I don’t mind the darkness anyway – I have been there too often, and it holds no fears for me; there is nothing a man can do to me in it that has not been done. Our one worry was that stone. I had no idea how we were going to move it. But we wanted to finish what we had started just before the Sabbath. We were the closest women to him, and we would do what the Law specified. A broken heart was no excuse – nor was the thought that the soldiers might not welcome our presence; if necessary, I could pay them good money to let us in.
We had left the men back at the house. It would have been good to have had Peter’s strong right arm, but he’d not been the same since the night they had taken the Lord – but then nor had any of us. Mary came with me directly, and we picked up Salome on the way. By the time we reached the tomb, the light was breaking in shards across the horizon; the sun would soon be up. Now for the Romans and that stone.
The dawn’s early light revealed chaos – there were no guards, although there were cloaks and swords scattered about – I glanced quickly, but none of them were bloodied. As we were wondering what on earth had happened we looked in amazement – the stone had been rolled away. Mary and myself dashed forward, leaving Salome to follow, but I was faster than she was and when I got inside there was, I thought for a moment, no one there; until my eyes adjusted to the light – that wasn’t a torch, it was someone bathed in light; Salome and Mary had stopped at the entrance to the cave – the light had grown brighter.
The man sitting on the ledge where they had lain the Lord turned his gaze on me, and I could hardly bear the light. ‘Do not be afraid’, he told me, his very voice assuaging my fears, ‘I know you seek Jesus, but he is not here; he has risen. Do you not remember that He told you He would rise again on the third day? Go, tell the brethren that He is not here, He has risen!’
We went back to the house, and all these years later I recall the anxiety on the face of the disciple who opened the door – perhaps he imagined the beating on the door was the Romans come for them. I told Peter, John and the others what I had seen, and the other women confirmed it. But they would not believe us, thinking we were hysterical with our grief. How often had they failed to understand him – and yet they clung, still, for the last time, to their way of seeing him. Peter ran off to see for himself, with John following – and I followed them both. When I got there I saw John had outdistanced Peter, but he waited for the older man to go in first. They saw me, and they confirmed what I had told them; such is the way of men, bless them. Excited, exhilarated, they ran off to tell the others.
But I was tired now, I had not the fitness or vigour of the men, and I was exhausted, grappling with conflicting emotions. I could not attach meaning to the words I had heard earlier, perhaps the men were right, perhaps I was hysterical with grief? Goodness knows I had cause. The tears came suddenly. All I could think of was that his body was gone and that we could not do for him what we had come to do. The tears poured from my eyes. As I looked up through my tears, I saw the light again. ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘Because they have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ I turned round to go, in my great distress, only to find the way blocked by a man – whom I took to be the custodian of the tombs or the gardener. He, too, asked me why I was weeping, and asked me whom it was I sought. I asked him where Jesus was, where he had been taken so I could go to do what needed to be done. There was a moment’s silence – and I knew of a sudden that life was not ended – just changed.
‘Mary’, he said. The clouds cleared, the light shone bright as noon, and all my tears of sadness turned to ones of joy. It was Jesus – He was alive: ‘Rabboni’, I said, falling to my knees and reaching out to touch his feet. ‘Do not hold on to me Mary, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go and tell the brethren, tell them I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.’ Marvelling at this, I lay prostrate before Him. I went back and did as I had been told; and now they believed, all bar Thomas who was not there.
Mother Mary loves me to share my story with her, not least every Resurrection Sunday, and I see in her eyes, his eyes, and his special smile, and that makes me happy too. As we come to the end of another anniversary of that day, Mary smiles again at me as I settle her for sleep. She grows weak now, and the long sleep will soon, I sense, come to her, but something tells me she will not taste death as I shall. These many years I have loved and tended to her, I have been a daughter to her, and she has been my mother. It was my place to bear the first witness to the Risen Lord – and when I said, as I did this morning in response to the greeting from John ‘He is Risen!’, that ‘He is Risen indeed!’, it all came back to me as though it were yesterday. But now I must make sure that Mother Mary is comfortable.
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