April 12, 2009

Easter Day, April 12, John 20:1-18

Today 'Alleluias' ring out because we know the end of the story. For Mary, Martha, and Lazarus things weren't so simple.
(By Cynthia Davis)

It was almost light by the time the trio from Bethany arrived at Jacob’s home.
“Welcome, my friend,” the man hugged Lazarus. “I thought you would come.”
Lazarus looked around the room. There was no sign of the eleven disciples.
“Where are the others?” he asked.
Jacob chuckled without mirth. “Hiding upstairs, where they have been since…the….”
The man glanced at Mary and Martha afraid to complete the sentence.
“Since Jesus died,” Martha finished the sentence. “What cowards.”
“We have come to anoint his body,” Mary said softly.
“Some of the other women just left on that errand,” Jacob told her.
Mary did not even look at her brother and sister before whirling and racing from the room.
Martha ran to the door. Already her sister was too far away to call back. The slowly moving group of black garbed women only a couple of blocks from the house turned, startled by the sound of Mary’s pounding feet.
Lazarus joined his sister. Together they watched Mary and the women move away.
“They will be fine,” Jacob assured the pair. “Let me offer you water for your hands and face.”
Belatedly the man assumed his role as host.
Martha remained at the door, watching until the group was out of sight. She swallowed a lump of sadness at not being with them.
“Have the others eaten yet?” finally she turned to Jacob and her brother. “I will take them food if they haven’t.”
“How thoughtful of you, Martha,” Jacob smiled at her. “I am sure they would be glad of something to eat. My servants have not returned from spending the Sabbath with their families.”
The man watched Martha hurry away to prepare food.
“You are fortunate to have two sisters to care for your needs,” he told Lazarus. “I am dependent on the servants ever since Tabitha died two years ago.”
“They have never wanted to marry,” Lazarus responded as if the idea had never before occurred to him. “Mary could have, but she did not want to shame her sister by marrying first. Martha has never desired anything except taking care of my needs.”
It was not long before Martha returned with a platter of fruit, flat bread, and cheese balanced on one arm. A jar of barley beer rested on her hip.
“I will bring you something in a moment. Your guests deserve theirs first,” she told the men on her way up the stairs.
They heard her knock on the door.
“It is Martha, sister of Lazarus,” she replied in response to a muffled question. “I have your morning meal.”
The door opened just wide enough for a pair of hands to accept her offering before closing tightly again.
“They are afraid,” Jacob stated. “Some think the Romans will come and arrest them as well.”
“I think that is unlikely,” Lazarus responded with shake of his head. “With Jesus dead, what good would it do to arrest his followers?”
“That is what I said,” nodded his host.
Martha entered the room with a smaller platter of food for the two men. Carefully she poured the beer into wooden mugs.
“Thank you, Martha,” Jacob smiled at the woman.
She nodded absently but frowned. “I heard what you said. If there is even a chance that the officials will arrest those associated with Jesus, Lazarus is in danger.”
Lazarus repeated, “It is unlikely that anyone is interested in those who followed the Master. With his death, the dream died.”
Martha opened her mouth to argue. She never got to say anything because the door burst open. The woman screamed before she realized it was Mary of Magdala who had entered.
“Peter, John! They have taken my Lord away! I do not know where they laid him!”
After a few minutes, the upstairs door opened. Peter and John came part way down the steps.
“What do you mean, woman?” John’s voice was harsh.
“The tomb is empty,” Mary sobbed.
Peter and John looked at each other in consternation. A moment later they ran out the door. The woman from Magdala followed. Martha stood in the center of the room. Lazarus and Jacob stared after the two men.
“Could it be?” Martha wasn’t sure if she spoke aloud until Lazarus spun around.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
“He said he would rise,” she whispered.
Jacob frowned, “It is impossible. It is a trick by the authorities to cause more trouble.”
“What if it is true?” the woman persisted.
The men shook their heads and looked away. She heard Jacob mumble, “John and Peter will find the body in the tomb. Mary’s grief has made her confused.”
It seemed hours, but most people were still in their homes when Peter and John returned.
“The body is gone,” Peter stated.
John added, “I went inside the tomb. All that was there were the grave cloths and head wrapping.”
“Where are the women? Where is my sister?” Martha asked urgently.
John shrugged, “They refused to return with us.”
“I must go and find her,” Martha stated. “She will be devastated that she could not offer the final service to Jesus.”
There was no need to seek out the women. Before Martha could leave, they rushed in.
“Mary, tell them what you saw!” Salome pulled Mary of Magdala forward.
The woman faced the skeptical men. She lifted her chin proudly and announced, “I saw him. I saw my Lord.”
“Your grief has made you see a vision,” Peter patted her arm.
“No,” Lazarus’ sister took a stand beside her friend. “If Mary said she saw Jesus, I believe her.”
“Did you see him?” demanded John.
“No,” Mary lowered her head sadly. “We had already started to return. Mary was behind us. We stopped when we heard her talking to someone. By the time we got back to her, he was gone.”
“Tell them what Jesus said,” urged Salome.
Mary looked at the 4 men. She lifted her chin. “Jesus told me to tell you, so I will.”
Martha stepped closer to the women around Mary. “I believe you did see him,” she said. “It is what he told us would happen.”
The woman of Magdala smiled. “It is true. But we forgot it in our grief. When I looked into the tomb, there were two angels who asked me why I was crying. Then I saw a man nearby. At first I thought he was the gardener and asked him where he put the body.”
Mary paused. An exalted look changed her face. It seemed to glow from within from joy and peace.
“He spoke my name. ‘Martha,’ he said. I would know his voice anywhere. When he said my name, I knew it was the Lord!”
Peter took a step closer. Wistfully he asked, “Is that all he said? Just your name?”
“No, Peter, when I called him Rabbi and tried to touch him, he drew back. That’s when he told me. “Go to my brothers and say to them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Then he was gone.”
“Did he walk away?” Jacob asked.
“He was just gone and the other women were there. We came to tell you what happened.” Mary smiled dreamily.
“Could it be?” John looked around at the gathering. “Is it possible that the Master really did rise from the dead?”
“It would not be the first time such a thing happened,” Lazarus inserted. “If Jesus can call me back from the grave, then certainly he could defeat his own death. I believe we will all see him again.”
“I hope so,” John replied.
Peter nodded although his expression was troubled. “I wonder if he will speak to me after I denied knowing him,” he mumbled on his way up the stairs.
“There is no need to be afraid,” Mary of Magdala called after the men.
A closing door was the only response.
“I wish I could have seen him,” whispered Martha to her sister.
Mary smiled, “I think we will all see the Master again. He said he would rise and he has!”
Thanks for joining me during Lent and Holy Week. Check back for further posts or keep up with upcoming studies at my website (http://www.cynthiadavisauthor.com/).

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