I was raised in a very religious community. God and Christ are still at the very center of my life, and I live every day in service to Them. Praising Them still excites and ignites the very soul within me, although I must admit, some of the joy and magic I felt when I was much younger has left me. My devotion has not waned, I can assure you, but perhaps the dulling of such pleasure is just the natural---if tragic---effect of aging.
But, oh, how wonderful it was when I was a boy! Each year, my particular church would hold a very special service in honor of Good Friday. In preparation for this service, all young men below the age of thirteen had the opportunity to enter a contest---a kind of raffle, I suppose. The prize for the winning fellow was to perform a very special role in the upcoming ceremony. All of the boys from our entire community would practically froth at the mouth, waiting for the earliest possible moment when we could throw our hats into the ring. What spurred us on was much more than just the desire to win. It was the true and deep devotion that filled our young hearts. It was thrilling to be among such a crowd.
The Good Friday I remember best was that of my last eligible year. I was due to turn thirteen in June, and then I would never again be able to enter my name to take part in the service. I had entered every year before then since I turned nine, but had never once been selected. I remember holding my little ticket with the long number printed on it, hoping I would hear the pastor call it out.
My little brother, Frederick, had also entered the contest that year. I dare say, he was more excited than I was. When the pastor announced that it was time to select the special winner, I recall how Frederick jumped up out of his seat and cheered louder than anyone else.
"All right, gentlemen," said Pastor Francis. "Are you ready?"
We all cheered wildly. The pastor continued. "All right, now. Dale, would you bring me the basket?"
Dale, the pastor's wife, dutifully did as her husband asked. She held the basket full of tickets up, and Pastor Francis fished around, rather dramatically, for the winner. At last, he had made a selection.
"Here it is, folks. The winner, and very special participant in this year's Good Friday ceremony is whoever holds the ticket numbered six... four... three...."
As he read the numbers, I began to shake. So far, each number had perfectly matched my ticket! I listened intently as the pastor went on. "Five... eight... six!"
Groans erupted all around. "That's it, folks!" said Pastor Francis. "Who's got it? Who's got it? Where are ya?"
I could barely move. The winning number was right there, on my ticket! I wonder to this day if that wasn't the greatest moment of my life. I had never won anything before, and my eyes nearly filled with tears as the realization washed over me.
It was then that I turned to look at Frederick. His bowed head and downcast eyes left me with little doubt as to what he was feeling. My heart ached for him. I'd never seen him so disappointed. I knew in that moment that this was a divine test and, as difficult as it would be, I was determined to pass it.
Before Frederick could protest, I grabbed his ticket and switched it with mine. "Pastor!" I shouted. "The winner is right here! Over here!" I looked down at my little brother and smiled. He beamed up at me, the very picture of gratitude. I knew I'd made his Good Friday.
A moment later, he was headed up to stand with Pastor Francis. "Well, hello there, son," said the pastor. "Are you ready to perform the most important duty of this entire service?"
Pastor Francis held the microphone to my brother's mouth and, without hesitation, the boy said, "Yes, sir!"
"Hallelujah!" shouted Pastor Francis. "Let us begin!" As he spoke, four deacons came up behind him, carrying a wooden cross. "As I'm sure you all know," the pastor began, "on this day, the Lord our God sacrificed his only son so that we sinners might have a second chance at eternal life."
"Amen," came the staggered response from the faithful.
"Today, brothers and sisters," the pastor continued, "we renew that convenant right here. Yes, faithful, the Lord has chosen young Frederick to serve as a tangible, visible remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice that He Himself made nearly two thousand years ago. Let us remember, when we behold Frederick in his place above the pulpit over the next year, that God is good and His love is real."
The deacons laid the cross down, and positioned my brother upon it. I was so proud of him. He didn't even scream until the second nail went in, which was remarkable for a boy of his age. When the deacons had finished, they hoisted him up for all to see. Frederick's wide eyes surveyed the cheering crowd before settling on me. I smiled, wiping away a tear, and silently blessed him as he began to convulse. I knew in that moment that, even though I had missed my last chance to have such a great honor, that it couldn't have gone to a more deserving young man.
Written by Jdeschene