An Easter Story

by Phil Johnson

Mary did not sleep that night. She was troubled by discussion among the followers. They were together because they were friends not because of faith or anticipation. Some talked about what they were planning do. Others expressed opinions about recent events.

"Jesus was a prophet and a friend, but he should not have come to Jerusalem for this passover," said one.

"He certainly misjudged the situation," said another.

"I think he was eager to die like a prophet," someone else chipped in.

"Well, it's all over now."

These comments troubled Mary, especially the last one. Sometimes they talked about personal words they had exchanged with Jesus, about things they had done together. When they talked about that, Mary's heart was lifted. When they cried, which from time to time some did, she felt better. It was the practical, somewhat cynical talk that disturbed her most. It made her angry. But she confessed to God and to herself that she, too, had these thoughts. "How long can I keep myself from accepting reality?

"Maybe we should go check the sepulchre," someone said.

"You can't be serious. There are guards all around it, I'll bet. You might as well march down to the High Priest and say, 'Arrest me.'"

"That's right. It will be a while before it's safe to visit there. A big stone in front of the tomb is all there is see anyway."

With these comments Mary began to resolve a crazy resolve. She would go to the tomb. Tonight. Before dawn. Her body tingled with excitement and anticipation. She knew it was a crazy idea. But there was sense to it, too. She thought, "The men dare not do They would be arrested. A group dare not approach tomb. But, a woman alone, a person like me who has absolutely nothing to lose, could do it. I'll go myself. If things are all right, I'll return and go with the other women in the morning," she decided, wondering if she really would do it.

Conversation began to subside. People were drifting to sleep. Mary found a spot to lie down. She said nothing to anyone about her idea. They would restrain her or feel guilty about not taking the risk themselves or want to accompany her — which would not work.

After the last mumbled words had died away and the dark night air was filled with sounds of heavy snoring, Mary gathered her cloak around her and silently slipped into the night.

"This is foolish," she thought. But at the same time excitement welled up within her. The problems of her quest: the dark path, the stone at the tomb, the likelihood of guards — drew her on.

As Mary stumbled along through the dark, something was happening. A man who was no longer a man hut a corpse began to stir. The stirring corpse was not yet conscious of himself. His eyes opened. There was nothing to see. They shut again. They opened again. Where am I?" crossed the awakening mind. Then, Who am I?"

Perhaps it was like the time — I was almost 4 — when I awakened in the pink bedroom of my Uncle Harold's and Aunt Sadie's house in Dawson, Minnesota. I was completely puzzled. I had no idea where I was or how I got there. I did not even know who I was. Gradually I began to remember. We had ridden through the night on a bus. I was carried, mostly asleep, by someone. Who? Uncle Harold! We were in Dawson. Joy welled up within me.

Jesus struggled with his questions. He tried to move but could not. He lay his head back. In his mind's eye he was looking down on his friends. They were weeping. He saw a sponge being raised toward him. He remembered saying, "It is finished." His head jerked up. "It is not finished. I am alive. God has not forsaken me." Then he was surrounded by a luminous presence. He saw the walls of the tomb and the hack side of the stone which covered the opening.

A voice said tenderly, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." Life and joy surged through Jesus. He saw two men — angels sent by God. As they began to unwrap his grave clothes, he removed the linen napkin from his head and folded it neatly. He placed it where his head had been. A spider scurried out of the way. The men gave him clothes to put on. Jesus felt an urge to put his shoulder to the stone and push it aside. He felt power and joy flowing through him. He wanted to break out of this tomb and go find his friends.

Before he could act, the men pushed the stone aside. It was dark outside. Filled with joy, Jesus looked for a place in the darkness to offer thanks.

Mary, meanwhile, entered the garden. She had stumbled along the way scraping her knee. Inwardly she continued to churn, wondering why she was doing this.

As she came into the garden, she wondered, "What do I do now?" She found the tomb easily.

"The stone has been rolled away!" A panic seized her. She turned and ran. There was light in the sky now. She could see much better and the course was familiar. "What could have happened?" "Does this mean trouble?" "Could it be?" She dared not hope, but she must tell Peter.

When she arrived at the house, she paused and quieted herself. She slipped into the room. She spied Peter in a corner snoring loudly.

"Peter." She firmly dug her fingers into his shoulder. "Peter. Wake up. The stone's been rolled away from the tomb." She repeated it into his ear several times.

Peter shifted. Then he sat up straight.

"What?"

"Shhh," whispered Mary.

"John," she said to the closest friend of Jesus who was lying next to Peter. He opened his eyes.

"They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him."

"Are you sure you went to the right tomb? It's dark out," said Peter.

"Yes. Come and see."

"Let's go, John."

The words were unnecessary, John was already on his feet, pulling clothes around himself.

Once outside, they began to run. Mary could not keep up. John set the pace. Peter was thinking, "Why are we running?" It was all he could do to keep John's silhouette in sight.

John came to the stone and the open cave. "It's true," he thought. "Someone has rolled the stone away. Who? Grave robbers?" He bent down to look in. He saw grave clothes and an empty cave. For a moment he thought, "If I were a kid, I'd love to play here." He stood there, confused, his emotions mixed, waiting for Peter.

Peter came panting up to the sepulchre. He stooped and entered. John followed.

They stood there contemplating the grave clothes as their eyes grew accustomed to the deeper darkness within. A spider made its long-legged way across the napkin. "Grave robbers would not take the time to remove grave clothes," thought Peter.

"What do you think, Peter?" John asked anxiously.

Peter shook his head slowly, "I don't know."

The sun was fully up when the disciples emerged from the cave.

"Let's go back," said Peter. "If we are found here, we'll be accused of taking the body."

Mary arrived at this moment.

"You were right, Mary. He's gone. There is no way to tell what has happened. You better come back with John and me."

Mary had tears in her eyes. "No. I want to stay here for a while."

Peter shrugged. He had stopped giving orders and taking the lead lately. "Be careful, Mary," said John.

Mary watched as the two men walked out of the garden. Her attention returned to the tomb. Tears began to flow down her cheeks in earnest.

As Peter and John made their way down the path, Jesus came into the garden from the other side. He was happy to see his friends, but before hc could call for them, he saw Mary standing by the tomb. His heart was touched. "Faithful, loving Mary," he thought. He decided to speak to her first. His heart was filled with love toward her.

As he approached her, she stooped to look into the cave. He anticipated her joy upon seeing him. He was about 10 feet away from the cave when she turned, eyes filled to the brim, stood up, and faced him. "She does not recognize me," he thought. "She can barely see through those tears."

"Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?"

"Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

("She thinks I'm the gardener," thought Jesus.)

"Mary," he said, personally and directly.

"Rabboni!" sprung from her amazed heart, across her tongue, and through her lips. She rushed toward him.

Jesus took a step back. "Do not hold me, Mary. I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."

Mary and Jesus stood looking at one another — their eyes filled with wonder.

"Go tell them, Mary," Jesus said after a few moments. "They will be glad."

Mary turned, walked a few steps, turned back, then fled down the path. Jesus looked after her. His spirit was glad. Yet, he felt a bit sad. "Why didn't I let her touch me? I pray the Father will give me the chance to embrace my friends before this time is up."

Mary disappeared from view. Jesus turned to go his way to learn from God what he must do.

When Peter and John returned to the place where they were staying, they entered and closed the door behind them. Everybody was awake.

"Where have you been?" asked Andrew.

John looked at Peter.

"The body is gone. We've been to the tomb."

"What? Who took it?"

"I don't know. It is very strange. There was no sign of anyone. The grave clothes were neatly folded."

"Damn soldiers!"

"The High Priest's lackeys."

"Maybe someone put pressure on Joseph and he moved the body."

"But why would they want to move it?"

Speculation continued and excitement rose as bit by bit John and Peter reported their adventure.

"Where is Mary?"

"She stayed behind."

They began to discuss going to get Mary and having a look for themselves.

There was a knock on the door. Everyone was [?].

"Who is it?" asked the host.

"Mary."

John unbolted the door and opened it. Mary stood there. Radiant.

"I spoke to Jesus. He is alive."

They were stunned. Then everyone began talking at once. Peter stood up and raised his arm for silence — his resolve forgotten.

"Tell us what happened, Mary. Tell us slowly. Omit nothing."

"After you and John left, I stood there at the cave crying. Then I stooped down to look inside for myself. don't know why. I don't know what I expected to see. just wanted to look. Lo and behold, there were two men in the tomb, dressed in white. One was sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place for the body."

"Angels," someone said.

"A vision," said another.

"Hallucinations," said a third, softly.

Mary continued, "I wiped my eyes. They were so full of tears I could not trust them. My heart was in my throat. I was afraid. Just as I turned to run, I heard a kind voice say, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' The kindness of the voice gave me the courage to look at them. I answered the question. 'Because, they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.' When I turned to leave, I saw him standing.

"Jesus?"

"Who?"

"I thought it was the gardener. I was still stunned. I was still crying. He said 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?' You will think me stupid, but I said something like 'Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.' By now I was completely confused. How was I going to take away the body by myself?"

The friends chuckled and Mary's light, happy laugh joined with theirs.

"Was it the gardener?" said someone from the back of the room.

The laughing stopped. Everyone listened.

"He did not answer my question. He just said Mary.'"

Those who had been with Jesus knew how Jesus said her name. He said it in a way that meant "my dear Mary." When Jesus had addressed her in that way it had always made them smile. Mary's report brought the smile again.

"I could hardly believe my ears," Mary continued. I said, "Rabboni." I felt like my heart would break for joy. rushed to embrace him, but he stepped back. He said, Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God."

The room began to buzz with conversation. Everybody was talking at once. Joy and laughter filled the air. They speculated on what the message meant. Then talk began to subside. Silence fell upon the group. Someone walked to the door and bolted it. A precaution that had been overlooked in the enthusiasm of Mary's entrance.

"The authorities will be looking for us soon, if they are not already," said one, voicing the concern that had fallen on everyone.

"I'm glad Jesus has risen, but if he has ascended to the Father, it doesn't help us much," said another.

They had been convinced when Mary had repeated Jesus' "Mary," but that no longer seemed so convincing. Even if this really had happened to Mary and was not a vision born out of the love and longing of her heart, it did not change their situation. The tomb was empty, that much was clear, but at bottom it only meant that their own danger was greater.

Mary, however, knew what she had seen and heard. She was disappointed in the brethren. She said to Mary, the mother of Jesus, Salome, Joanna and some of the other women, "Come with me." They did.

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

See all articles by Phil Johnson