends will be coming soon, but today is your day.”

Yuri looked up at Jesus and for the first time did not flinch at the fiery love in his eyes. He knew Jesus could see the totality of who he was, but now there was nothing he needed to hide. Yuri stood up and the community burst into spontaneous applause as the two men embraced.

It was then that Yuri noticed Cedric the seraph standing behind Jesus. The creature bowed low in greeting. “Hello, young man,” said Cedric warmly. And it was true – Yuri did feel young; younger than he’d ever felt before.

Climbing onto Cedric’s broad back, Yuri felt like a little boy. He grinned with anticipation as Jesus climbed on and Gulag leapt up and settled himself between them.

“Hold tight and enjoy the ride!” Jesus called out.

Before long they were soaring through the sky with the landscape of the New Earth beneath them. As Cedric flew lower, Yuri saw that they were heading for a colourful garden of flowers, trees and pools of water. As they dismounted, Yuri stood and breathed in the vibrant scents, while Gulag was soon weaving his way in and out of the greenery.

“Yuri,” said Jesus, his voice calm and clear in the perfect stillness of the garden. “This place is a garden of reconciliation. There is someone here I want you to meet.”

A lump formed in Yuri’s throat.

“I understand,” he said, preparing himself for what he knew must take place.

Jesus motioned toward a circular pool of sky-blue water. At the head of the pool was an arch carved into a tall green yew hedge, and at that moment, the person Yuri knew he must meet appeared in the archway.

Helena stood watching Yuri from across the blue pool. Yuri felt the knot in his throat grow harder and he found it difficult to breathe. Jesus stood close by his side as Helena walked slowly, glancing down at the ground and then looking again at Yuri as she approached.

And then she was standing in front of him – the man who had hooked her on drugs, used her for sex and beaten her to death. Yuri trembled and his knees gave way again. He found himself looking up at Helena, one hand holding tight to Jesus’ arm beside him.

“Please stand up,” said Helena. “I would like you to look me in the eye as an equal.”

Yuri was overcome by her dignity and the gentleness in her voice, in which he sensed the presence of grace and agape love.

“I… I… can’t,” Yuri sobbed.

Helena knelt so that her face was opposite Yuri’s.

“Then I will come to you,” she said.

“Helena, I… I know what I did. I see it now. I know what I did to you.”

“I know,” she whispered. “You would not be here unless you could see clearly.”

Yuri bowed his head, tears falling into the grass.

“Yuri, you need to hear this now…” began Helena.

“No! Wait please, Helena. Let me speak first. I need to. Allow me to say it…”

Helena paused, her face now wrought with emotion as she bit her bottom lip to keep back the tears.

“Helena, I am sorry. I am so sorry. I know what I did. I know what I was. I destroyed you.”

“Yes, Yuri, you did. You destroyed me. I suffered at your hands. You disfigured and killed me and degraded yourself in the process.”

Once more Yuri saw himself raining his fists down on Helena’s swollen body, blood pouring from her nose and lips.

“Lift your head, Yuri. Look me in the eyes.”

Yuri looked up. He felt dazzled as though the sun was shining directly behind her, but he could see that her face was perfectly restored. She spoke with such authority and power, Yuri felt totally overwhelmed.

“Yuri, I love you with agape love. I forgive you everything. I forgive you for all that you did to me.”

Yuri felt a flame pass through his body, his mind and his spirit. In that moment a blazing light penetrated the darkness of his memory, and the image of what he did to Helena was blotted out by its pure brilliance. Now, at last, he knew that he could let go of who he once was and see himself as an entirely new creation.

Helena stood up and held out her hands. Yuri took them and she pulled him up so that they were at an equal height again.

“What bound us together in the past has been the source of our redemption,” she said, her voice quiet, yet powerful.

“Yes, Jesus has turned everything that was broken into the very source of our healing.” Yuri turned to thank Jesus, but to his surprise found that he was no longer there.

“This is our reality now, and it changes how we view the past, the present and the future,” said Helena. “The old has gone and the new is here.”

Yuri and Helena walked together into the garden. There was so much to share about their journeys and so much to learn and understand about each other.

Two souls that had been linked in darkness were now born anew in light. The future stretched before them with limitless possibilities.