HEARTLIGHTSpecial Feature

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of Nazareth crouched against the wall of the room and rocked slowly from side to side, a low moan coming from the back of her throat. Now and then, Mary heard her muttering snatches of words. Once, when she was trying to get Mary of Nazareth to drink some water, the other woman looked at her with a strange, disconnected expression. Through parched lips Jesus’ mother mumbled, “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord.”

    Mary woke and looked around in the darkness. No one else was moving; the sighs and even breath of sleep were the only sounds. She sat up and looked out the window over her sleeping place. She could still see stars through the lattices, but surely dawn was approaching.

    She wasn’t sure of the source of the fresh linen and embalming spices. Maybe Ruth and Lycia had the foresight to procure them on the day of the execution. She knelt and gathered into her arms as much as she could carry of the linen, aloes, myrrh, and other spices, then rose and picked her way carefully toward the door.

    She walked north through the dim streets. No one was about. She thought about what she was going to do when she reached the tomb. In a way, there was a sort of pathetic uselessness about anointing a dead body. As if the sweet-smelling spices could restrain the inevitable rot. As if the white linen could purify or negate the corruption.

...she was wrenched awake by frightful images of Jesus on the cross.
    Three gaunt street mongrels snuffled greedily through a pile of offal near the Gennath Gate. As Mary neared, their heads jerked up. They watched her for an instant, then scurried away. Mary reached the place the dogs had been and looked down at the object of their attentions. The remains of someone’s Seder meal — burnt bones with a few scraps of meat and cartilage still clinging to them, fragments of a stale loaf of matzah, a scattering of now-rancid barley, a smear of something that might have been boiled fruit — the whole now mingled in the curs’ paw prints with the dirt and filth of the street. Mary could see the dogs in the shadows, licking their teeth and waiting for her to move on. She turned to go and her eye fell upon a crack in the stone near the gate, maybe a palm-width above the ground. A tiny sprig protruded from the crack, the first tendril of a myrtle bush, from the shape of the few leaves. Mary bent down for a closer look at the plant. How long could it grow here? How large would it have to get before someone noticed it and yanked it out by the roots? Behind her, one of the hungry dogs whined softly. She rose and hurried through the gate.

    The gray in the eastern sky had spread into a pink glow by this time. Mary left the road for the stony path that wound around the shoulder of Golgotha toward the garden-tombs. Through the gap in the boundary wall of whitewashed stones she went.

    Mary knew they couldn’t have done a thorough preparation for the burial; they hadn’t taken enough time. They had probably tossed a few handfuls of myrrh across his unwrapped body, then hurriedly bound him in a sheet. Maybe they’d taken long enough to wrap his head separately, maybe not. They were more worried about the beginning of the Sabbath than they were about paying proper respects, as their masters had commanded them. She remembered watching them scurry from the tomb, glancing nervously over their shoulders at the western horizon as the guards grunted the heavy door-stone into place.

    The stone! Mary took a quick breath in dismay. How could she have forgotten? She would never be able to move the stone herself.

    She leaned into the path up the side of the hill. As she neared the clearing in front of the tomb, she slowed, then stopped. She crouched behind a bush and slowly pulled aside a branch, trying to see without being seen.

    The open, black mouth of the burial place gaped at her. Pilate’s guards were nowhere to be seen. Mary crossed the clearing in a daze, and the bundle of linen and spices fell to the ground unheeded. The air inside the tomb was flat and cool against her cheek. She braced herself for the stench of the corpse, but detected only a faint breath of myrrh. She bent to crawl through the narrow passage from the front chamber into the crypt. Enough light trickled from outside for her to see the half-dome cut into the rock of the wall facing her, and the empty shelf beneath it.

    She stumbled outside and heard footsteps climbing the path. Joanna, Jesus’ mother, Libnah, Salome, Lycia, and Ruth pushed their way through the myrtle boughs.

    “He isn’t in here!” she called to them. “I’ve been inside, and there’s nothing there.” The women turned and hurried back down the path.

    A sudden spasm of despair choked Mary. She was denied even this final, insufficient gesture. She would never be able to touch his dead face, to hold it in her hands and whisper her gratitude, her grief, her confusion, her inconsolable emptiness. She crumpled to the ground.

    After a time, Mary felt a touch on her shoulder and managed to lift her head enough to look.

    Two figures stood on either side of the tomb’s entrance, like pillars of blazing light. “Why do you weep?” they asked.

    “They’ve taken away the Teacher and I don’t know where they’ve hidden him.”

She was conscious of a presence behind her.
    Then, a shadow passed over the two beings, and to Mary it appeared as if they bowed their faces toward the ground. She was conscious of a presence behind her. She got to her feet and turned around to see another man.

    “Woman, why are you crying?” he asked.

    With her sleeve, Mary tried to wipe away the tears and grime on her face. “Sir, if you’ve moved the body of Jesus of Nazareth,” she said, “please tell me where it is and my friends and I will take care of it.”

    The man said a single word, and the entire world around her froze into motionless silence.


    There could be no mistaking that voice. The same voice that had entered her with power on the road to Capernaum, casting out the darkness that choked her soul. The same voice that had spoken to her in the hidden place among the hills above Lake Tiberius, loving her with a palpable love, yet not permitting her to offer the only intimacy she understood. The same voice that spoke puzzling, hard words to the crowd of zealots: the same voice that beckoned the dead daughter of Jairus back to life-the same voice that spoke of temples destroyed and rebuilt in three days.

    In three days.

    Mary tried to walk toward him, but her legs gave way beneath her. She crawled forward until she could grasp his ankles, until she could kiss his feet and smell on his skin the strong, sweet scent of myrrh. “Rabboni!” she wept, over and over. “Rabboni!”

    She felt his hand on her shoulder, at once pushing her back and urging her to her feet. “Don’t hold on to me, Mary. I must return to my Father.”

    She stood and raised her eyes to look at him, then held her face in her hands. How had she dared to touch him? How had she presumed to handle such holiness? Of course she could not hold onto him. He did not belong to her. She had no right.

    “Go and tell my friends,” he was saying. “Tell them I am going back to my Father and theirs, my God and theirs.” He was smiling.

    Mary spun about, propelled down the path by a burst of utter joy, and raced toward the road that led to the Gennath Gate.

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HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
Copyright © 1996-97, Heartlight, Inc., 8332 Mesa Drive, Austin, TX 78759.
© 1999, Thom Lemmons. Excerpted from the book Daughter of Jerusalem. Used by permission.