Sunday, April 24, 2011

A reading from MAGDALENE . . . for Easter

When Nicodemus had gone, I turned toward the cross. Blood still dripped from Yeshua’s body, a slow arrhythmic patting that struck the stony ground.

Tears filled my eyes, blurring my vision. I knew a group of legionnaires crouched to my right; I could hear smothered laughs and the clink of weapons as they packed up and prepared to leave Golgotha.

Was this just another day to them? Another prophet to execute, another nation to crush? Yeshua had embodied hope for Isra’el; even hope for the world. With everything in my heart I had firmly believed that only my rabboni could overthrow Rome and its Caesars. Instead, the people who had conquered our nation and murdered my family had crucified my hope.

And Yeshua had allowed them to do it.

I stepped forward and placed my hands on my rabboni’s wounded feet. His skin felt like cold marble beneath my palms.

From down the hill came the squeak of saddles and the shudder of a horse; from somewhere quite close I heard the crunch of stones beneath sandals. I would never have asked an enemy for help, but no one remained in the area … except Romans.

“Please, sir,” I said, speaking to the unknown soldier who hovered like a hulking shadow behind me, “will you help me take him down?”

The man did not answer, but the stones scrunched again and a pair of big hands covered mine. Almost tenderly, the soldier lifted my arms, then he stepped between me and Yeshua. I closed my eyes as the wood groaned and surrendered the spike. I covered my face as another man stood to help the first; together they brought Yeshua down and laid him at my feet.

When I could control myself, I blinked my tears away and looked at my teacher’s lifeless body.

“What are you going to do with him?”

I had expected the Roman’s voice to brim with contempt; instead, an almost kindly concern lined his words. I dashed wetness from my cheeks and pointed down the hill. “There’s a path … and a garden. One of the council members has made preparations.”

“Lead the way. I’ll carry him for you.”

Shock caused words to wedge in my throat. I looked up at the Roman, wanting to be sure he wasn’t toying with me, but my eyes were too bleary to see anything but the seriousness of his expression.

I reached out, touched his hand. “You are … a gift from HaShem.”

Heedless of the other soldiers who called out questions and jeers, the big man knelt and pulled Yeshua into his arms as if he were carrying a beloved son. I saw the metal of his helmet flash in the brightening sky as he nodded, then I turned and led the way down the hill.

And as I walked in a slow and stately pace, I couldn’t help but remember the thousands who had lined the road and cheered him only a few days before: “Please, deliver us, Son of David.”

Where had they gone? They were hiding. Weeping. Grieving.

They had abandoned their Messiah, leaving Yeshua to be buried by a former outcast, two council members, and a nameless Roman dog.

* * *

I did not sleep in the hours following Yeshua’s death. Every time I closed my eyes I saw his face gazing at me from the cross; every time I covered my ears I heard his rattling breaths. Throughout the long night I paced in the courtyard of the inn on Crooked Street and chewed my fingernails to nubs.

One thought filled my mind: I had failed my rabboni. I had walked and talked and lived with a prophet, but I had not listened to all he said. He had spoken of being pure of heart, but my heart had been filled with anger and resentment toward the Romans. When Yeshua realized that we were not strong enough to be the followers he needed, he had predicted his death. I had been too thick-headed to hear his warning … because I didn’t want to hear. I had even felt ashamed of his weakness … because I was too focused on my goals to see his strength.

I could scarcely imagine how hard it must have been for him to submit to the indignity and pain of the cross. Yet he had done it. Because we failed him.

We didn’t deserve rescue from the Romans.

The festival of Pesach, usually a time of rejoicing, filled our lives with despair. The sorrow of Golgotha clung to me like the smoke that had permeated my clothing as I watched my home go up in flames. The grief that had engulfed me at the cross remained with me when I washed my rabboni’s body and wrapped him in linen. I would have remained through the night to tuck spices in among the grave wrappings, but Nicodemus, mindful of the setting sun, urged me to hurry.

Jerusalem marked that day of rest with gloom. The people who had loved and supported Yeshua barely stirred from their houses, burdened not by the rules of the Shabbat, but by an overwhelming sense of loss.

“Oh, Jerusalem,” Yeshua had said, weeping, “the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

My rabboni’s words came back to me, proving that he had known what his fate would be. Still he had ventured into the city, still he had eaten with his spineless disciples and listened to them brag about being prepared to drink of his bitter cup.

On that dark Shabbat we learned other news—Judas had been the instrument of Yeshua’s betrayal. Apparently he had come late to that final supper because he had been arranging to betray our rabboni for thirty pieces of silver. Peter told me, with tears, that Judas had led an armed mob to the Garden of Gethsemane and signaled our master’s identity … with a kiss.

After Yeshua’s trial, Judas had been so overcome with remorse that he had killed himself.

On the first day of the week, before the sun pushed its way over the horizon, the other women and I gathered the additional spices we’d prepared and began the long walk to the tomb. On the way, Joanna worried aloud that we wouldn’t be able to find a man to remove the stone blocking the entrance.

As we neared the garden in the half-light of dawn, an earthquake shuddered the ground beneath us. We clung to each other until the earth stopped shaking, then we drew deep breaths and steeled ourselves to our miserable task.

When we reached the sepulcher, we discovered that the stone had been rolled away. We bent and stepped into the crypt, then I cried out—the stone slab was bare, the grave clothes tossed on the ground, the other niches empty.

Had I come to the wrong garden? No—I distinctly remembered the vibrant yellow of the flowering shrubs beside the gate. Was this the wrong tomb? No … the linen grave clothes were the fabrics I had folded over my rabboni.

“Miryam—” Joanna’s voice quavered. “Where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

Frantic, I left the other women and hurried back to the inn. John Mark pointed me toward the chamber where Peter and John were sleeping. When they opened the door, my words spilled out in a tumble: “They have taken the Lord’s body and I don’t know where they have put him!”

To their credit, neither man hesitated. They ran toward the tomb as well, leaving me to follow on legs that felt as insubstantial as air.

By the time I arrived back at the garden, the two disciples had come and gone. I saw their footsteps in the soft sand beside the entrance to the tomb; I could almost feel remnants of their alarm and confusion in the air.

I stood outside the sepulcher with my hands over my face and tears stinging my eyes. Once again, operating purely in vain hope, I peered inside the tomb. I had expected to see an empty stone slab, but my heart went into sudden shock when I saw two men in white—men who glowed.

The closest man’s eyes warmed slightly, and with the hint of a smile he acknowledged the startling effect of his unexpected appearance. “Why are you crying?”

Somehow, I caught a breath. “Because they have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.”

Another smile tugged at the stranger’s mouth, but he did not speak again. Instead, he tilted his head and looked behind me, so I turned to see who might be approaching. A man stood next to one of the shrubs; I supposed him to be the gardener. Perhaps he thought we had made a mistake by placing Yeshua in a rich man’s tomb …

“Sir,” my voice broke, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him and I’ll go get him.”

The man stepped out of the shadows. “Miryam.”

“Rabboni!” Yeshua’s voice leapt into my heart like a living thing. Grateful beyond words, I fell at his feet and clutched his ankles—warm, living flesh—as if I might never let him go.

“Don’t cling to me,” Yeshua said, his voice as gentle as a breeze, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”

Has any woman ever been charged with a more delightful task? I rose, weeping afresh, and back-stepped to the garden gate, not wanting to tear my gaze from my teacher. Yeshua smiled at me, waiting, and though everything in me wanted to stay, I was determined not to fail him.

I ran back into the city and found the disciples at John Mark’s inn. Peter and John had not yet returned, but the other disciples were red-eyed and weary from grief.

I laughed aloud, delighted to share my news: “Yeshua is alive! He called my name!”

I thought they would rejoice, but they didn’t believe me. Neither did they believe Joanna, Salome, or Cleophas’s Miryam, who had returned earlier with the same news.

What man, after all, trusts the word of mere women?


darien said...

thank you, Angie...this was the perfect reading for me today.


Anonymous said...

What a perfect day to read these words again. Thank you, Angie, for writing them, and presenting them again to us on this day. Have a Blessed Easter! He is Risen!!! Clyde

Anonymous said...

What a perfect day to read these words again. Thank you, Angie, for writing them, and presenting them again to us on this day. Have a Blessed Easter! He is Risen!!! Clyde

dick kane said...

For me there is no more moving moment in all the Bible, than the moment Miryam hears her name spoken and recognizes Yeshua her Rabboni. It is perfect. Thanks for your own moving account of the moment!