CHAPTER FOURTEEN: HE DIED – TO LIVE AGAIN
MARY MAGDALENE AND THE OTHER MARY
Our Master lies asleep and is at rest:
His heart has ceased to bleed, his eyes to weep;
The sun ashamed has dropped down in the west;
Our Master lies asleep.
Now we are they who weep and trembling vigil keep,
and wrung heart in a sighing breast,
While slow time leaps, and slow the shadows creep.
Renew thy youth, as eagle from the nest;
O Master, who hast sown, arise to reap;
No cock-crow yet, no blush on eastern crest:
Our Master lies asleep.
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, 1830-1894
Through family gatherings in back patio comfort, Barroom chatter, back fence gossip spreaders and caravan news carriers, the stories of Jesus of Nazareth traveled to all ears that welcomed what they heard. In multiple languages and storytelling methods His life story became known to all that listened then re-told it like an echo throughout time. It was the season of life’s renewal over the earth. A world commanded by almighty Nature to rekindle the roots of olive and cypress trees alike. As a child awakening from a long sleep the entire world beamed with joy from the glorious rebirth of life all around. Nature restored the green blush on withered grasses into life once again. The white lily would rise once more from its enfolding tomb and bring joy to all by its resurrection. And like the lily rose from its moldy crypt to the life renewing sunlight, Jesus went from his grave to be with his father in heaven. Those with long memories and witnesses to the countless miracles of the Nazarene grew even stronger in their convictions by the numerous sightings of Jesus by reliable citizens. He was now regarded as Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah had lived among them, had endured the plots, ploys and schemes of men then died to rise into the kingdom of heaven. In his wake he left behind the only method by which man could find salvation from his sins. He left the keys to heaven in everybody’s hand. Many worn out Gods and old faiths were thrown aside and from their worn out rubble emerged the birth of Christianity. The flawless white lily came to life.
Then there were the disbelievers that came in droves to discredit the miracle of his return to life. It became a joke passed on by callous hearts that cautioned people to hold on to their clothes tightly. For if a gust of wind grabbed their garments, they could be mistaken for a rising Jesus.
By so many efforts to discredit Jesus even the faith of his disciples suffered erosion. It was rumored that a reward was offered by the governing council to anyone who could find where the corpse of Iesus was hidden. Clearly stating by such an offer that they did not believe he walked out of his grave and was escorted into the sky on a cloud led by an angel. Others testified that money was offered to those that would discredit his miracles by offering logical explanations to how His tricks were done. People were rounded up and questioned severely regarding their miraculous cures. They searched for one person to admit they were not sick in the first place. They sought someone to say that his cures were a charade for publicity. They did it with malice and stone hearted effort to find no such individual. They sought false witnesses and found none, more than once. His disciples were hounded wherever they went and often found safe haven in burial caverns to escape the Hebrew council’s relentless pursuit. They branded Jesus a false prophet, a blatant trickster that stole away their congregations. The carpenter from Nazareth had dared to disrupt their profitable endeavors at the temple of God with his feverish tantrum. He was responsible for the loss of costly goods and money lost to his overthrowing of the money changers tables at the temple. To top it all he insinuated he was better and more righteous than the entire priesthood. He accused the Hebrew council of wrongdoing and misleading innocent people. He accused them of converting the house of God into a den of robbers. His behavior was a signed warrant for his death.
Members that disagreed were cast out then sworn to secrecy. The carpenter had to die. Exile would not suffice. Many old members of their flock did not return to their religious leadership. Although their plotting was done in utmost secrecy, it was nonetheless known who would plot against the carpenter. Some members of their flock were silently displeased with their twisted sense of justice. It was clear to the man on the street that the carpenter with healing miracles and lessons coinciding with the laws of Abraham and the words of Moses was the target of the Hebrew council. Some members of the high level priesthood were so money hungry that a suffering citizen had to pay dearly for a simple prayer said in their behalf, as though their prayers had genuine medicinal value.
And through all this they sought out the disciples of Jesus to castigate them and ensure that the works of the Nazarene were not repeated. The disciples were branded as outlaws and from there, a type of bounty hunter was born. Informers became co-workers of vigilante groups seeking to profit from the capture of the disciples of the Messiah. Mary Magdalene became a deeper subject of interest to the council. The Nazarene’s resurrection of her brother Lazarus was still a sore subject among some of the Hebrews in power. The cleansing of her spirit by the Nazarene was much talked about. She would be a stout devotee since it was also rumored she harbored a personal affection for Jesus. She was known to repeat many of his lessons in secluded corners and whispered voices.
She, Martha and Lazarus were respectable high society members and to openly attack them would raise anger from the population. Mary Magdalene owned the castle Magdala and from several endeavors surrounding her property she reaped a handsome return, an enviable handsome return. Her brother and sister owned large portions of property in Jerusalem as well as Bethany. Their adherence to the works of the Nazarene and their display of that devotion dubbed them outlaws and their properties a prize to capture.
The scattered disciples fought to remain unknown and the more they hid and suffered the more their faiths eroded. Their devotion waned and rightfully so, without a leader to regenerate their trust they wandered aimlessly often seeking shelter to be denied. They went hungry and some people demanded a price to keep their silence. They knew their fate would be equal to that of Jesus, or perhaps stoning for repeating what was considered the blasphemous works of the Nazarene. They were human and frail of spirit without Jesus.
There was a seal upon the stone,
A guard around the tomb:
The spurned and trembling band alone
Bewail their Master’s doom.
They deemed the barriers of the grave
had closed over Him who came to save.
And thoughts of grief and gloom
Were darkening, while depressed, dismayed,
silent they wept, or weeping prayed.
He died; – for justice claimed her due,
Ere guilt could be forgiven:
But soon the gates asunder flew,
The iron bands were driven;
Broken the seal; the guards dispersed,
Upon their sight in glory burst
The risen Lord of Heaven!
Yet one, the heaviest in despair,
In grief the wildness was not there.
Returning, on each altered brow
With mute surprise he gazed,
For each was lit with transport now,
Each eye to heaven raised.
Burst forth from each the ecstatic word –
“Hail, brother, we have seen the Lord!”
Bewildered and amazed
He stood; then bitter words and brief
Betrayed the heart of disbelief.
Days passed, and still the frequent groan
Convulsed his laboring breast;
Then round him light celestial shone,
And Jesus stood confessed.
“Reach, doubter! Reach thy hand,” He said,
“Explore the wound the spear hath made,
The font by nails impressed:
No longer for the living grieve,
And be not faithless, but believe.”
Oh! If the iris of the skies
Transcends the painter’s art,
How could he trace to human eyes
The rainbow of the heart;
When love, joy, fear, repentance, shame,
Hope, faith, in swift succession came,
Each claiming there a part;
Each mingling in the tears that flowed,
The words he breathed— “My Lord! My God!”
THOMAS DALE, 1797-1870
No such doubts reclined at the home of Tremiyo. There a stronger faith found comfort. The hysterical proclamations that the Nazarene was seen rising to heaven were simply echoes of prophesies long known and now glowing in reality. It was added stone and mortar to the faith that dwelled in the home of the faithful servant, Tremiyo. And his family followed suit. Samuel quickly learned not to voice any unfounded observations he may harbor regarding Jesus.
It was here that Serou chose to speak of a subject lying near dormant in his mind. Almost apologetically he looked at his foster son and quietly asked him if he should relate what he saw Onofrio discover by entering the tomb of Jesus. Not knowing what Serou would say, but confident in the older man’s wisdom, Onofrio conceded with a silent nod of his head.
“It was the first day of the week following the weekend that tormented and put Jesus in his grave. Monday morning, I decided to take Onofrio for a ride I thought would help mend the frightful weekend he spent sick and suffering nightmares. As we came through Yerushalayim, we met with huge crowds of panic driven people. It seemed hysteria ruled the day and there was no end to it. “He has risen, unbelievers beware Jesus is alive. He has risen as foretold and was seen rising on a cloud into the sky”. “He has risen,” was the universal call. Not accustomed to Accept hearsay hysteria and with Onofrio’s consent, we drove to the site of His entombment to confirm the rumors for ourselves.
In fearful hesitation, my son stood facing the tomb and I saw the few people loitering around, frightfully slither away when he entered that forbidden place. I stood by the entrance and could plainly see what Onofrio was searching for. We both saw the shelf cut into the wall and on it was a large dark stain. It had to be the dry blood of Jesus since the tomb was newly hewn, never been used before. I saw him run his hand over the dark stain then looked at his fingertips to confirm the blood stain was dry. He looked for smudges on the low ceiling left by an oily torch and found none. A burned out candle stub left behind by those doing such perilous work at night? And there was none. I could almost read his mind when he frowned while carefully looking around his feet. He looked for scuff marks on the dusty floor left by those struggling with an inflexible corpse. And he didn’t find any. It had rained heavily and not a muddy foot print was found. Not even a blade of grass caught on a sandal and left out of place within the tomb. As hard as he tried he found no evidence of human intervention and yet the body of Jesus was gone. Posted guards served four hour shifts and confident that no one could move the stone without an alarming sound rested in comfort. A guard struggling for sobriety and smelling foul claimed the disciples of the Nazarene slipped up and forced the sealing stone back up the slight incline and locked it in place with numerous stones without making the slightest sound. I could see Onofrio’s sense of guilt come back from the false solution. Then a near sober guard added that an apparition of some sort came from the sky and with ease and calm enough to shame the puny strength of men gently pushed the sealing rock away from the opening. The apparition dressed in blinding white then added insult to injury by calmly sitting on top of the stone. The apparently seasoned soldier then added that as hard as they tried to stand up to the apparition, they were immobilized until all was done and Jesus was going into the sky. Then stated with sober resignation, “and there’s not a damned thing we could do about that.”
With obvious reflection Serou stated in his diplomatic tone, “I have carefully removed all the physical possibilities and concluded that to move the massive stone up the slight incline without a grunt or a moan to wake up the guards would be impossible. That leaves only one conclusion and I for one am convinced that Godly intervention is the only answer. And to that statement several heads nodded in agreement.
Here Onofrio chose to speak. “Part of me felt relieved that Jesus was taken unto heaven on a cloud as so many people reported. I felt that Jesus was home with his heavenly father as countless people said. But it did not discharge my sense of guilt. I feared vengeance from God for building the instrument of his son’s demise. In a way I cannot explain and in a recent dream I feel a closer bond to Jesus of Nazareth. I want to believe that Jesus and his heavenly father have forgiven me for my part in His death and yet a tinge of guilt and fear still simmers within me. I will tell everyone what I saw at Golgotha and found within the tomb ‘til I die. It is something no one can take from me. My day with the son of God and I will relate the fact that I found no evidence of human intervention within his tomb leaving only the obvious conclusion.”
Impressed the semi-disbeliever son of Tremiyo, Samuel found room in which to reveal his thoughts. “Knowing your affection for truth, I believe what you say. Since carrying the inflexible corpse of a grown man without making a sound would be extremely difficult. I would say almost impossible in that small confinement. And Onofrio found no evidence of human intervention. Then experienced grown men state that an apparition came from the sky and pushed the massive rock aside with an easy push can only be the work of a God sent emissary. People will long search for an earthly explanation when the truth shines bright before their eyes. We will all go to our graves knowing that we have lived with the son of God as our neighbor.” Then looking at Claudia Procula, he declared openly, “Sometime in the future I will look up this lady disciple of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and perhaps join her group to bring the facts of what we know to other disbelievers. Such stories could pay my way to China, someday.”
The villa by the lake had been a revered place for Serou. It was where he brought his virgin bride Clavenia for their honeymoon. Here they languished in joyful pleasure for long hours and deep into every night. When their palatial home was finished, Clavenia was reluctant to move away from a beautiful place that brought so much joy to her heart. Nothing on earth could replace the happiness she found at the villa by the lake. Serou found ways to abbreviate his time away from her by using key personnel to fill in where he left off and still claim credit for an assignment well done. Without ever dreaming of it, here she was queen of the realm and every day her king proved it with flawless devotion. She preferred the isolation at the villa by the lake to the masquerade that often paraded through her new home. She despised it when she would see a guest slipping a spoon or fork under their clothes. It was her husband’s business that attracted so many people seeking favors, business opportunities or just a free meal with wine.
Serou had soon regretted letting centurion Clemidius reside at the lakeside villa. But he chose to keep the centurion close at hand to learn his habits and the intentions of Rome. The centurion’s tenure at the villa served its purpose and the damage done to the home had been paid by Rome. The grounds were landscaped anew and replanted with indigenous trees and numerous flowering bushes. A smooth stone walkway lined with blooming plants now led to a small summer pavilion. Red clay shingles domed the circle of white marble columns with inviting benches therein. It was a choice location granting far away vistas, gleaming waters, serenity and could well serve as a place for the gods to come pray. On their weekend visits to this restful hideaway, Senobia preferred to pray at what she called the “little temple by the lake.” She liked to see the moon dancing on the water and the stars wiggling in the ripples created by the breeze. It was refreshing and peaceful here. It was also a place for lovers. A place to build memories that could last a lifetime.
When Onofrio informed his foster father that he invited Pontius Pilate and the lady Claudia to come spend some time at the villa he did not meet with Serou’s immediate approval.
“What in the world prompted you to do such a thing? I have that place in mind to be yours and Senobia’s as a happy home like it was for me and Clavenia. Eventually Tremiyo will be willing to see you and your family move into your permanent home. You can’t live with your in-laws forever, Onofrio.”
“Father, I saw Pilate in dire straits. He was wrestling with what he labeled “petty gripes and foolish quarrels.” He yearned for relief from that situation and I thought my invitation would serve him well and strengthen our relationship. He’ll only be here for a week end or so. He and Claudia have been having spats. We could serve to mend their discord.”
Serou hawkeyed his foster son while pensively nodding in silence as his face gradually brightened with newly discovered approval. He slowly saw favorable results from mending their marital dispute while they were guests at his villa.[Previous Episode] [Next Episode]