My mind was closed to any kindness. Comfort was unwelcome. I wanted to suffer, needed to suffer. For two days I had been wandering in a timeless fog of grief. My vision blurred with the blood, the ripped torso. All I could hear was the screaming as the precious flesh was punctured and torn.
His magnetism had always been palpable and, once again, today I found myself drawn to him, to where he lay, longing for the proximity of our bodies to bring me solace.
As I neared the entrance, I felt my stomach lurch and then rise quickly in a wash of panic. The stone had been heaved to one side and I froze. Raiders? Romans? The body? Had they taken him? Too scared to go further, I turned and ran, back through the dark streets which awaited the morning sun to enliven them. Retching, I returned to the house. My eyes streaming with tears of anger and helplessness. In the upper room I found them and threw myself at Peter’s feet.
‘What is it? What’s happened?’
It came out in a shocked whisper. ‘They’ve taken his body from the tomb.’
Peter and John exchanged urgent glances and went running down the stairs and out into the dawn light. I let them go and followed them slowly, my aching body anchored by fresh grief.
When I arrived, John ran to meet me, his eyes dancing.
‘It’s as he said! He has risen! ‘In three days I will rise again’…he meant himself! Don’t you see?’
I stared at him, confused. I didn’t see at all. I had never heard him say that…when did he speak these words? Why wasn’t I there? I looked down at my body. A woman’s body. Good for nothing but cleaning and bearing children, with no place in the world of men and judgement and power. But he had given me a voice. He had protected me and taught me what it is to forgive and accept. To love.
As Peter and John disappeared back to their lodging, I forced myself forward and peered into the cave. Inside were two men, dressed in white robes, sitting where his broken body had lain. I sank to my knees, exhausted and confused. And, in the privacy of that gentle place, I allowed myself to weep.
‘Woman, why are you crying?’
I stood up and steadied myself against the entrance, exhausted by grief. As I turned I noticed the gardener approaching and covered my tear-stained face with my shawl.
He echoed the same question, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
My mind was darting between reason and confusion. Did the Romans have him? Why would they be interested in a murdered Jew? Or the Pharisees? Caiaphas! Is this his doing? A final blow to dissolve his memory from our wracked bodies. I wondered if the gardener might know something. Perhaps he saw who took him, or helped them even. I bowed my head and asked ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’
Like the smell of your child’s skin or the pitch of its cry, the familiarity was overwhelming.
‘Rabboni?’ In elated disbelief I ran to him, and threw myself into his arms, never wanting to let go.
‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’
I looked into his eyes and a wave of clarity dried my tears. I nodded, knowing that it was not just my physical embrace he spoke of. I needed to let him go in my heart too. To cling on to the past would be too painful, an open wound. He was my healer, my saviour, my God.
Against every part of my being, I left him and went to find the others. They were together, in hiding, addressing each other with whispered urgency. I waited until their murmurs abated and caught the haunted gaze of Mary, still traumatised by her son’s violent death. I smiled and took her hand. I glanced around the room to address the eleven and then returned to his mother’s questioning face.
‘I have seen the Lord’
Her brow furrowed and tears watered my eyes as I smiled and nodded the affirmation she was so desperate to hear. Yes, Mary, Yes! He is alive!
I was soon surrounded by the disciples, Peter and John still fired-up with certainty but the rest caught off-guard and suspicious as to why I would have been first to see him, to touch him and believe. A woman.
Yes, I thought, a woman. Hadn’t they listened to him at all? When had he ever conformed to the patriarchal prejudices of society? Hadn’t it always been the least likely person that he embraced and exonerated? And, but for my gender, I was one of his most devoted disciples.
I saw him again. We all did. He stayed with us, briefly, and then, as he said he must, he left us. Full of hope, determination and faith. Full of Love.