Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Two Marys

As I climbed out of bed in the cold, dark morning, my whole body ached. Not with my arthritis, but with the grief of loss. Loss of hope in a better future. I tried not to disturb my husband as I pulled back my blanket and stepped gingerly over the sleeping forms of my two youngest children. I pulled a wrap over the top of my robe, combed my hair and tucked the package I had prepared and wrapped the night before under my arm.

As I quietly closed the door behind me, my friend Mary broke away from the shadows touching my arm lightly. Together we turned and walked in the beginning dawn, down the street.

 We reached the city gate just as it was being opened for the day and continued out toward the gardens and orchards that lay just outside the city walls. Mary and I had planned this as we were preparing the evening meal after the Sabbath the previous night. The day before that was the day that Jesus was crucified. We were, all of us, in a state of shock. None of us had seen it coming. We were all still numb from it all and how fast it had happened.

Last night Mary and I had talked about it, processing, trying to understand. Somehow, it seemed to help to talk about it. My husband refused to and so I needed someone. That was when Mary reminded me that there hadn’t been time to properly prepare his body for burial. The men had gone with Nicodemus to take care of it while we women stayed home to finish preparations for the Sabbath. There had been barely enough time to wash his body, wrap it and place it in the tomb. So we had decided to go early, as soon as the sun began to rise, in order to finish the proper burial necessities.

We didn’t talk at all as we walked. The only sounds were of roosters crowing, the slap of our sandals on the path, and our breathing, a little heavier from moving quickly in order to stay warm.

As we neared the garden where the tomb was located, we slowed down. It was darker under the olive trees and we didn’t want to miss our footing. Mary was leading the way when suddenly she stopped and gasped. With my head down to watch the path, I nearly ran into her. She spun around and said, “How will we get in? We can’t move the stone on our own.” We hadn’t thought of that last night. We were so wrapped up in our grief and needing to do something that we had forgotten about the stone over the door. “Maybe someone will come by that we can ask to help us,” I said. She turned around and we kept going. Just as we were almost to the clearing in front of the tomb we saw a flash of bright light coming through the trees and heard men's voices crying out. We ran forward in time to see a blinding white figure rolling the stone away from the tomb entrance. Mary and I held onto each other, seeing Roman soldiers laying on the ground as if they had been struck dead. When the stone came to a halt, the shining figure sat down upon it, looked right at us and said, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you’re here looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He’s not here, he is risen from the dead. See? The tomb is empty. Go and tell his disciples.”

I thought I was going to hyperventilate. One moment we were in utter despair and fear and then this glorious man was telling us that Jesus wasn’t dead anymore. He was alive!

Mary and I looked at each other for a moment, then picked up our skirts and ran back the way we had come. “He’s alive!” I gasped. “We have to tell everyone,” she flung back. Being a lot younger than I, Mary got a little ahead of me. At the edge of the trees I saw her come to an abrupt halt then fall down on her face on the ground. I caught up within moments and joined when I saw that he was standing there before us. We wept and whispered, “Master.” He was beautiful. He came to us, raised us up and said, “Rejoice, I have risen. Go and tell everyone – especially Peter.” Then he sent us on our way again. We ran even faster then, climbing the hill, plunging through the gate and rushing down the street. By the time we reached my house, I had lost both my package of burial spices and my wrap. I burst into our house where my family were just getting up and around.

“He’s alive! He has risen!” I shouted. “We must tell everyone." My husband looked puzzled as I turned and went back out to follow Mary running up the street. We ran to Nicodemus’ house where the disciples were staying, my husband and children catching up with me. Mary pounded on the door until one of the servants let her in. We pushed our way through to where everyone was just getting seated. Mary shouted, “He’s alive, he’s risen. The tomb is empty and we saw him on the way back. He said to tell you that he is risen, just as he said he would be.” After a brief stunned silence, there was a sudden uproar of voices, asking questions all at once.

I looked for Peter. I loved him like a son and knew that he hurt more than the rest of us after his rebuke and then his betrayal. He was still seated, a little off on his own with a look in his eyes that told me he wasn’t sure if he dared hope. I went to him and knelt down beside him. “Peter, he said to tell you especially. He’s no longer dead. He’s risen. An angel showed us the empty tomb and he met us on the way back. He especially wanted you to know." At that, without a word, he leapt up and ran out of the house.

After that, so many things happened that it’s all a blur. I do remember when Peter came back. He was no longer quiet and withdrawn, but had returned to his own impulsive, rambunctious self. He had been to the tomb after I spoke to him and found that not only had Jesus left, but he had removed the linens they had wrapped his body in. They had the stains from his wounds but had been neatly set aside and left since they were no longer needed. He really had risen!

Some were still skeptical and we were all still afraid of repercussions from the priests and the Romans. Somehow they had hushed up the story the soldiers who had been guarding the tomb must have told. I often wonder what happened to them. However, it was getting around that Jesus had risen and our little group kept growing throughout the next couple of days.

One evening after our meal, the disciples were discussing what to do next. They had elected a new member to replace Judas and his name was Thomas. He was one of the main skeptics, but participated with firm opinions on what course of action needed to be taken in order to avoid the authorities.

Then suddenly, Jesus was there. He was standing in the midst of us as if he’d been there all along. As people realized he was there, they gasped. Mary and I simply exchanged glances and smiled. We knew he would show up again. The next few days were utterly amazing and ended with our Messiah rising into the heavens to sit at the right hand of the Father as an advocate on our behalf. Some became discouraged and fearful again, but all that changed during Pentecost.

But that’s Peter’s story to tell.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Doctor’s Story

I'm not a writer, but God gives me stories to write occasionally. I've kept them to myself until now because I never think they're quite good enough. Over the last few months God has been convicting me of that. I guess he means for me to share.

My uncle recently passed away from cancer. He and my aunt were hoping he would be able to go to Palermo for Holy Week, but instead he celebrates in the presence of God. My cousin is accompanying her Mom in place of her father.

So, I step out in faith and dedicate the stories of Easter I'm going to post in his memory.

Uncle Vince, you're missed but we praise God you're in His presence.

The Doctor’s Story
My name is Dr. Nick Demus and I have an incredible story to tell. My specialty or preferred area of research is law and theology. I’ve participated in many debates and contributed to the laws that people have lived by in my country. I have always enjoyed my job and the things I’ve been able to accomplish. However, it was never quite enough. Something was missing.

I started hearing about a teacher who had been traveling extensively throughout the country. I started making enquiries to learn more about him because the reports I had heard were quite positive. Apparently his specialty was, like mine, law and theology. However, I couldn’t find any evidence of higher education which caused my interest to be piqued even further.  He was an independent scholar. From what I was hearing he had extensive knowledge of the law and a controversial theological interpretation of it.

When I began to hear grumbling and complaints about him from my colleagues, I decided to seek him out and hear what he had to say for myself.

I found that he was interested in returning to and clarifying the original intent of the law. Over the years, those of us who had added specifics so that adherence the law could be measured had mired it down in confusion and restraint. It had become so confining by the time I had begun my studies that even fixing food to eat on the Sabbath was against the law. There were those of us who sought to return to our Lord’s original intent, but mainstream resistance was intense and we risked ending our careers and sacrificing our credibility if we were too anti-establishment.

Not only was this teacher not interested in mainstream manifestations and interpretations of the law, he was extremely focused on people. It didn’t matter, rich or poor, young or old. He cared about them. There were reports that, in addition to teaching, he was healing the sick, touching lepers, and offering the forgiveness of sins. Talk about controversy! To touch someone or something unclean is expressly forbidden by law and that is agreed upon in the most liberal of circles. To offer forgiveness is to claim equality with God, and that is blasphemous. It endangers your very soul.

Occasionally my colleagues would attempt to trip him up with trick questions or controversial and seemingly unanswerable questions. They always left those encounters angry and seething in their embarrassment.

I became more and more interested in him and saw him speak and teach as often as I could. It began to transform my thinking and as a result, my life. The more I heard, the more I wanted.

Finally, just before he was taken, I met with him secretly. I had a burning question that I had to know the answer to, but didn’t want to risk discovery over. I met him at night in the darkness on the roof of the house where he was staying.

I asked him the most crucial question of all. “How can I be saved?” I had to know. I knew that before God I was as unclean as a leper. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how well I followed the law.  Even with the foolish and cumbersome additions made over the centuries, I knew that even one failure covered me as if I had followed nothing.

His response caught me off guard and at first I felt a flash of embarrassed anger. “You must be born again.” I had exposed myself, become vulnerable and all he said is that I must be reborn. But, I bit my tongue and asked for clarification. His explanation changed the course of my life.

God was calling me to a spiritual rebirth. To become a son of God, not just of Abraham. To believe that Jesus was God’s only son and that through him I could receive a guarantee of forgiveness and eternal life.

My faith in this new revelation faltered when he was taken, tried, and crucified. I felt like my hope had been given a foundation only to have it pulled out from under me. But, I couldn’t let go of the fact that it all made sense and that the life of this young man, Jesus, answered all the questions raised by the law and the prophets. Somehow, I knew that God would work it out. I had no idea how, but I had to trust him.

When we realized Jesus was dead, it became imperative to find a place to bury his body. When my colleague, Joseph asked if I would help him move the body to his personal tomb, I didn’t even have to think twice before agreeing to help. We barely had time to do minimum preparations to the body before placing it in his tomb. The Sabbath was upon us and the women said they would come back later to finish what needed to be done. We had no other choice.

When the women did go back, they found his body gone. He was risen from the dead! When I heard that he was risen...when I heard that he was risen from the dead...that he had overcome death, the joy in my heart was overwhelming.

The word spread among the followers like the hills on fire before planting. We all came together, hoping he would come to us. He did and my hope was restored and my trust justified. I’ll never forget the day that he ascended into heaven. All of us, all of his followers and their families were there.

Now they call us Christians. The message of Good News given to us by Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God has spread across the world.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Truth of History: A Voyage Long and Strange

What is considered the truth of history truly depends on those telling the story. I'm listening to an audio book on the history of the discovery of the new world and establishment of colonials called "A Voyage Long and Strange" by Tony Horwitz which addresses the truth of the history of the United States.

He states that when studying U.S. history, children are told about Plymouth Rock and the first Thanksgiving, but not much about the true place of those events in the discovery of the New World by Europeans. He sets out on his own voyage of discovery to find the true history of European discovery and exploration in the United States and it takes him beyond our borders to Canada, the Caribbean, and Central America.

It wasn't until the 20th century that confirmation of the Viking settlement in Newfoundland was discovered and now people might know who Leif Ericson was. But in spite of the fact that the Spanish settled the Southwest about the same time as the landing of the Mayflower, you don't hear about it in the class room. Even the Spanish foray into, and naming of Florida is mired in fable.

Living in Colorado, it's hard not to be aware of the Spanish colonial influence. It's everywhere in names, language, and the landscape. The main street of Colorado Springs is Tejon (pronounced Tay-hone), one of the high schools is called Coronado, and the state name means "reddish" in Spanish. But the best place to find the history of Spanish colonials is New Mexico.

Unfortunately, much of that history seems (to me) to be tainted by European American obsession with illegal immigrants crossing our southern border. I'm NOT going to address that other than to point out that many people lumped together with illegal immigrants have been living on lands now part of the United States since the late 1500s and early 1600s. As long as (sometimes longer) than those who came on the Mayflower.

But if you'd like to know more about the part of the United States named the Nuevo Mundo (New World) by the Spanish I strongly recommend a visit to New Mexico, some internet surfing for Spanish Colonial history in the Southwest, or reading/listening to Mr. Horwitz's book.

Here's some dates:
• Arizona and New Mexico were explored by Coronado in 1540.
• Oñate returned in force in 1598 to claim the area called New Spain. They established the city of Santa Fe in 1608 and made it the capital of the province in 1610. That makes it the oldest, continuously occupied capital city in the United States and it celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2010.
• In 1821 Mexico declared independence and all New Spain territories became part of the new empire of Mexico. This included Las Californias, Nuevo México, and Texas.
• The annexation of Texas by the United States in 1845 resulted in the Mexican-American War The U.S. won that war and so Las Californias and Nuevo México became territories of the United States about 1848. Statehood turned them into California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado.

The Spanish were brutal (what colonials weren't) but they introduced tools, plants, horses and sheep still found in the Southwest today.

New Mexico is still a very Spanish and Native American place and people descended from Spaniards still live there. They are as proud of their heritage as any descendant of those who arrived on the Mayflower. But Puebloans will be happy to tell you the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Conquistador.

What I have here is overly simplified, but it is a history of the beginnings of the United States that you can discover in person by visiting the people and places of the Southwest. Places such as Santa Fe, Taos, Acoma, Zuni, El Morro National Monument, and Canyon de Chelly where the image of Spanish Conquistadors was drawn on the canyon wall by Navajo ancestors.