“Sinner!” the preacher thundered.
Victor shifted in his seat and looked around. All faces had turned to look at him.
“When will ye repent?” hounded the preacher. He shook his finger. “Lustful as the Sodomites, murderous as Cain, conniving as Jezebel—wilt thou not tremble before the wrath of Almighty God? How long wilt thou offend the Holy One, despising his goodness and trampling the blood of the Son of God underfoot in your incessant rush to evil? Repent! See ye the thorns piercing the Saviour’s brow? No! Thou eyes art fixed upon a television screen. Dost thou hear the hammer driving nails through our Lord’s hands and feet? No! Thou hast dulled thy ears with rock and roll music. Canst thou comprehend the anguish in the face of Christ as he suffers the divine fury in thy place?” The preacher sighed and shook his head. “No,” he continued with a softer voice. “How can you, when you are following immodest women flaunting their flesh in bikinis?” The preacher stood straight and thumped his fist on the pulpit. “The day draws near!” he roared. “The damnation of the wicked will not tarry. Wilt thou be saved? Sinner, wilt thou be saved?”
Victor gulped. Every eye was upon him. The room was silent but for the creak of a pew and the cry of a baby.
“I, um…” He cleared his throat. Everybody leaned toward him. “Well… uh… What do I need to do?”
“Hallelujah!” the preacher shouted, slapping his hand on the pulpit. “Salvation has come to this house today. Come on up here, son.”
Everybody clapped and nodded; some people shouted; some stood up and raised their hands to heaven. Smiling faces closed in around Victor and a dozen hands lifted him to his feet. Two overjoyed churchgoers escorted him up the aisle to the front of the room. He stood before the preacher, who smiled down at him from the platform. The preacher looked around the room.
“Friends,” he said. “The just shall live by faith.”
Everyone nodded. Many said, “Amen.”
“The light shineth in the darkness,” continued the preacher. “And today this lost son has seen the light.” He looked at Victor. “Son, if ye believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, ye shall be saved. Do you—”
“Wait!” screamed a shrill, miserable voice from the back of the room.
Victor turned around; a woman in her thirties, wearing a faded blue dress and a conspicuously plain cardigan, marched up the aisle. Her forehead was stretched tighter than a drum skin, between her high bun hairstyle and the scrunched up expression on her face. She huffed no less than eight times as she made her way to the front of the room.
“Margaret,” said the preacher, “we are in the middle of—”
“I know exactly what you’re in the middle of,” squawked the woman, “and it’s lucky I got here in time to stop it. This man,” she said, pointing at Victor while otherwise ignoring him, “cannot be saved.”
The preacher’s eyes grew stern. “I should remind you, Margaret, of our Lord’s promise— ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.'”
“And I should remind you of something, Pastor,” Margaret persisted, waving a rolled up sheet of paper with her fist. She unfurled the paper. “Here—look. A list of all the children who have graduated Sunday School in this church.”
“Graduated?” said the preacher.
“Yes,” continued Margaret. “Every one of them passed the final Sunday School examination, and are therefore qualified for heaven. But this… this… heathen here is not on the list.” She turned to face the congregation, and announced with more than a hint of satisfaction, “This man never passed Sunday School!”
The revelation inspired no interest.
“Well… well…” stammered Margaret. She turned back to the preacher. “Surely you understand the weight of this.”
The preacher gave a bewildered shrug. “Margaret, I really don’t—”
“The church rules state that a young person cannot become a church member until they have passed the final Sunday School test.” Margaret’s face was reddening and her voice was getting louder.
“I understand,” said the preacher, “but when a man’s soul is at stake—”
“Soul nothing! Those are the rules!”
“But he’s never even been to this church before.”
“The rules, Pastor, the rules!”
“NO!” Margaret reached a shrieking crescendo. “Those are the damn rules!”
Everybody gasped. A small child cried. The preacher’s shoulders deflated.
“All right, Margaret,” he sighed. “Do your test.”
Margaret smiled. “It’s not my test,” she said calmly. “It’s the church’s test.”
© 2019 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED