Chapter 33 Abundant Life in Zion
A warm, bright light came streaming into the room. Everything was quiet. Johan roused from a thoroughly refreshing night’s sleep. He felt so energized that he laughed. Johan then lay perfectly still, relishing the feeling that thronged through his whole being.
Looking forward to the day ahead he washed and dressed. He made a mental note to collect more water as he had emptied the jug by his wash bowl.
He knew his body did not need food to stay alive but he still enjoyed the taste of a juicy pear. He picked one from the bunch he had collected two days ago and ate it messily whilst looking through the window. Various movements caused him to notice animals and people within the vista before him. He stood, drinking in the view.
He sang quietly to himself as he carried out the morning routine. He made his bed, swept the floor and wiped the wash bowl and sink. He smiled as he heard other songs drifting softly on the breeze, sung by his neighbours in nearby dwellings.
Content that the house was tidy, he took some clothes and a water jug to the stream. On his way he met his neighbour Harriet and they chatted happily while rinsing their clothes in the sparkling water.
“What do you have planned for the day?” asked Johan.
“I am going to my poetry group this morning. We are attempting to capture the beauty of the landscape here but so far my efforts don’t do it justice,” said Harriet. “This afternoon I am helping Yuri prepare the communal meal, it’s always such fun, we belt out songs together when we stir the pots. What are you up to?”
“I am playing tennis this morning and then working with the maintenance team this afternoon,” Johan replied. “I really want to get better so I can beat Yan. I’m frustrated that he wins all the time!”
After wringing out their clothes, and filling their jugs, they walked back and wished each other a good day.
Johan hung his washing on the line and reviewed his schedule. He decided he needed to pack a change of clothes, a towel and some swimming trunks into a small rucksack. Picking up his tennis racket, and taking twenty talents from the drawer, he set out for the court.
“Good morning Johan,” was the warm greeting Yan gave as Johan entered the court. “Did you have a good night?”
“Peaceful as ever,” replied Johan. “Are you ready to lose?”
“You were unfortunate last week, your last serve was very nearly an ace,” Yan retorted.
Tennis games were a test of strategy and skill as both players had the same physical ability. Johan and Yan played five sets before enjoying a coffee with other players in the local café. Conversation often revolved around previous games or the latest rackets crafted by a man in the village.
“Cheer up, Johan,” said Terry, the racket craftsman.
Johan pouted playfully and then chuckled insincerely. He flicked some crumbs from his plate and looked away.
“You play very well, I enjoy playing you,” said Yan.
“I am sure you enjoy our games, you always win,” retorted Johan.
“I don’t like upsetting you, but you wouldn’t want me not to try my hardest, would you. You have a good technique, and often surprise me with your returns. You are improving and I am sure you will beat me one day,” replied Yan calmly.
“I thought maybe it wouldn’t be so competitive here in Zion,” said Johan, still not wanting to look Terry in the eye.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” said Terry. “We aren’t in Utopia!”
“I guess,” said Johan. “I just want to win! Just once I’d like to beat this guy!”
Yan grimaced. The atmosphere was slightly uncomfortable.
“Can you play with me in three days time?” asked Terry. “I might be able to give you some tips.”
“Thank you,” said Johan, “That would be much appreciated.”
The sound of singing echoed from the buildings, often people heard each other’s songs and simply joined in, creating wonderful layers of harmony. Johan was walking to his lunch appointment and was curious. Three men appeared from the side street just ahead.
“Thomas, how good to see you,” exclaimed Johan.
Thomas gave Johan a warm hug. “Are you still enjoying your tennis?” he asked.
Johan threw his hands over his face.
“I would be if I could beat Yan!” he said, through his fingers.
Thomas chuckled at Johan being dramatic.
“Anyway. So good to see you too Eric! How is your family?” said Johan, offering Eric a fist-bump.
“Ma and Pa have just been to a gospel choir festival, they loved it,” replied Eric.
Thomas, Eric and Bem resumed their stroll and were soon blessing those they passed with their baritone voices. They had been working on their barber-shop quartet arrangements.
Johan walked on to the Taverna Yialos. Harmony and Fran were already sitting at a table, drinks in hand.
“Hello you two. What have you been up to?” enquired Johan.
Harmony looked at Fran and gestured for her to speak first. “I’m really getting confident in my creativity these days,” she began. “Doing a still life art class at the moment. I think my fruit bowl was good last week, but this morning it was naked people!”
“No need to be coy!” exclaimed Harmony in her typically bombastic way.
“I’m just not used to all the nudity yet!” Fran protested, still looking flushed.
“I want to see your art!” exclaimed Johan. “Even if you couldn’t bring yourself to draw all the… human bits and pieces…”
“You must show us your work, Fran,” said Harmony. “I have been learning Greek cooking in my group.”
“You will be able to help the chef here soon, if you want to,” said Johan.
“Don’t you think I have enough to do?” said Harmony playfully slapped Johan’s arm as Fran giggled.
“Are you ready to order?” asked Anne coming to the table.
“Hello Anne, sorry you’re not able to join us this week,” said Fran.
“I will be able to join you next week, and we can debrief about the garden party. Most of the preparations are complete,” said Anne.
“So looking forward to that party! Can we have a selection of dips, some pita bread and a jug of water please,” Harmony said knowing what they had ordered many previous times.
“That will be with you shortly,” said Anne walking to the next table to take their order with a contented spring in her step.
“I am trying to organise a walk,” said Harmony. “Greg and Tolu want to come, would either of you like to join us?”
“How long will it take?” asked Fran.
“About four hours, there will be some excellent views and we might see some buffalo.”
They both agreed to join Harmony on the walk and chatted till it was time for their afternoon activities.
“I am on tree pruning duty this afternoon, I wonder who will be helping me,” said Johan. “There are a few people I’ve got to know and some of them are so annoying!”
“Personalities can still clash here, can’t they? At least until you really get to know people. Raspberry jam making for me today,” said Fran. “I need to make a good few more jars before the market next week.”
“I am rehearsing a play to be performed next month. It’s based on a true story of a woman in a community who completely changed in one jubilee,” said Harmony.
When she saw the group stand up Anne came over, collected their talents and wished them a good afternoon.
Johan bid his friends farewell and walked to meet the pruning team, secretly hoping some of them had forgotten about it. As he emerged from the tool shed Johan groaned inwardly as he saw Barney approaching.
“Hello Jon!” cried Barney, waving furiously with both hands.
“It’s Johan,” said Johan bluntly.
“Oh yes, of course!” smiled Barney, wrapping his arms around Johan in a bear-hug. Johan squirmed as the hug continued.
“Good to see you, Jon, good to see you,” Barney continued to say loudly, right into Johan’s ear.
Eventually Johan was released from the hug and Barney stood in-front of him.
“Look, it’s Johan, not Jon. And, Barney, I have to say – I don’t love the hugs the way you do.”
“Oh I’m sorry old chap!” said Barney, his eyes disappearing into a broad grin. “I must admit, hugging is a new thing for me, too. I hated them in the Previous.”
“Really?” asked Johan, suddenly more interested.
“Absolutely,” said Barney, his grin now gone. “Yes, I grew up in the care system in the UK in the 1960s. I was routinely abused. It took me many jubilees to learn that physical affection didn’t automatically mean abuse.”
Johan felt a strong stirring inside.
“I’m sorry, Barney – I had no idea.”
Barney smiled warmly and nodded.
“I guess hugging other men is something I’m not there with yet,” reflected Johan. “I was pretty much raised by the army.”
Barney nodded again. Suddenly Johan felt a wave of love for this man and opened his arms.
“You sure?” said Barney tentatively.
Johan nodded, silently letting go of all his negativity toward Barney.
The two stood in a mutually understood embrace for several moments.
“Wow,” said Barney as they parted.
It was still pleasantly warm late into the evening and many people were enjoying messing about in the river. Johan removed his work overalls and slipped into the water. It was so refreshing, he swam for a while and then turned on his back and enjoyed watching the clouds.
Leaving the water, he started to change into some comfortable clothes. Sylvia was changing next to him.
“Are you going to the garden party?” she asked.
“I am planning to go, it sounds fun and a great time to catch up with everyone,” replied Johan.
“Great, I hope everyone will be there,” said Sylvia.
Turning back to finish drying himself he realized that they had both been completely naked during the conversation. How different to the way things were in the Previous Age he thought.
Johan walked with Sylvia to the communal meal. In this part of Zion it had been agreed that once a week a meal would be cooked and enjoyed in the central square. Yuri had been encouraged to use his culinary skills to produce a variety of simple meals that all could enjoy. He had many helpers to prepare the meal and everyone who attended contributed by setting out, serving and clearing away.
After the meal many stayed in the square to hear music or a play. That evening Andrea, Helena and Clare performed a selection of songs that had been popular in the Previous Age.
One of the songs reminded Johan of his childhood. He thought about his parents and Gerty, it had been so good to see them six months ago on his travels through the neighbouring villages. Johan understood the reason why the members of each village were changed every Jubilee, but was so grateful that he could keep in touch with them. Knowing that they were here in Zion brought such peace to his heart.
Feeling tired but content, Johan made his way back to his apartment and was soon sound asleep.
The next day was the one day of the week Johan took to rest. Johan did the minimum of chores and then found a good book to immerse himself in.
Just before noon he put down his book and roused himself as he had a picnic appointment that he was very much looking forward to.
On the way he met Eshe, she had been with her two sisters all morning.
“Lovely to see you Eshe,” said Johan. “That dress is particularly beautiful, did you make it yourself?”
“I made it in Dawn’s sewing group, she is such a wonderful seamstress. I am learning so much from her,” replied Eshe. “Adilah has filled the picnic basket so you won’t go hungry.”
“I have the wine and some glasses. I am so looking forward to a chat with her, mustn’t be late,” said Johan.
“Hello Adilah,” Johan called as he strolled across the grassy meadow next to the river.
“It’s been a while,” Adilah replied. “I am so happy we could finally meet up.”
“You have been very busy lately,” said Johan, warmly.
“It’s true,” said Adilah. “Doing the administration for this village has been quite demanding.”
They set out the picnic, filled their plates and poured wine into their glasses.
“So, what do you now do?” asked Johan.
“I draw up the tables of activities for each week. Some things are routine, the toilets constantly need moving, the streets are cleaned regularly, and the community meal happens on a set day. But other things are sporadic. A drain needs to be cleared, a roof starts to leak, that sort of thing. All the requests for such work get passed to the admin office and that currently means me.”
“Wow, even for our small village that must take some handling,” exclaimed Johan.
“I am now getting help. Kelly and some of the men have realized their administration skills and have joined me. Currently it means I am training them as well as sorting the sheets each week but things should become easier when we can truly share the load.”
“Do you enjoy the work?” asked Johan.
“It is very satisfying. I have now been in Zion for a number of jubilees. In the first few I learnt to read and write in English and then challenged myself in learning different languages. I can now understand five languages and converse fluently in three. These skills have helped me understand what the village needs and often anticipate requests before they arrive. Listening to Friend also helps greatly in understanding the underlying problem behind some requests.”
“The village has always run very smoothly since I have been in it, we are all very grateful for the work you do. Are all the villages the same?” enquired Johan.
“Within Zion there are many villages and they each have their own character. This village functions in the way that suits us. Other villages function very differently.”
Johan paused and let out a long slow breath then looked at Adilah and smiled.
“You and I, we are witness to how God’s big plan is working out. The epic arc of history is coming towards a conclusion - a crescendo. It puts the brutal struggle for survival in proper perspective. All that was endured by each species as they multiplied, and the suffering of so many – it all served this bigger picture. There was no other way to ensure that billions were created as unique individuals. It’s clear that God wanted to let each sentient creature find relationship with Him, but without prescribing exactly how,” reflected Johan, gazing upwards, as if he could see it all before him.
“Our experiences can now be seen in the light of that plan,” suggested Adilah. “We both suffered in the previous age, the men shelling your trench and those that raped me and my sisters, they were being driven by uninhibited desires of procreation and protection. Those basic desires were necessary to ensure humanity multiplied but God had hoped they would be kept in check through the guidance of Ruach.
Ruach was always attempting to influence people towards a life based on Agape Love. If more had listened to her the suffering would have been greatly reduced, but it proved impossible for her to do more than guide humans into temporary pockets of peace.”
Johan looked at Adilah and saw a woman who had known how to listen to Ruach, despite terrible suffering.
“If only the message that Jesus brought had not been so corrupted,” said Johan, his forehead slightly furrowed. “He demonstrated God’s true character of love and his ability to resurrect everyone into an abundant life. This should have given everyone hope, an inner peace to sustain them through whatever they were facing, you experienced that, didn’t you?”
“I felt the reassurance of Ruach’s inner voice many times, but it would have so helped to know that a person, indeed a man, had lived a life of Agape Love,” reflected Adilah.
“Doesn’t it seem so obvious now that God had always intended to create a better environment? That what we experienced in the Previous Age wasn’t it? Zion truly feels like home, where we naturally belong. The desires we had for procreation and protection made sense then, but we are free of them now. Our bodies and desires are just right for here. On this new earth it is possible to live without fear of death and to enjoy the abundant life that was predestined for everyone.”
The conversation developed into talk of their siblings and parents and then petered out as they both relaxed on the soft grass and shut their eyes, both feeling at ease, knowing that, within Zion, all was well.
Startled by the shriek of a Kookaburra in the nearby tree Johan sat up and started to pack up the picnic.
Adilah open her eyes, “time to go back?”
“I’m afraid so, but we must do this again. Will I see you at the garden party?”
“Oh yes, definitely,” replied Adilah.
They walked back across the meadow and then Johan made his way to the central square.
Along one side of the square was a line of large notice boards. Much of the first board was taken up with a poster detailing the work required in the next week. Johan noticed where gaps still existed and added his name to some of them. He retrieved a slip of paper from a pouch fixed to the board. He used this to make a note of the tasks he had committed to and when they were to take place.
Everyone in the community made sure they examined the board each week and the work was evenly shared out without anyone having to coerce or plead. Though some took a while to get used to things they’d never done before, a strong ethic of team-work prevailed. No one felt alone or taken for granted in their jobs.
On other notice boards details of the activity groups and upcoming events were posted. If someone wanted to start a new group, they would describe their idea and invite people to a first meeting. Notices posted up often tried to out-do one another in attractive design and humour.
Johan checked the arrangements for his groups and a notice about a performance of songs from hit musicals caught his eye. Seeing it was shortly to begin he headed off to see it, assured of a fulfilling schedule for the next week.
The table was set in the middle of large swathe of lawn. Small shrubs and interesting trees dotted the grass but didn’t crowd the table. Around the edge of the garden were banks of flowers and taller trees. The area was spacious but intimate, and floral fragrances permeated the cool air. Unique chairs made by skilled artisans lined the sides of the table. Two pairs of people emerged from the house looking over the garden carrying trays full of glasses.
“Yuri, would you mind grabbing the last tray of glasses?” asked Fran. “Adilah and I will set them at each place.”
“I’ll start bringing down the jugs of drink,” suggested Johan as he placed his tray on one of the tables. “How many do you think we’ll need?”
Soon the four friends had prepared the table with enough drink for all their guests. An approaching sound of chatter and laughter signalled the arrival of Thomas and his team. Harmony, Anne, Sylvia and Carlos led the group, while Yan, Bull, Thomas and Yvonne were just behind.
Yuri excitedly flung open the garden gate and took each of them in his arms as they entered.
Adilah giggled and danced with delight at seeing the team arrive, Johan wore a huge grin and Fran was soon leading them to refreshments after their journey.
“This is such a beautiful idea,” said Thomas to Fran as they sat in the bright afternoon light.
“Well, it’s a bit of a full circle moment, isn’t it?” said Fran. “It feels right to celebrate… ah, here come the others.”
A larger group, this time of twelve people, were streaming through the garden gate. They were all welcomed and offered a drink.
“So, these are people from their communities who have recently entered Zion?” asked Bull.
“Yes,” said Thomas. “Yuri and Johan were in a community of teenage soldiers and Adilah and Fran were with a group recovering from PTSD. Six from each group were welcomed by Jesus into Zion at the end of the last jubilee.”
“I expect some will soon be volunteering to go outside and help in communities,” said Yvonne, who had joined Bull and Thomas. “I am offering to go to a community in the next jubilee, myself.”
“Really? That’s exciting, Yvonne! I am too,” said Bull. “I think all of us just want to help as many come to Zion as we can. I know all I have found here is life abundant – everything I ever wanted or wished for!”
Places were taken at the table as food was served. It was a simple but delicious meal. Stories were shared about the journey the new arrivals to Zion had been on, learning the way of Agape Love. Gladness and gratitude flowed through the conversations as the lights of the New Heavens illuminated the garden.
“This sort of thing will happen more frequently, won’t it?” Anne said to Thomas across the table. “As we go further into the Ages, reunions like this will multiply. Some of each new generation of the reconciled will go back out to the communities, to serve and guide others. Then they’ll want to introduce their friends to other friends when they get to Zion and…”
“…the party never ends!” smiled Thomas, his eyes gleaming. “Eventually I believe we will all enter a new level of harmony. As the jubilees unfold, the multitudes will come to maturity in Agape Love and their individual process of reconciliation shall add them to restored humanity.”
“I think this place is perfect,” said Anne. “Not that things never go wrong, nor that no one ever gets upset. But it is a safe place, everyone exhibits patience, kindness, goodness and self-control; there is mutual trust, respect and care. Each person’s individuality is recognised, no one ever mocks another person’s tastes or opinions.”
“The whole of the New Earth is yet to be truly understood,” added a red-haired man who was listening in. “Just think of the fun we will have when we can freely explore the areas outside Zion. When the need for isolated communities ends because the turmoil of immaturity is a thing of the past.”
“Whatever the future holds,” said Thomas, “I am convinced it won’t be boring, and that love is the meaning of it all. I’ll be honest though, it still requires us to trust.”
The red-haired man nodded. “Yes, we’re not there yet, and although we can see the process at work, there is still so much to be done.”
Conversations full of wonder hummed along the full length of the table. The bird songs and warm, dancing colours decorated a moment in time not unlike moments enjoyed by humanity across the Ages from their genesis. Wherever people have formed into communities, there has been such gatherings, full of comradeship and joy. But now they are not tinged with fear.
Adilah stood and asked for attention. “Let us raise a glass to Jesus, to Rauch indwelling within us and to Papa our Father who, as promised, has given us this abundant life.”
All gathered, raised a glass and stood in awe of what Agape Love had achieved and renewed their faith in the future that Jesus was overseeing. Jesus was ensuring there was hope for everyone.