The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!

By

I was tired this morning when the bus rolled in.

The last night of the tour left me somehow wired and sleepy at the same time, so when I crawled into my bunk I read a few pages in a book until my eyes drooped, then clicked off the light and looked at my phone to see the time: 2 am. I prayed a little, quieted that familiar discontent that always murmurs after a show, then fell asleep with the happy thought that in the morning I would be home.

A little less than five hours later the bus stopped, the diesel engine rattled to silence, and I heard the footsteps of the rest of the band packing their things and bidding one another farewell. I squinted at my phone again: 7 am. I was deliriously sleepy, and the thought of seeing the family was the only thing strong enough to get me out of my bunk.

For four weekends the eight of us told the Resurrection story, hoping our songs would lead people to a deeper appreciation of it. Now the day had finally come and I was too tired to feel a thing. Jamie and the kids arrived in my old truck, we hugged, I loaded the guitars, the bouzouki, the tubs full of CDs and books into the pickup.

I looked at the sky and made myself consider its color, reminded myself to imagine that first Resurrection morning. Still, I felt nothing. It’s okay to feel nothing, I told myself. The stories are true, whatever I may feel about them. The kids always treat me like a new toy when I first come home. They laugh and tell what happened to the doll’s hat, or about how Moondog’s collar slipped off at the park, or about the next chapter in The Goblet of Fire. I nodded and tried to sound excited, but I was struggling to keep my eyes open so I told the kids Papa was really tired and could they tell him about it later.

An awkward silence ensued for most of the ride home.

I imagined putting on Fernando Ortega’s In the Shadow of Your Wings, reading from the Gospels after breakfast, having a Special Moment with the family before we drove to church. But I fell asleep on the couch, and Jamie couldn’t find her purse at first, and things got busy, and “if we don’t leave NOW, kids, we’ll be late.” The whole drive to church I fought to keep my eyes open and wondered why I didn’t fix some coffee for the road.

We found our seats, bowed our heads, then stood to sing. I raised my voice and sang the words to one of my favorite songs, “In Christ Alone”:

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

The sermon was stirring. It was good to see my church family, to see good friends and to sit in our usual spot. It was good to end the service with “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”. Alleluia.

And yet, though my heart was moved, and the truth was sweet, I couldn’t wrap my heart around the Resurrection. I wanted to celebrate it with more than my intellect, to sense in a profound way the significance of this astonishing event. I wanted an experience, and I expected it to happen at the assembling of the saints, with the spiritual equivalent of pyrotechnics. But in the end, glad as I was to be there, it was just church. And I don’t mean that as a bad thing. “Just church” is about as holy a thing as you’re ever likely to experience–like the slow growing of a daffodil at the base of the hackberry tree; it happens quietly and faithfully, and its gift is precious.

I acknowledged all this in my mind and settled in for an Easter Sunday without much pomp. Maybe, I figured, that’s to be expected after weeks of concerts. After church we gathered with some friends at a house for a big dinner. I found an out-of-tune upright in an empty room and sang a new song called “Risen Indeed” to myself. The kids played kickball, we drank sweet tea while the lamb and asparagus cooked, and finally we sat around the table and shared a meal together.

As I said, I resolved to expect no great emotion, but to savor the peaceful and quiet way my Easter Sunday unfolded.

Then one of the women at the table suggested we gather the children and read Walt Wangerin Jr.’s story “The Ragman”. Now, I’m a fan of Wangerin’s work, due in large part to the musical quality of his writing. His sentences bounce like the stanzas of a 6/8 hymn, and I find myself reading his books aloud just to feel the words on my lips. I so hoped our friend might suggest I be the one to read it, but I didn’t want to presume. She asked me if I’d read, and I accepted a little too quickly between bites of cheesecake.

We cleared the table, herded the twelve kids and as many adults into the living room where people sat in laps, on couches, cross-legged on the floor, and waited. For the first time that morning, I felt the Resurrection. I looked around at the women, men, and children. I thought of Wangerin’s particular gifting, his love for Christ, the wonder of a world in which a piece of writing can travel from the author’s imagination, to the book that carries it across the years, to my mind, out of my lips, and into the imaginations (and hearts) of those listening.

The Ragman encounters a woman of great sorrow. He dries her tears and takes them upon himself. As I read I thought of one of the women in the room who has borne much sorrow and wept many tears, but whose heart is hid in Jesus’ hands. He is risen.

The Ragman in the story heals a man’s drunkenness, takes it upon himself, and staggers on. I thought of the men in the room who are sick with self-loathing, who have been intoxicated with it, but who at least once have felt their chins lifted by a strong hand, looked into the eyes of the Son of Man, and believed they were loved. He is risen, do you hear?

I read of the Ragman curling up on a trash heap, crippled, sick, weeping, and alone, and I prayed the children in our company saw that picture in their minds. I prayed it would trouble them. But he is risen, young ones. Listen.

Then the dead Ragman, on Sunday morning, comes to life again. He shines with a violent light, and when the narrator of the story pleads to the risen Lord, “Dress me,” I believed the Gospel and the Resurrection and the Return of Christ, and it was as if I were just waking up and the sun had just cracked the horizon. He is risen indeed.

I looked around the room and marveled that all these years later the Resurrection story is still told. It is told by Russ Ramsey as he preaches in Kansas. It is told by Walt Wangerin Jr. through the words of his story, it is told by Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn on our tour as they sing again and again, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” and when Ben Shive sings, “The chains of death will fall around your feet, and you will rise up in the end.”  It is told by the new leaves of the hackberry tree on the front lawn, by the repeated alleluias of that grand old Easter hymn, by Aslan’s roar and the breaking of the stone table–and it is told most sweetly in the pages of Scripture, where we encounter this ancient, astounding, mysterious story.

How could it be that this outlandish tale could reach so far if it were not true? How is it that rational men and women the world over gathered today to celebrate this happening? How is it that I find myself in the company of others who have put all their hope in the fact of the Resurrection–a story thousands of years old, and yet, we break bread and raise our glasses in victory and declare to each other and to all who will listen, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Join the ranks of the fools of the world who believe the stories are true. Let the people rejoice. Let the heavens resound. Let the name of Jesus, who sought us and freed us, forever ring out. I may not feel so sure tomorrow, so let me remember that today–today–I believed. Oh, I truly believed, and I could not have believed it more if the heavens peeled back and the High King galloped through.

May I remember tomorrow, when I doubt again, that today I believed.

“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


11 Comments

  1. Andrew C

    This is beautiful, Andrew. I faced that exact same disappointment for a while yesterday, but my heart began to re-rejoice in Him and His life as I sat outside yesterday and really took in all that I know to be true. And as I did, the beautiful creation all around me came alive as I awakened to His song that is always being sung. And I want ears to hear it every day – all the time.

  2. paulh

    Thank you Andrew for your transparency and more importantly, your words of our Savior’s victory.
    I have made it a point to celebrate Easter as “Ressurection Day” because one, I want to feel the impact of it as much as possible, and secondly I want my mind and heart to see this differently other than “just a holiday”.
    This is our lives as beleivers of the Way. Daily should be this humble gratitude of the Risen Savior. I know, easier said than done.
    To strive for moments of awe, in this fallen world and in these fallen bodies, is what we have, knowing one day we will be witnesses to a repeat of history, in the City of David, as we are crying out “Hosanna!” not to a King on a donkey colt who is giving himself up for love, but to a risen, perfect, and victorious King, in all of His Glory. I have to hold that picture in my heart to remind me.
    Yesterday, I read to my kids worship class, the story from the “Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sarah Lloyd-Jones, and that is where I felt the impact of Ressurection Day this year.
    She wrote,
    “It wasn’t the nails that kept him on the cross; it was love.”
    I felt the tears and emotion fill in me, right there in front of 25 kids. Praise God.

  3. Paula Shaw

    Thanks, Andrew, for posting what you did. I, much like you, spent the morning at church not REALLY experiencing the Resurrection. I left so disappointed. I struggled the whole day with junk. Trying to ingnore the inner turmoil of having gone through Holy Week with such great anticipation of the coming Resurrection, only to feel disconnected on the most important of days.
    Then, at the end of the day, after dinner had been eaten, and grown children had gone to their homes, I received a call informing me that one of the dearest people I knew had died.
    So, I’m thinking on this man’s life and remembering how 25 years ago, he welcomed my husband and me into his church with a huge bear hug, and a hearty, “Praise the Lord! Welcome home!” He became a source of stability in our lives and was one of the dearest and most gentle men I have ever known. He championed me when God called me to lead worship in that same church. He was such an encourager, and you could not be within 10 feet of him without him reaching out, drawing you in, and giving you a huge bear hug. He was quite the tangible hands and feet of Jesus. So, although I am singing with the angels upon Tony’s arrival into the arms of Jesus, I am really bummed that those of us still here on this earth will have to wait for a while to get any more of those incredible bear hugs.
    I went to sleep last night feeling pretty down.
    This morning, in thinking about the events of the last week (historically as well as presently), I think I can say that no matter what, I did experience the Resurrection…..in re-living the first Holy Week…..in preparing the church for the “Service of Nails” on Good Friday, again viewing “The Passion of the Christ” on Holy Saturday, and participating in the Easter Morning Service. For the most part, because we are new to the church we go to now, and it was nothing like what I’m used to (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Holy Saturday, The Great Vigil of Easter, and Easter Morning), the message was the same: “ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED, ALLELUIA!”
    Now, after reading your post, I can say, “Yes and amen!”

  4. Peter B

    Like many others here, I had a “tired from working too long and too hard” Resurrection Sunday this year — at one point I felt shamed by how wearily “Christ is risen” sounded in my own ears — but nevertheless, unrelentingly, he broke through before the day was over.

    Thank you for using your gifts to put all that into words that we can hear and believe and savor.

    Now to find some Wangerin.

  5. Robert Treskillard

    The Ragman story from Walter Wangerin, Jr. holds a special place in my heart, so thank you for sharing this.

    Isn’t it interesting that you felt the Resurrection while sitting in a house with the saints around you. And that’s how the disciples were on Resurrection morning … locked up in a house. How different, yet how much the same after all these years.

    Pete P.—Walter is still alive I found out. His website is: http://walterwangerinjr.org

    Also, he’s speaking at Concordia Seminary’s “Day of Homiletical Reflection” in St. Louis on May 6th. The event says it is for pastors, students and “anyone interested in the proclamation of the Gospel” …

    http://www.csl.edu/EventDetail.aspx?eventId=149

    It says they will be premiering the film “Ragman” … hmmmm!!!!????

    The cost is ony $20 for the full day.

    -Robert

  6. Paula KM

    I have been weighed down with my Mom’s recent stage IV cancer diagnosis, my dad’s rapid decline into dementia, living 1100 miles from them and trying to figure out how to LIVE with all of it– and honor them and God. I received news that Mom is not expected to get “better”. I know that means, for both my parents, very hard and painful days are coming. I don’t like pain…I’ve never looked at it as any kind of friend. I try to avoid it and want my folks to be able to do so.

    As Resurrection weekend approached, God kept throwing little lightning bolts at me through what I heard and read. You know, little things you’ve heard before a hundred times, but this time something lights up with WOW. What all the little flashes lit up together was that Christ’s choice and actual submission to the excruciating torture, pain, and death on the cross was a doorway to the most extravagant blessedness that God Himself could imagine. Father/Son/Holy Spirit perfectly in union, sin paid for FOREVER, and Grace given–Those sought, bought and now brought–into eternal relationship. If he had chosen to avoid the pain, we would still be lost.

    When I stood to interpret the music portion of our service for the deaf friends present, All the TRUTH of the finished work, the Glory and Power of the Sacrifice given once for all, accepted, and atonement completed just fell on my heart. I get to “sing twice” when I interpret…so my heart was overwhelmed with the reality of the Present Riseness of Christ.

    I am so blessed to know that my whole life is lived AFTER EASTER…we don’t have to wonder “when will God provide a way?” IT IS FINISHED! Hellelujah!

    I spent the weekend finally getting to listen to Resurrection Letters –Thank you for the shared gift–expressing so much of what God was trying to say to me. What a treasure of Truth, real life Truth–pain and all…
    Grace and Peace to all

  7. John

    Thanks for the Ragman reminder, Andrew. It’s often hard for those of us leading others into a deeper experience of the resurrection to get the full value of it for ourselves.

    Robert (8) — That’s where I went to the Sem! I’m glad they’ve invited him to share about communicating the Gospel creatively. I used Wangerin’s Passion liturgy this past Palm Sunday & it was fantastic.

  8. Nathanael

    Thanks for the reminder, dear brother, of the truth of the resurrection and of this wonderful story. I heard it years ago.

    I went on alibris.com and purchased it. It arrived yesterday.
    I read the first two chapters and am so grateful for this man’s gift.

    Thanks again.
    Shalom

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