Archive for March, 1997
“Try to rest, Mary,” she’s been saying to me since it happened. “Try to rest—your only making it harder for yourself.” She means well—a mother now with no son, trying to be so strong for the daughters she taken under her wing. “If you don’t sleep, Magdalene, you’ll do yourself a damage.” But how can I sleep? How can I sleep with him dead, with hope dead, with all I longed for dead. What is there to sleep for? What is there to wake for?
He was life to me. He was breath and breathing. He was sight and seeing. He was the blood that beat in my veins. He was my food and my drink. I’ve loved him since his first smile, since he first whispered my name. … Enough! There has to be a limit. She’s right—I have to go on. Have to stop these tears and sit still. But I can’t.
I can’t sit still. I can’t wait for morning. I’ve got to do something. Curfew be damned! I’m going out. I’ve got to breathe. I’ve got to be near to him—even now…
That’s better! Just to be moving! In this velvet darkness. With those same stars shining—who’d have thought they still could… Oh, to be doing something at last! … I know there’ll be guards. I know it’s a risk. But anything’s better than pacing those sleepless walls, crying those dry tears. … Anyway, he always liked to take a risk. Used to say his Father had taken a big risk on him so why shouldn’t he be a little daring. A little daring! Raising the dead! Marching on Jerusalem! Turning the Temple upside down! And even when they’d arrested him—even standing there in front of the Governor—he risked defying them—wouldn’t play their games.
Risked too much it seems. We followed him … and watched … and waited. Waited for his risk to pay off. Waited for him to play his trump card. Waiting for the happy ending. Surely he hadn’t risked everything without a safety net? He had to have a way out. I believed that. I trusted that. Trusted him—even right up until the nails were going in … and the screaming started. Then I woke up. He’d gambled and lost. He’d risked everything and there wasn’t a safety net. All he’d said; wasted. All he’d done; a fraud. All he’d told me about myself; lies. All he’d made me hope for; just dying dreams. Oh, yes, I woke up then when he cried out. I haven’t slept since. … I may never …
O my God, did I say I was awake? I didn’t know what awake was until I heard a voice through my tears, say “Mary,” say my name—give me back my name. I didn’t know I was dead until he gave me back my life! … When I saw the tomb empty I fell apart. I could feel the empty tomb inside me. I wailed and ran and fetched the others and then froze there … while all the time the day slowly dawned.
I watched them go in. I watched them go away, arguing. They didn’t think to take me. I’d be there now but for a hand on my shoulder. A half-familiar hand. And a voice whispering my name. And a face with a smile I knew—knew but could hardly believe. Frozen, I was: I could do nothing, could say nothing. Could I believe my eyes, my ears, my skin? Wouldn’t it just be wishful thinking to hold again what’s been snatched from you? Wouldn’t the others be right about me—not enough sleep and too much hysteria? But still he—he who I didn’t dare name—still he smiled. And the smile was so gentle. And his eyes so eager that I believe. That I not embrace all the anxious inner voices alleging madness, preferring fear.
He spoke my name again. “Mary!” I lifted my hand to nearly touch him. But what if he weren’t real? What if I had to lose him all over again? What would be left of Mary, then? Again my name: “Mary?” Was I so important to him that he would come back to me like this and risk my running away? Was he so much to me that I would risk believing my eyes, believing all that inside me wanted to speak his name and kiss his poor, ruined hands?
Was I going to believe in life or death? Mine to choose. Mine to risk. … I met his urgent eyes. “Jesus,” I said.
March 30th, 1997
I’m Andrew, Peter’s brother. We’ve met, remember? I’m with Jesus. I like to tell people that I was the first one to know him. You remember? I used to be with John, the Baptizer, until he sent us looking for someone greater, remember, someone to finally set things to rights, settle with our Roman friends once and for all. It was three years ago I almost ran into him—Jesus—on the street and stammered some stupid question about where he lived. He must have thought me a right fool. But he just smiled and took me along with him. Did we talk that afternoon?! And not only then. I’ve stayed with him these three years, three long, dusty, confusing years. I’ve wondered, sometimes. Would I have stayed if I’d known what was going to happen? I don’t know. But first-disciples have a responsibility— an example to set for the others. And until this afternoon I’ve always thought I understood him.
Mmm… this afternoon. We’re all dead beat. Him as well. We’ve been too long on the road. Too long hiding from every prying eye that might turn us over to our own priests, of all people. Since the incident with Lazarus we’ve had a price on our heads—at least on his—and it’s taking its toll. He’s been so quiet since then. Not like him — who always has a story to tell. Quiet. Brooding. … Troubled. I sat with him in those days after we ran from Bethany. Sat with him as he stared out into the desert haze. Just there, at his side, as a good first disciple should be. And knew this was make or break—his last choice—his last chance at glory. Lazarus had been the last straw. And the rumors were of a deal between our people and theirs to get rid of him, make an example of him. But we knew we had the popular support, we knew that he only had to say the word and the people would rise up behind him and kick out the Romans army and all! I knew, at any rate. I told him as he sat there “this is the time, this is your hour.” Everyone knew it too. The word was buzzing around the countryside—”What do you think? Will he come? Will he come to Jerusalem for the Passover?”
I told him it’s now or never. “You may as well walk away, go back home, if you don’t do it now, if you don’t march on Jerusalem, now.” “It’s do or die.” That got him to look. To turn away from the desert’s shimmering heat and give me one of those looks of his that made me shiver. What did I say? …
But yesterday I got my wish. We turned our faces to Jerusalem—the whole bunch of us—and trudged back to Bethany. To Martha and Mary and Lazarus again. What a meal! What a party! He seemed his old self again that night—laughing and dancing. So alive. Until Mary brought out her precious scented oil and poured it all over him. “For my burial,” he said with tears in his eyes. The glorious smell was everywhere. Made your eyes water. O, but Judas was furious at the waste!
The party mood was back this morning—hangovers or not—as we saddled him up and prepared to show Jerusalem a thing or two. And how the crowds came out scenting change in the air—shouting, screaming, singing. Though I wish we’d have got him a proper horse and not the weedy thing he insisted on. Still the effect was electric, glorious. Now they’d see. Now something had to begin.
I was right and wrong it turned out when some of my folks from Bethsaida turned up—all dressed up for the festival and wanting a closer look at Jesus. “We want to see him too,” they said, “Don’t hog all the glory Andrew.”
So I took them inside to the room we’d rented, all proud to be his disciple—his first disciple—and there he was, head in hands, with tears running down his nose … and dripping on the floor. He looked at me and once more I shivered. “You were right Andrew: the hour has come. Now you’ll see the glory you wanted.” I couldn’t stop shivering but he kept on, “If I love my life so much I’ve already lost it but if I lose it I might find it again. Like a grain of wheat, unless it falls and dies it’s nothing but a grain but if it dies—if it dies Andrew— well then think of the harvest! There’s glory for you!”
I couldn’t answer him—couldn’t look at him. I’ve been wrong all these three years. Wrong about him. Wrong about glory. Wrong about myself. But right too. I pushed him into this. … Which is why I’m staying. I am the first disciple after all. I have a responsibility. And I have to see him through to the end, I have to know how he can do this, and maybe, if I stay, I’ll get a glimpse of this glory.
March 16th, 1997
What’s worse than being ill? … being ill at night! You’re huddled there, sweating and shivering and aching. You feel like death—in fact you half wish that death would at least get it over with—you feel like death and there in the middle of it all you find yourself wishing the light would come, wishing day was here, wishing night would end. We’d rather be ill by daylight. But why? The ache’s the same. The fever, the shakes, the same. But somehow having them in the light seems different. Easier to bear? Less isolated? Somehow we feel safer when day dawns. So we long for the shades to brighten and night to give way to day.
That’s one experience—when the ache is physical—but I imagine we all also know a parallel longing for the dark. When the ache is emotional, the misery mental, when life seems too much like a pathless wood, when the day is grey inside and clouded. Why, then, we can long for dark to fall and cover us, for light to fade and hide us from other peoples’ joys and our own pretence, for the day just to be over so we can sleep and forget.
If we are honest we have known the attractions of darkness just as we have felt the longing for light. And in both—at the end of our tether—we have cried out in pain and need and rage: Help me God I am beyond helping myself! Save me, I cannot save myself!
Salvation, liberation, healing, justice, eternal life, a new creation. Early and often has the human race cried out in pain and need and rage. Early and often, says the Chronicler, has God sent messengers of freedom and salvation.
We all want salvation. We all want liberation. For ourselves and for others. But it seems the price of freedom has been too much for us to pay, the weight of glory too much to bear. For we are still crying out and still lying in the dark pleading for light and still waiting in the twilight for the dark to hide us. Even though we have heard the gospel’s ringing promise that salvation has been given. “God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.” So says John: the light has come into the world once and for all; a light shining in the darkness which the darkness cannot extinguish. A sign of healing lifted up for all to see so that all might believe in God’s love and be saved. But John also knows there’s a catch: Jesus saves, yes, but Jesus reveals. The light of the world that casts shadows, separates light from dark. Where there had been tones of gray there is now sharp contrast. God sent the Son into the world to save it but his coming has been a judgement—literally a crisis. And the crisis is this: before, in the twilight, our options were hidden but now the light shines and the shadows are clear. The world now has fewer options. “Maybe” will no longer do as an answer. Only “yes” or “no.” Which is it going to be: the light or the dark? Since Jesus came there is no evading the choice. A choice that ought to be easy, thinks John.
But it hasn’t been. This is John’s scandal. This is what John can barely believe. That the light has come into the world and yet the world has loved darkness better. How can it be that when salvation is on offer—free, gratis, and for nothing—how can it have been so rejected? He came to his own but his own would not receive him. The light came but we tried to extinguish him. How could we do it? Why is the choice so hard?
There’s a Lenten question for us! If we so want salvation, healing, freedom, why do we so prefer to be lost, to be sick, to be bound? Why do we so prefer to lose, to sicken, to bind? As Lent carries us closer to the drama of Holy Week it must bring us, too, to a crisis. What are we afraid of? What are we hiding? What keeps us out of the light? It’s not as if we had to be perfect—my God, that’s why we need salvation in the first place—we just need to be willing to come out of hiding and to let the light shine on us with all our complex mixture of good and bad, of strength and weakness, of vice and virtue. On pain and need and rage. We just need to be willing to be who we are. To let the light reveal our wholeness so that we might love ourselves the way that God loves us.
March 9th, 1997