JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
A tale by Johny Noer
A SOLEMN VOW
… five thousand men signed it
Sometimes lying in my bed at night I resume what happened in that church that afternoon in April. The sky – I remember – was once more so overcast, it was almost purple. A wind swayed through a luminous chump of birches near some heaps of brick, rubble and broken glass behind the church. All of a sudden some young men emerged from the staircase leading up to the roof, where I was preaching. They wiped their dirt-caked hands on their trousers. "The scrolls are in the church", they said quietly.
I often marvel at how powerful the picture is from this viewpoint: magnificent in detail, largely devoid of my own imagination. It mirrors the remembered experience more closely than one might imagine: All these men, mostly farmers and simple workers standing in front of a table, where the scrolls are displayed. Outside thousands are waiting. In the back the watchful eyes of the red boss…
Time and repeated screenings have – on the other hand – endowed the memory with colours and sounds that the original perhaps didn’t possess. In that case I ask for forgiveness; I tell the story as I remember…
I watched it all happen quite calmly – without any charismatic excitement, without any specific ambitions, without anything but a kind of stunned curiosity – so that the impression of this April-day with the secret scrolls stays burned indelibly upon my heart.
I went to the pulpit. As I put the Bible in front of me I said: "The Bible – not the sword!"
Everybody smiled. They knew their history from the days, when the Christian patriarchate fought against the temporal power of the Turks. A time when the national pioneers fought the battle with the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other… days when manuscripts, images, testaments and valuable scrolls were burned, and a nationwide rising for the liberation of the country was flooding the land. ‘The Bible and the sword’ the national heroes from the revolutionary underground shouted, before they were executed by the Turks…
I placed the Holy Scriptures beside the secret scrolls and started with the words: ‘The Bible – not the sword!’ but in that moment I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of what we were about to do. I suppose I had simply not thought about it. But on that day the 9th of April, the scheme ceased to be a thing of dreams; it took on a powerful life of its own, and even in the very moment there seemed to be an air of unreality over the entire scroll-project.
We were no doubt plotting against an evil system, which tumbled to the ground exactly seven months later – on the very day!
On that springtime day in the church of Varna about 5000 men put their names on the scrolls on which it was written: "We shall not tarry until the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has penetrated our people and our nation!"
The scroll was a solemn vow before the Lord. Meant to be dwelt upon incessantly. Signed with a conviction that there will be no alternative! A stand of faith, which everybody knew would be put to the test…
I watched the men signing one by one. I saw their lips move in silent prayer, when they put the pen to the paper. Some knelt as they wrote. Many of them were ex-prisoners, now open to any change of sabotage: A dangerous stroke of a pen. The abyss was beckoning!
The following part, for some reason, is difficult for me to explain. I am sorry, as well, to present such a sketchy part of the story. But the event itself remains cloudy, obscured by time and the pressure of life. This is the story as I can put it together:
I saw the men leaving the church. Already the waiting police with their cars crouched beneath the sky, hushed and watchful as if they could sense the weight of what had just happened – ready to fall upon the believers at nightfall.
"Look at this mud", theyoung driver said as the car bounced through yet another pothole, brown spray striking the window. Two young men sat behind each with a scroll in their hands.
The driver shifted into first.
Another pothole; the Bulgarian roads didn’t bear much testimony of ‘the progress’. As the driver tried to come out of it the tires whined kicking up fresh splatters of mud and the car fell back into it with a jolt.
The driver prayed, and put the car in reverse.
One of the young men in the back rolled down his window and craned his head outside to see. "Oh, Lord!" I heard him say. "Blue lights behind us! They’re after us! Stop the car. There is no way we’re going to…
"We’re not stuck?"
"Yes, we are, you’re making it worse! Oh, Lord, Stop the …"
"Quiet!" the driver shouted.
The tires whined in the back. The two with the scrolls turned to look out of the rear window. "They’re coming", they said.
Abruptly the driver shifted into first, and with a sudden leap that made everybody shout:
"Praise the Lord!" the car was clear of the hole.
… and then the hunt began!
It was like a crime thriller: Cool evening, deserted streets; fingers closing around the steering wheel,; splintering through dark roads; horror curves, whining and screaming tires on the asphalt; people jumping for their lives… and then suddenly a sinister quarter of the city, an empty backstreet and the driver turning off the engine. The silence is awesome…
The driver looked at his two passengers in the rear-view mirror. "We need to talk a minute", he said.
"About your whereabouts. When did you leave your room?"
"About a quarter to twelve."
"Did anyone see you?"
"Not really. Not that I know of!"
Cooling down after its long drive the car ticked and hissed. Blue lights passed in a neighbouring street. The driver biting his lower lip watched out attentively. "The three of us", he said, "were at the church the whole day. Afterwards we went on a short drive, returning – "he checked his watch – "at eight o’clock. That accounts for all of us, alright? Now you split up and walk home. Each to his apartment. You hide the scrolls – and tomorrow we’ll take care of the delivery. One scroll must be handed to the president of Bulgaria Todor Shivkov – and the other to the president of the Soviet Union, Mr. Mikhael Gorbachov."
Back in the camp I went a few days later for a small walk down the country road outside Varna. The Danish Prime Minister had left and uniformed guards had returned and were stationed around the Danish convoy. I was waiting an eventual response on the scrolls. Would they reach their destination, and how would they be received?
November stillness was settling on the April landscape. Like an iron hand, which wouldn’t loosen its grip. Snow was falling. Big silent petals drifting through the springtime wood. I couldn’t pass the guards who watched me. All armed with black truncheons. Once more we were detained. My limited path took me beneath a row of apple trees, full blown and luminous. The big white flakes wafted through them, dreamy and soft. Was a new day of spring dawning over this country? The icy hand – could it be removed? How would the old communist president react, if he got one of the scrolls in his hand? Would he understand that this was a last warning from the One, ‘who sets up kings and deposes them’ (Daniel 2:21). Time would tell – and it did.