Print Version April 15th, 2001
So I slapped her, I slapped her, and I said, “I’m Peter, I’m the Rock, and I’m the one he left in charge, and I’m having none of this nonsense, especially from an hysterical, old whore like you Magdalene!”
I know—I can hear you gasp—I’m not proud of that. Not one bit. But I’m full up to here with things I’m not proud of these last few days—so what’s one more piled up on top, eh? And it was the last thing we needed, she should have known better, not rushing in here, making all kinds of noise, attracting attention and all, gasping and wailing. “Quiet woman! Do you want us all dead like him!?” But she wouldn’t stop and that’s when I slapped her.
And then … between … gasps … she was … spilling it out. Some story. Body-snatchers: his tomb broken open. Another story, another rumour. Like the idiot spreading the tale that the Master didn’t really die—that we switched bodies. Or that we spirited him down off that filthy cross by magic. I wish we could have done. O God yes! … People just don’t want to admit it. Don’t want to accept it. He’s dead. We failed him. And he’s dead. I failed him. … And he’s dead.
If anyone should know that it’s Magdalene. She saw. She watched. … I … I was … somewhere else … I didn’t see. But I believe it. I believe the blood and the screaming and the sound of nails. I believe the silence. Hell, it’s been silent in here since I heard the news. Echoing silence. Empty silence. Just my own betrayal ringing off the walls of my soul, “I do not know him,” accusing me over and over, nothing else. Hollow.
He was the best man I’ve ever known. He made me hope. He made me laugh. He made me think. … He made me preach! He made me—made me into something, something more than the flaky, foul-mouthed fisherman I was. He made me see, more and more, about rich and poor, about life and death, about love, about his passionate, vulnerable, forgiving, living God.
When I look back and see how I got up that day, emptied out my life for him, upped and followed … like a fool. But he was … special. I do not know—I’ve been saying it over and over—I don’t know why he did what he did these last days. But I never knew him. Why he asked for trouble? Why he walked up and begged for it. But more than that, I don’t know how he did it. How he went through with it. How he expected me to, too. How he didn’t back down. Wouldn’t. Back in Bethany I asked him. I said, “Master, this is stupid. This is pride. This is wrong! Don’t throw it away like this. Bide your time. Maybe next year? Marching into the Holy City right now we’d be like lambs to the slaughter. Why risk it?” And he answered me, he did, light at first, “If this is the Holy City, where could we be safer!?” but then, seeing my frown, slow and serious like he could get sometimes. “How can I un-say what I’ve said, Peter? How can I go back on my word? I don’t want to die, Peter, but better one man dies than God be made a liar.”
I wish I could unsay what I’ve said. Unsay my words. Undo my denials. Do it all over different. Stand by him this time, the one who stood by me. Say it, with love, with pride with relief,: “Yes, I do know him.”
Oh Mary kept on weeping, frantic. And you—you he always loved more than any of us—you were looking at me as if I were … Oh I don’t know! With eyes like his. Not accusing. Not angry. I wish you were. Sorrow? He looked at me like that. Challenge? His eyes could speak bibles in a glance. And forgive a sea of sins. God I wish he could forgive me now. I couldn’t meet your eyes. But I didn’t need to because before I knew it you were off and running. And there I was, the leader, following. Again. Trying to keep up. You and me. Running through the empty streets—curfew crashing around us—and me at any rate panting like an old man—and praying, “Please God don’t let it be true, don’t let us have to go through any more of this, just let it be over, let it be over.”
Panting and praying. And you were out of way ahead. I didn’t catch sight of you until I caught up and found you here. And found out Magdalene was right, the tomb mouth was open, gaping. Mary was right. And you were just standing there. Standing there. Standing there. God I hate it when you get that knowing look that leaves me feeling stupid. But there was the hole in the rock, ahead of me, staring at me, the tomb dark and echoing. And inviting me. And I couldn’t believe it but I was stooping and looking in. The cool darkness calming me, drawing me. Then I was in. Inside. Crossing the threshold like the high priest entering the Holy of Holies. Into the sacred, empty heart of all things. I am inside. And it is empty. Full of emptiness. And my heart is pounding. And I don’t know what to think. But my empty heart is filling up. “Please God let it not be over.” And tears are pouring down my beard like blessings. “Let me have another chance.” And silence, breaking like bread, is on my tongue. “Let me live again.” And emptiness, echoing like love, is forgiving me. And then you are behind me saying, for once, the obvious. “He isn’t here.” And though you are right, for once, you are wrong. I’d know him and his touch anywhere. “No, he is here. And, yes, I do know him.”