These were written by Angela Blundell in a similar style to the advent reflections
The atmosphere was electric. Every year is the same, always excitement and celebrations, families drawn together to remember how the Lord spared us from death and delivered us from the oppression of Egyptian rule, but this time there was something else. It wasn’t so much excitement, but hysteria, there was an undertone to the urgency in the market, in the square, the temple, the streets, everywhere there was something different. It had been building all week we realised, something was going to happen.
By the time we got back we realised that everyone had gone and only the 12 would be left. We breathed a sigh of relief as we finished our preparations, and readied the room for the meal. The men would eat together and we would join them for part of it but with serving and cleaning up we rarely got a chance to properly sit although our Teacher always encouraged it. We would stay for the food, everyone eating together, then we would leave our brothers to talk.
It started differently. As the men arrived we sent our servant with water and towels but our Teacher gently removed them from his hands and knelt down to wash their feet himself. Tears pricked the back of my eyes. We were always being surprised by Him. There was always something unexpected, and now, here he was, our Teacher, our Lord and he was washing the feet of others. They protested of course, embarrassed maybe? Certainly not happy with him doing it, but he insisted. And then we sat.
We shared the meal. We finished eating and got up, serving more food, pouring more wine, removing finished platters. The disciples barely noticed us, men didn’t really notice, but our Teacher met each of our eyes and nodded in thanks. Even though we knew our place as women, it always seemed that in his eyes we were in fact, just as important. I don’t even know how he did it, but somehow we knew that he noticed our contribution and valued it as much as the men who gathered around him. He encouraged our questions and our comments in spite of some of the surprised looks from other people.
Then it happened… he stood and raised some bread and broke it “eat this in remembrance of me”. The words echoed in my head as the loaf was passed around and each took a piece. Then he raised a carafe of wine and poured some into his cup… this was passed too and they all poured some into their own cups and took a sip. “Do this to remember me.” I shuddered. The warmth had gone from the room even though the fire burned and the extra candles and lamps we had put in lit it well. I missed what he said after that but the men were looking at each other uneasily around the table…
It was time to leave for prayer. Every night, after sundown, our Teacher and Lord would go out to pray. We would go to the garden at the base of the mountain, filled with olive and fig trees, and plants whose flowers scented the air. We walked, just some of us tonight, and for some reason Judas decided to come tonight and puffed along behind us. We were quiet. Normally we’d walk to the garden and talk, questioning, listening to explanations but tonight He was quiet. I couldn’t think of anything to say. So much was going on in my head I could hardly work things out. There was a sadness about our Lord tonight, the way he looked at us, the way he walked. Everything about him radiated sorrow. He moved slowly, heavily, as if the weight of the world were on his shoulders.
I thought of the argument we had had at the table about who would be at his right hand. Our discussions over the last few days had been laden with suggestion and meaning. He had said that he would be leaving us, that he would even die. That one of us would betray him. That one of us would deny him. How could he think those things of us? His friends, his followers, his disciples. I had asked him privately what was going on and he shook his head and patted my shoulder, turning away and doing something else. He couldn’t even confide in me now.
We arrived, the perfumed garden was quiet and peaceful. There was no one about, most would have been indoors with their families remembering the passover. Our Teacher walked ahead and motioned for us to stay, “to pray that we would not fall into temptation”. Temptation for what? We sat on the ground, still warm from the days sun, I fitted myself against the trunk of an olive tree, and rested for a bit, trying to find words to describe my feelings so I could pray. I was so tired…
Can you not stay awake for a moment! My Lord’s voice broke through my tiredness and I sat up to see his face looking at me, grieved and sad. We all looked at each other ashamed and then he went off, we settled back into our positions, telling each other we would stay awake now but soon I could feel myself drifting again… then I heard a noise. Someone was crying, sobbing, pleading. I glanced at the others but they were fully asleep so I crept closer towards the sound, hoping that my Lord was okay, maybe someone was hurting him. Peering through the trees I saw him, he was kneeling on the ground, his face almost in the dirt, “let this cup pass from me” he said, and raised his face. There were tears rolling down his face. The sweat was beaded on his forehead. I had never seen a man so urgent and desperate in his prayer. “yet not my will but yours” he said.
I felt a chill run through me. Whose will? What was so hard? What did it mean? My teacher’s face was more peaceful now so I crawled back to my friends and waited, drifting off again “not my will but yours…”
It would be so easy they said. You don’t need to worry about anything, just get him to the garden and once he is there let us know and we will do the rest. Something sat heavy in my stomach. I could hardly eat the meal, although there was a lot of food and everyone seemed to be looking around at each other and at me. I reached for my cup and drank deeply, hoping the wine would quell this uneasiness but all that happened was that Teacher singled me out. I pretended I knew nothing. I knew he wouldn’t know what I’d done, how could he? I would go and get our supplies and no one would question that I had some extra money. That money we could give to the poor or needy or keep it for something we needed.
We left the house after a while. Teacher was in a strange mood, quiet, thoughtful, almost sad. The women saw us out, it made me uneasy as they watched us. He laid his hand briefly on their heads as we went out the door. That was strange, he rarely touched the women, of course those following us would, in the hope of healing or forgiveness or whatever. Sometimes we had to hold them back but he never refused their attention, but he never gave it either. I shook myself. I was becoming just as strange as Peter and James and John, having arguments about who sat where at the table and being told one was going to deny him. How could you deny Him? Everyone knew we were his followers, it was no secret, we wouldn’t have a hope of pretending otherwise.
We went to Gethsemane. I was glad of the lamp and torches we had thought to bring as the sun had set. Teacher set himself aside from us and asked the others to keep watch. Knowing that they wouldn’t notice, I slipped away.
“How will we know it’s him?” The leader of the guards demanded. I rolled my eyes, like he wouldn’t recognise him? “He’s the one I’ll greet with a kiss,” I said, and they nodded, checking their swords and adjusting their armour as they walked along. We got to the garden and I saw them looking sleepy and Jesus chastising them. I almost snorted as I saw the men. They thought themselves so clever and close to him, yet they now looked sheepish and chastened. I walked up and kissed him as a brother and he looked at me. There was something in his face… disappointment? resignation? and deep down something else… it wasn’t quite anger, it could have been pity. I stepped back quickly and the soldiers moved to take him. Peter, the moron, sliced one of their ears off, but even though he was being arrested, like always Jesus did not know when enough was enough and he stuck that ear back on and he healed it. It was like it had never happened, and he did it in front of the soldiers who were going to arrest and him and probably get him killed. I mean, who would do that? who would do something so blatant and obvious that he was different? I felt almost justified for a second, he was asking for it, performing miracles, treating women and sinners like they were special and important… the leader of the soldiers thrust a small bag in my hand as they turned to go. It felt heavy. I tied it to my belt, feeling it’s weight at my side. Combined with the weight in my stomach, and something rising up in my chest I started to feel uneasy. As they took him away, the others running away like fools I stood there in the dark, the heaviness rising in me…
Growing up I was the strongest boy my age. Tall and broad. Once I was a man and muscular I had a good wife and we had three fine sons and two daughters who would make good wives. I’d just been promoted when this Jesus man came into Jerusalem, on a donkey of all things, and the people went balmy shouting Hosanna or some suchlike. We had heard of this man, but who hadn’t? But when I was summoned to the temple and told what we had to do, I was surprised. Usually the Rabbis left us alone but now they seemed to think that they were in danger from this guy. Yeah, the one who rode the donkey… and it wasn’t even a big donkey either, it was barely big enough for him to sit on. Anyway, it was easy enough to set up. One of my men had met with one of his followers, a weak man who was easily bought with 30 pieces of silver. I’d been given instruction to pay as much as necessary, the Rabbis and Chief priests had fired up the powerful leaders and everyone was scared of this man. A donkey riding oddball, who spoke at the temple and healed people with some sort of magical power.
I had my sword and a group of men, all armed with strong clubs or swords when the follower, Judas came. He looked small and insignificant but he told us what to do and we went to some garden. The man Jesus looked up. He wasn’t surprised at all, you get to know peoples responses in my kind of work and this man knew we were coming. We grabbed him and one of his people cut off the ear of one of mine… it could have turned nasty then! But then that man picked the ear off the ground and put it back on, and I am not kidding, it stayed there. There was no blood, it was like it’d never happened… and then he told off his man… those who live by the sword would die by the sword or something. Part of me wondered if he was quite, you know, with it.. but another part of me thought WOW, that was something else. I mean I’d heard about the miracles and things but I figured it was just a set up or a bit of fake, but it wasn’t fake, my guy had his ear cut off right in front of me and you couldn’t even tell. Then I came to grips with myself, I had a job to do. I tied him up and led him away, thrusting the bag of money into Judas’ hand as we went.
As we walked along, there was no struggle. He didn’t say anything either. Usually you do jobs like this, criminals, escaped servants or wives, and they will yell or shout or weep or protest, but he just walked. I bet he would have come even if I hadn’t tied him up good and tight.
There was no doubt about it. There was something about that man.
I’ve spent my whole life being just a bit clumsy and stupid. I’m not the best with words, or ideas. I could catch fish and sail a boat and that was about it. But somehow Jesus made me feel like I was going to be something bigger and better than just a fisherman, struggling to make a living. He would trust me with things. He’d talk about the future, about trusting him, about getting to God. Some of it I couldn’t get but other things I understood. He called me his Rock. He gave me a new name. I knew that I was going to be destined for something great. Finally.
Then my world turned upside down. My Teacher, taken away by thugs with large clubs and swords. I tried to defend him, to stop them and I even managed to take an ear off. But then teacher pulled me back, stopping me. Then he did it again. Somehow he always managed to surprise me. He put the ear back onto the man and looked at me, almost reproving… then they took him and then I saw it, a bag of something thrust into Judas’ hands… I followed at a distance, hoping to find out what was happening.
My legs were trembling when I made it to the High Priest’s house. I snuck into the courtyard and slipped as quietly as I could to a fire. It was warm and I held my hands out, to try and stop them shaking and look as casual as possible. A girl stopped and looked, a servant girl carrying a water jug. She asked me if I knew my Master and before I knew it, I was denying him. I shook myself and tried to listen to the voices inside the house but it was impossible amid the noise outside. The girl passed back with a full water jug and stopped again and asked the same question. I tried to deny it quietly, to not draw attention to myself but this time someone else noticed and looked even closer, exclaiming that I was with him. I denied it again, my heart thumping, my words stumbling over themselves to make me heard… then I heard a rooster crowing…
I didn’t mean to be there. I had come with my family to the city for the Passover and they had heard about the Jew who had been arrested. I admit I was curious, even I’d heard of the teacher who claimed to be the Messiah and now they were parading him out for all to see. When the crowd began chanting I tried to leave, but there were too many people , crowding together demanding the annual pardoning of a criminal.
He stood there, thorns around his head causing beads of blood to drip down his face. He had bruises too, on his arms and stomach, lashings from a whip, the blood dark and dried. He looked into the distance, I doubt he even heard the crowd, he didn’t even seem to realise where he was… but he wasn’t out to it, he was just not responding. In the end they tired of the heckling and made him pick up the wood they would use to hang him up. I was a little away by then, and I saw him come up the street. He was stumbling, almost blinded by blood, sweat, tears. The soldiers and the people were screaming, cursing the ugliest things I’d ever heard. It made me shudder, a chill running down my back. Surely this couldn’t be real.
Then he fell again and couldn’t get up. The solider screamed at him, kicking him, but there was no response. I hoped he’d maybe died, it would stop if he died but even I could see that he was alive, breathing hard, unable to move. Then someone grabbed me, the solider who had been screaming moments earlier was in front of me… “You!” he rasped, like someone who had been shouting for a long time “take up his cross”. I looked at him, he was a big man. but so was I and I looked him in the eye. For a moment we stood there and I almost walked away when I caught sight of the teacher. I shook the soldier’s arm off and strode over, lifting the wood off the man’s bloodied back and helping him up. We gazed at each other and I saw strength and love and pain all mingled together in his face. He stumbled a bit and I held him tighter, he looked at me in exhaustion and gratitude.
“NO”, I was pushed away from the man “Pick up the cross”. I managed to lift it up with the soldiers help and settled it on my shoulder, my knees sagged and it took all my strength not to let them bend. How the Messiah had carried that cross all that way all beaten and bruised is beyond me. I walked, tripping over small stones and holes in the ground, hearing the yells and jeers of the crowd, hearing the whip occasionally on the man who followed. It felt like I carried that cross for years, one step after another, heavy, plodding but I held the look of Jesus in my vision, the dark eyes showing more depth than I’d ever seen in any man.
At last I understood. All the comments, all the prophecies, all the hints from the learned and wise, and now it was time. I didn’t want to be there. But I knew I needed to be. I’d spent most of his life feeling frustrated, unable to really understand this child I was to raise, yet loving him so much. And then when he’d started his ministry, refusing to continue to work and provide for his family, leaving his brothers to do the work, I admit I felt some shame. In spite of my efforts he had rarely visited, and when he did it would end in recriminations. My family, Joseph’s family, calling him crazy and wanting him to come home. And all I could remember was the look on his face when he was 12, even then he had a certainty of his call and his work. And now look.
I remember his birth like it was yesterday. The pain. The confusion. Wishing that I had not taken this long journey with Joseph and had stayed at home. The smell of hay and animals, musty and dark. Women from the house had come and they had held my hand and encouraged me through that long night. He came quickly in the end, small but strong, bellowing briefly before finding my breast. After, the woman had cleaned me up she brought some swaddling cloth and showed me how to wrap him securely and easily so he could be changed and washed when needed.
And now. No shepherds and angels. No surreal magic or strange visitors but hatred and bitterness. My precious baby, born of my body, nourished by my breast, the child of my heart was dying. As he hung on the wood in the ground, the agony was clear on his face and he looked at me. We connected for a moment and then he looked at his beloved disciple John. “This is your mother,” he said to him and he looked at me and said, “this is your son.” Even in so much pain, he remembered me. I felt an ache of grief and the guilt that I’d felt over some of our conversations ebbed away as I realised that he was doing what he could to make sure I would be well and safe. I heard his words of forgiveness to one of the other men and I knew that those words were for me as well.
That cry, it carried on the breeze and then darkness came, the earth shaking and groaning. I fell to my knees and looked up. His body was still. All around me there were screams, not of hatred now, but of fear, most were running away but I stayed there. Rocks dug into my legs but I stayed, I watched my son in his death as I had watched him take his first breath
It was done.
There was so much to do. We rose early, making sure fires were lit and animals were fed so we could go to the tomb before anyone else was around. The men were shut away, miserable and afraid, they wouldn’t even look out the window and refused to let us get the door when people knocked.
I ground spices together, we found the oils and perfumes that were needed to tend the body. We talked quietly about how we could move the rock, it had taken many men to move it we’d heard, but they had posted guards so maybe they could help. Even though Teacher had been a hated man, they would surely let us complete our burial rituals in peace. Surely.
The sun had just started to rise as we walked along. All around us we could see rubble and broken things, from the earthquake of a few days ago. There was no one about, some thin stray dogs nudging at rubbish searching for food. We hurried, keeping our voices low, towards the place where the tomb was.
We were thankful for it. We would not have had enough money to buy one had not the man from Arimathea stepped in. At least Teacher would have a decent place to rest, unlike other criminals whose bodies were just thrown into the pit at the far gate of the city.
There were a number of tombs, usually belonging to families, rocks and boulders and the odd wooden door protecting them from vandalism. Not that people would stay there anyway, they would have been too afraid of what might happen. There were plants and trees as well. It was a peaceful place…
Then we stopped. Gasping. The boulder had gone. The men who were guarding it were asleep. Asleep?! We couldn’t actually believe our eyes, there is no way a Roman guard would fall asleep on duty. It was considered treason. Yet there they were. We hurried into the dim tomb, fumbling with our lamp but there was nothing there. Some grave clothes. We could barely breathe, and backed away, out of the tomb. The sun had risen further and was touching the rocks, lighting them with a strange glow, in the distance we saw a man, and went towards him, surely he must know where our teacher was? Tears and sobs poured out of us, the sadness of the last few days brimming over in our fear.
Where is he? Our teacher? His body is gone. The man looked at me, unfamiliar yet
Then one word, Mary… I looked at him, we looked at each other, my sisters they drew closer, and I saw. I fell to my feet and kissed the hem of his robes. HIs robes? He was dressed. He told us to go and tell the others. He placed a hand on each of us, like he did the night before he died. A benediction. We turned and hurried away, we starting running as the warmth of the sun finally penetrated our bones. We hurried home. Our teacher! Our Lord! Alive!
I didn’t believe them. The women woke us with their shouting and tears, their joy and laughter almost inappropriate given what we’d been through. He is alive, he is alive. He has returned! I looked at my brothers. There was hope in their eyes just as I felt it in my heart but in my head knew that it was for nothing. The scent of the perfumes and spices must have gone to their heads.
Go, go go… the women pushed me out the door, I had barely enough time to grab my coat and slip on my sandals. We walked quickly, heads down to avoid anyone, hurrying to the grave yard. Once there we realised something was wrong, the guards had gone and the boulder moved. We hesitantly moved in, it was never our role to tend the dead, we didn’t really know what to look for but there, sitting there as clear as day was a man, an… an angel. He had an otherworldly glow, dressed simply, no wings or anything but clearly not a man.
“He is not here,” the figure said, “He has risen.”
We backed out, hope flamed in my heart again but my head stopped it. It could not be true. It could not.