Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Mary's Meditation

That’s everything ready then, all the food prepared, house clean and tidy – just a moment’s peace to sit down and wait for them to arrive. The three from Bethany will get here first – they have the longest journey after all, that’s why I suggested they should stop overnight and go back tomorrow. Then Peter, and his wife and her Mum.

Martha gets on so well with the old lady- they will sit and swap recipes and chat about things, and when they think I am not looking, Martha will run her finger through some dust she has found and raise an eyebrow at her friend and they will smile knowingly at one another. And I will look over to Mary who has been watching silently, and she will grin at me and wink. Mary understands – she agrees with me that sometimes it is better to enjoy the company than worry about the housekeeping.
Mind you, this week I have been a bit more worried than usual. Got up at dawn yesterday and cleaned the place top to bottom, then went to the market to get all the stuff for preparing the food. It’s the first time in ages that the whole crowd have been round for a meal and I do want it to be special.

Once they get here and everyone is settled, I shall ask one of the brothers to say the blessing. Thomas, I think – his faith is so strong, and I love the way he says what’s needed when he prays, without going on and on in flowery language. And he will remind us of what the Master said at that last meal “Whenever you eat and drink together, remember me”…

Remember! Jesus, how could we forget! Forget the three incredible years when you taught us all so much and showed us what our Father God was really like. Especially how could we forget those awful, yet awe-inspiring days at the end?

It was Passover, and Jesus and the men were having their meal together. So Zebedee’s widow – yet another of us Mary’s – had invited me to share Passover with her, as her boys were with the Master. We were sitting quietly after supper, thinking about turning in to sleep, when James and John came pounding on the door. Their words came tumbling out, it was hard at first to make sense of it all – it seems that, after the meal, Jesus had suggested they went for a walk in the Garden - it was cool and peaceful among the olive groves, and often in the evening he went there to pray. Only on this evening things seem to have gone all wrong- the others fell asleep - too much food, too tired…. and just as Jesus was waking them up, along came Judas with some soldiers who arrested the Master.

The disciples all panicked and ran before they got arrested too- although Peter tried to follow at a distance to see what was happening. Jesus was taken to the High Priest’s House. It was all so horrible, trumped up charges, accusations – and all through it all, Peter said Jesus stood there dignified and behaving like the King that he really is. Then they bundled him off to Pilate – the Romans had taken away some of the powers of the Sanhedrin and so executions could only be carried out by order of the Roman authorities.

We heard that things were happening at the Praetorian Palace and we all went down there. Word had obviously got round the city and huge crowds were gathering. Well, Jerusalem was already packed, with people arriving for the Passover. Pilate stood on his balcony – and said that as it was our special religious feast time, he would follow the custom of pardoning one prisoner. He had Jesus on one side and on the other side stood Barabbas, a violent criminal, a murderer – a nasty piece of work. Everybody knew he was evil, and hated him.

And yet, when Pilate asked what should happen to Jesus, they all yelled Crucify! I couldn’t understand it- so many of them were the same people who had waved palm branches and shouted Hosanna! only a few days before. I did see some of the High Priest’s thugs in amongst the people though – maybe folk had been threatened, and were scared to demand the execution of Barabbas.

Everything got slowly worse after that – the soldiers had wrapped a purple robe round Jesus and plaited a cruel crown of thorns for his head. He was forced to carry his cross up to the Golgotha Hill where they often had executions, and then they put Jesus on the cross with a thief placed each side of him. The kindest, gentlest man I have ever known – whose hands were always stretched out to heal, and to help and to comfort – they took those hands and drove filthy, rusty iron nails through them.
Crowds had followed the sad procession at first, but they didn’t hang around. People don’t usually – it isn’t a pleasant experience watching men die like that. The way they hang them means they can’t breathe, so it is a slow, painful suffocating death. Often the condemned will use what little breath they have to swear and curse and declare the injustice of it all.

So after a while there were just the soldiers keeping guard, and us women. I have no idea where his disciples had gone – were they hiding, or praying for a miracle, or what? Only John was brave enough and strong enough to keep watch with us.
And Jesus – even though he was dying – seemed to be strong too. He asked John to look after his mother. Poor Mary – she stayed the whole time, her eyes fixed on his face – yet somehow it seemed as if she had known all along that her son’s life would end in suffering like this. She looked as if her heart was breaking – and she wept each time he cried out “My God why have you forsaken me?” and then “It is accomplished” and finally “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” – and he died. Everyone moved away then, and waited to see what would happen – Joseph –from Arimathea - and Nicodemus had somehow made arrangements that Jesus’ body could be placed in a garden tomb.

I was glad about that – so often the bodies of executed criminals were just cut down and left by the roadside, or flung on a fire. These two men, who were both rich and influential risked their position and status by asking for the body – but we women were all so concerned what would happen to Jesus. We watched as the men and their servants gently carried his broken body and wrapped it in clean linen and laid it to rest. A huge stone was rolled across the entrance to the tomb. The weather was awful, thunder and lightning and even an earthquake. The Sabbath was starting and we walked back silently in the rain.

I spent the next day on my own – thinking over all that had happened. This man had turned my life upside down, and now he was gone. What would happen now? Now Jesus was dead would our group fall apart? Would the authorities try and execute Peter and the others too? Perhaps they’d just go back up north and take up fishing again.

What would I do? My life had been an utter mess when I met Jesus. I’d moved from Magdala after what they call ‘troubles in my private life’ and for a while hadn’t really made any friends. I suppose a woman on her own with a bit of money is a good source of gossip, and I because I hadn’t told people what had happened in my past, they made up stories to explain it – they probably still do!

But when I met Jesus … I didn’t need to explain anything to him. He looked into my eyes, and I knew he understood everything. The shame, the pain, the anger, and above all the loneliness and the feelings of worthlessness. And Jesus made it all come right again – I knew I was forgiven for my mistakes, and that my Heavenly Father loved me. I knew I could start over, and make a new life with God’s help. Jesus gave me the confidence for that. And his friends- they accepted me too, simply because he did. He had shown them that everyone was precious in the sight of God, and we had no rights to judge each other.

But Jesus was dead. What now? Would the sense of confidence and protection I had felt when he was around just vanish in the mist now? John was looking after Mary, and the other women had husbands to protect them – but what about me?

All night I lay awake, weeping and trying to pray, and wrestling with all that had happened. Every time I closed my eyes to sleep I just kept seeing that image of his beaten, bruised body on the cross. It was all so cruel, so wrong. I had been so sure he could have stopped it somehow. Yet he seemed to accept it…as a child, I remember seeing some sheep on their way to be slaughtered. They had a look in their eyes – almost as if they were saying “We know this has to happen, this is part of the plan for us, and we accept it” His eyes were like that – sad, and majestic.
I went over and over it all in my mind – three years of stories, and meals, and prayers, and miracles. Of laughter, and weeping, and loving, and learning. And now it was all over. I would never see his beautiful, caring yet piercing eyes again, I would never hear his voice – which could be gentle or stern, but always saying exactly the right words for the moment. All over. He was dead. I wished I were dead too.

I must have dozed a little, because I woke up just before dawn, and I was certain then of what I wanted to do. I wanted to anoint his body, with myrrh and aloes, and precious spices. This one last gesture of love. I decided to go really early to the garden, before the other women arrived, if I could. I didn’t want to intrude on his mother’s grief. I hoped I could find a man to help me roll the stone away. It was still dark when I got there but I could see the stone had already been moved . Although I didn’t go in, I could tell that the ledge where they had laid his body was empty. I heard a noise behind me. It was Peter and John.

I ran to them – “they have taken him!” I cried, and the men went in, and saw the grave clothes all folded up neatly. John and Peter were upset, and went back to tell the others that the body had gone. I just stood there, weeping, then I found the courage to go into the tomb myself. There were two men, dressed in white, seated inside “Why are you crying?” they asked me. “They have taken my Lord” I said. Then I heard another voice behind me “Woman, why are you crying?” I was so distressed, and I guessed it was the man in charge of the garden – “Please, where have you put him?” I sobbed “Tell me!”

And then he spoke again - “Mary” – nobody else ever said my name quite like that. The voice I thought I should never hear again. I couldn’t take it in. Not Jesus – I had seen him die – and yet here he was, really, truly alive. I wanted to cling to him, to never let him go again, to stay there with him forever. “No Mary,” he said, gently helping me to my feet “Go back – tell the others – especially Peter. Tell them I am alive”

And I knew then that everything would be all right. Nothing would ever be the same – but whatever happened next, it would be ok. Despite the fact I had not slept properly for 48 hours, I ran all the way to Peter’s house.

At first, some of the brothers took a bit of convincing – but Jesus appeared to them too, and then a few weeks later, he went back to heaven – but he kept his promise, His Holy Spirit came to us – and every one of us knows His power and strength every day now – wherever we are, together or alone. And he before he went back to heaven, he told us to pass on this good news to the whole world – our sins have been paid for, we can have forgiveness and eternal life, and peace in our hearts. And nothing can separate us from God’s love. Ever.

It is amazing. The authorities were a bit taken aback by what was happening – from a tiny group of Northerners, we have mushroomed into this massive crowd of people, young and old, men and women, all following the Way of Jesus. Peter and the others have become really confident speakers, and God has given them the strength and power they need to spread the Good News. And the love and care and concern among our community is fantastic. People share what they have, and nobody goes without.

It has made such an impact, not just here in Jerusalem, but the word is spreading throughout the whole Roman Empire, they say. Jesus Christ- the Son of God – my Saviour. He died, and he rose from the dead- and I know that one day, he will come again, in person, to take me to be in heaven with him forever.

I love to invite people round for the evening, and share food and talk about Jesus, explain how he has given me a purpose for living. I just love to tell people about Him, to watch their faces when they really understand for the first time what it all means.

But today, it’s my old friends who are coming round – the ones who went through those special times together. We can share stories, and celebrate God’s goodness. And like he asked us to, we will remember what he has done for us, and be grateful – and look forward to that fabulous banquet we will share with him one day when he comes back.

We will rejoice and celebrate – Christ crucified, risen and coming again. We will eat, and remember Him – just like he told us to…

©Angela Almond Easter 2008

3 comments:

  1. The scripture where Jesus says, "Mary" and she turns and cries "Rabboni" always makes me weep. Your story was lovely.

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  2. Angela, this was so very GOOD! My eldest girl will love this, I'd like to print it off for her.

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  3. Dulce, I hope she enjoys it!

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