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.

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