“How will it be when none more saith ‘I saw’? (Browning)

In spite of our efforts he would not eat. I kept telling the men that he could not eat, but as usual they acted as though he were something more than human and was, thereby, immune from the frailties of the flesh. I reminded Xanthus and Valens that while it was true that he was the last of them, he must have been nearly a century old; but they were adamant, he would not pass before the ending of this age. That explained the presence of all the “righteous”; they were waiting for the end times and the coming in glory of the Saviour.

Never had I cared for one so old. It was miraculous enough that he was still with us, and as his nurse I too felt the awe which attached to the one who had stood at the foot of the Cross and watched the Christ die. I had been brought into his house by Mary, the mother of the Christ and I had watched with him and the others as she passed into the hands of her Son. But that was when I was barely sweet and twenty and knew so much. At thrice that, I knew only that I wished I knew as much as I had thought I had known then; perhaps I could have found a way of helping. As it was, I wetted his lips and I sang to him and held his hand. How translucent it was; it was like the finest linen.

Valens broke open a bottle of perfume and the sleeper turned and seemed almost to wake. But it was only when the boy brought the tablet and read “I am the resurrection and the life” that he stirred and the light came into his eyes once more. That smile! Like the last flaring of a fire when poked, for a moment I saw the man I had first known. He spoke as one inspired, though one had to lean in close; that voice, once so deep, was now like unto the reedy cry of the desert bird.

Of all he spoke a record was kept, and it will find its place alongside his other writings I do not doubt. What I recall now is the sadness of his countenance as he spoke of how, as the Christ did not come again as people expected, even some of those who said they believed began to doubt. They spread their discontent, with some even questioning whether he had been at the foot of the Cross; could he be who he said he was? His eyes flickered with his wonted humour as he quipped: “Nay, said I to them, they were written by another John, perhaps?” But half-wits failed to capture the quickness of his wit.

Sitting upright, not without effort or help from me, he looked at us all. “Knowest thou not, little children, how simple it is – love one another! And yet, instead, mankind questions and waits.” Some had the grace to look shamefaced. They knew themselves in the words. “The search for proof that ye seek is not directed aright. I am but a witness and ye may doubt my words, though I saw him and touched him. That testimony is true. But that is not enough. Ye seek signs. Signs were given, are given; that too is not enough. What survives is love, and love begets faith, and faith begets hope and hope begets love. Love is not that we love him, but that though we are sinners, he loves us and always did. What more do ye want?”.

He stopped, his voice failing, and asked for wine; I put the cup to his lips. He smiled one last time and saying “little children, love one another’, he passed from this world to a better one. “But where,” said Cerinthus, “is the Saviour? If he comes not within the dozen years that mark the Apostles, then you must follow me.” And some did. I stayed with Valens and we buried John. They wait still; we have our reward.