[iThe next morning I was awakened by screams and someone banging on the door. By the time I got up, others had opened the door to admit Mary Magdalene, disheveled and frantic. “I told you so! They have taken our Lord away! The tomb is empty! The body is gone! I knew we should not have left him there!”
Peter and I looked at each other across the room and together plunged through the door and headed toward the tomb. Dawn had hardly broken when we set out. We both ran, but I outran Peter who lumbered along as best he could. Out through the gate we went and found the path to the garden. When I came to the tomb, I pulled up short.
It was open. I stooped down and looked into the dark interior. Jesus was gone. Where his body had lain, there was only the dim outline of the linen shroud. “No! Please don’t let it be true,” I whispered to myself.
Peter came puffing up, saw me, and blundered on. He ducked his head to enter the tomb and crouched inside, bent almost double. He looked around, mystified. I followed him in.
I hunted through the clothes I had hastily thrown on to find my flint and steel. An oil lamp had been left by those who had excavated the cave and worked in the dark there. Once I had successfully struck a spark from my flint, the lamp wick smoldered. I gave it a couple of gentle puffs, and the spark became a flame.
In the dim light of the lamp, we looked around the cave, but there was little to see. I picked up the cloth napkin I had tied around his head as we lowered him from the cross, and which I had dropped on the bench where it now lay when we placed him in the linen shroud. I examined the cloth more closely, but apart from the blood stains from the crown of thorns and the blood from his mouth, there was nothing to indicate what had happened. Perplexed, I turned back to the shroud. Why would whoever removed the body straighten the shroud as if the body had not been there? We had left it loose so we could bathe the body and wrap it with the spices the women had prepared over the weekend, and then finally more firmly bind the shroud round his body.[ii] Now it lay flat on the stone. I pointed it out to Peter. He picked up the shroud itself and folded it together roughly. I said, “Peter, why did they not take the body the way we left it? Why didn’t they take the shroud to help carry the body? Why didn’t they at least use this cloth?” and I pushed the napkin under his nose. “By now rigor mortis would have left the body, and everything would be loose, and the body would be leaking its fluids. They would need the shroud and napkin to keep the mess together. There is no leakage on the shroud, no stains that would follow rigor mortis leaving the body. This must have happened on Friday night or early on Saturday.”
I gathered up everything we had used or brought with us on Friday night, including Mary Magdalene’s flowers. We left the tomb as we first found it on Friday afternoon. We did not want to anger the owner or give him any excuse not to tell us where he had laid the body of our friend. That was the only possible explanation I could think of. If he was playing tricks on us, then maybe he would prove difficult to deal with, though I couldn’t imagine why he would do that. The owner must have heard we had used his tomb on Friday evening so ordered the body to be disposed of. Why leave all our stuff there?
We looked around the tomb and ducked out through the entryway. Mary Magdalene had followed us, and she now stood beside the great stone that had been rolled back. More coherent now, she explained that she had been unable to sleep and had finally woken two of the other women and convinced them to help her. “We made our way through the gate and up here to the tomb. On the way we realized we would not be able to move the stone. It was barely dawn, so nobody would be around to help us. When we got here, I knew immediately what had happened. I told you so. We should not have left the body here!”
“Did you see anyone? I asked.
She shook her head. “The owner of the tomb must have heard about it and taken his body away. John, where would he have taken it?”
“Mary, we will find out,” I assured her. “You were right, but now we have to get to work and find who the owner is and where he has taken the body. We can do nothing here.”
As she spoke, her voice had risen, words tumbled out, and her tears fell. I thought she was going to start screaming again or lose control entirely, but she sat down on a nearby rock and hugged herself tightly, rocking back and forth and crying bitterly. I looked at Peter for help, but he shrugged his shoulders helplessly. We couldn’t carry her down to the city, but we ought not to leave her here by herself.
Mary saw my concern. “Leave me here for a while. I will be all right. I will come down when I am ready. You don’t have to worry about me. There is nothing more anyone can do to me.”
I looked again at Peter, who nodded, gathered up the folds of linen more firmly, and turned to go. I said to Mary, “I’ll go back to the others, let everyone know what is happening, and come back. Mary, I am terribly sorry. You were right, but …” I could not finish. Instead I said, “I’ll be back in half an hour.”
Back at the house everyone was awake. Peter stood in the middle of the room displaying the shroud and told everyone what we had found. I added my observations and told them of my puzzlement. “Why did they not take the body wrapped in the shroud? Why straighten the shroud out as if he were still there? How come there were no stains on the shroud from fluid discharges that would surely have followed rigor mortis?”
Thomas broke in, “But who would do this? The only person who might have done it was the owner of the tomb. Could we not find out who that is and get him to tell us where he had the body taken? What I don’t understand is why he would have had the body removed on the Sabbath. Nobody could move a dead body through the streets on the Sabbath. There would be a ruckus, and they would have been stoned. Besides, we would have heard about it.”
“Well, going to the trouble to remove it at night is as problematic,” I argued. “Whoever they were, they would have had to arrange for the city gate to be opened. They would certainly have been challenged if they had tried to lug a dead body through the streets in the middle of the night. Someone must know about this.”
As we considered the possibilities, the conundrum became more puzzling. We decided to split up and fan out to look for any information available. We had to find the body!
Two of the brothers associated with the house we were staying in offered to visit the Valley of Hinnon where most of the garbage from the city ended up. Nobody else wanted to even consider that possibility. I thought I would find Jonathon and ask him about any involvement of the authorities. For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to take Jesus’ body. They would not want to display it or otherwise maltreat it, for any such disrespect toward the dead is profoundly antithetical to our beliefs. Even Caiaphas and his staffers would have no desire to do any such thing. To do so would bring about public revulsion, and certainly nothing would be gained by it.
That brought me to the question that had been at the back of my mind since I left the cave: who would want the body to disappear? This was in nobody’s interest. Even the owner of the tomb would not want to be accused of desecrating a corpse. There is no way to get rid of a corpse secretly without a lot of time and planning. Somebody must know.
For the second time that morning, there was banging on the outer door and Mary’s voice raised in agitation. I ran to the door, but by the time I got there, someone else had opened it. Mary Magdalene stood there, wide-eyed. “I have seen the Lord,” she said.
The line of people behind me made way for her to enter the room. Mary took the center of the room and repeated, “I have seen the Lord.” We all stood there frozen in place, eyeing her with alarm. What on earth now? She answered our questions before we could ask them.
“Soon after you were gone, John, I sat there on that rock trying to get myself together. It must have been at least five minutes when I sensed there was someone there. I looked around and there was, indeed, a man. I immediately thought it must be the gardener. I said to him, ‘If you have taken the body away, please tell me where you have laid it, and we will take it away and look after it.’”
She stopped and looked around at all of us. “Then he said, ‘Mary.’ I knew his voice. I have heard it so many times in my head, and in my heart, I would recognize it anywhere. It was him. I looked up, and indeed Jesus was right there in front of me. I wanted to run to him, but he held up his hand. ‘No, don’t cling to me. Mary, go tell my disciples and all my friends that I have been raised. I am back.’
“When he left, I came here as fast as I could. Oh, John, what does it mean?”
[iii]A whisper was heard in the silence, “It means it is not over.” We all looked toward the back of the room, and there stood Jesus’ mother. She repeated herself a little louder this time, “It means it is not over! Come, Mary.” She tenderly led Mary Magdalene to their room. The rest of us were left looking at each other.
“Mary is still in shock,” someone ventured. “She has been blaming herself for leaving him there in that tomb. She couldn’t wait to go there this morning. Maybe she is just wishing it were so.”
“Maybe it was his ghost,” another offered.
For the first time, I felt I had to take the lead and address the others. “No, I believe Mary. Think! Why would anyone remove Jesus’ body? The owner of the tomb has not had time; it is still very early in the morning after the Sabbath. He might create a stink and go to the authorities but quietly and secretly remove it without anyone knowing? Not a chance.
“The authorities wouldn’t want to muddy the waters. They are celebrating their victory. The Romans gave us permission, and in any case, they would do it with a procession and big public display just to make the rest of us feel bad.
“There is no one who would want to remove his body, but it is gone. Who would take away his body and leave the shroud behind? Surely anyone intent on moving it would use the shroud to carry it in.”
I paused, expecting comments, but everyone waited for me to go on. “He said on more than one occasion that he would return, and he spoke of being raised up to complete his work. None of us understood what he meant. Now Mary has said she has seen him, and he told her to announce his presence to the rest of us. I don’t know what to make of this, but I believe Mary, and I think all we can do is wait. Anyone got a better idea?”
Philip broke in, “Maybe he was not dead. Maybe he came to in the cool of the cave.”
“Be reasonable,” I replied. “That Roman officer stuck his javelin into Jesus’ side, and it went in at least eight inches. I saw it. The point must have penetrated the heart. Think of the injuries he had sustained from the scourging and the crucifixion itself. Jesus was on the cross for at least three hours. No one would be walking about forty hours after all that.”
Another asked, “What does it mean?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I think we believe Mary, for a start. She was not hoping to see Jesus. She was absolutely convinced she would never see him again. In fact, these last two days, she has been worse than upset because she would not see him. Think back to this morning, how Mary was distraught when she banged on the door. Look at her now. She is as amazed as we are. All she knows is what she has told us. We need to trust her.”
Someone muttered, “That is all very well, but she has had mental problems before.”
“Defeated, despairing, anxious beyond belief and without any faith in herself, yes, she has been through all that. You saw none of that as she stood here before us. His mother had it right. It’s not over,” I declared.
A great hubbub broke out. I left and went in search of Mary. She and Jesus’ mother were sitting together in silence. I asked Mary to tell me again exactly what had happened. She did, and afterward she asked, “John, do you believe me, or do you think I am just a crazy woman?”
“I believe you. I think Jesus is raised from death, and it’s not some ghost or demon. It is not only what you have reported, but there are other things that can only be explained by his being raised.”
She reached across and took my hand in hers. “Thank you. I had begun to doubt my own experience. Nothing this good could happen to me, and I still cannot believe it. Whenever something good happens to me, I just know there must be something wrong about it that I don’t know. This is not like that. Jesus is back.”
We did not know what to make of the reports. The room emptied as men drifted away. We were bewildered. On the one hand, we still felt the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion, while at the same time, there was a faint hope that maybe Mary’s experience was real: he had somehow risen and was back.
As the day wore on, that possibility receded, and the blank sense of defeat and disillusionment returned.
Peter turned to me at one point and asked, “Now what?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I don’t understand what is happening, and I have no clue what we are supposed to do now. Without Jesus, I don’t think we have much to offer.”
Peter nodded his bushy head. “Yes. It’s over, unless—”
“Yes—unless. I don’t think there is anything to do but wait. Some of the others are heading home. I don’t blame them. I’ll return to my apartment and hole up there for the moment. What about you?”
Peter looked around the room. “I can’t stay cooped up here. I must get out. I don’t care if they do pick me up. Maybe I’ll get the opportunity to knock a couple of heads together.” He hesitated. “John, remember what happened at the high priest’s house? I didn’t mean to deny Jesus. I was caught off-guard. I wish I could do it over.”
“Peter, I was there. You were trying to avoid attention.”
“But I said I didn’t know him. Oh, God, I wish I could do it over. I must get out of here. I hate this city.”
I saw the raw pain Peter felt at failing his friend and lord. This great bear of a man so often had the right instincts but lousy timing. “Peter, there’s nothing wrong with your heart, but it’s just the way you are. Let it go.”
Peter shook his head.
“I want to find Jonathon. He may have some news or at least a reading about the intentions of the Temple authorities. Why don’t you come with me?”
We slipped out and mingled with the usual crowd that by then had filled the streets and market places. Everything was normal. People were going about their business, buying supplies and chatting with each other. We made our way toward my apartment. I checked for messages, but there was nothing. I had not been back there since Thursday night. Why had I elected to stay with the others when I could have hidden here? I looked at Peter standing halfway in the doorway and felt for the first time real affection for him and the others. The emotion had been there, growing slowly, but now I recognized them as my family.
I explained to Peter, “There’s nothing here. We’ll go to Annas’ house, but since you’re a little obvious, maybe I should go, and you stay here.”
Peter nodded. “Yes, we don’t want me saying stupid things again, do we?”
I tried to think of something to cheer him up, but there was nothing. I left him and made my way to Annas’ offices. The maid, with whom I had become familiar over the years, said, “I suppose you want to see Jonathon. He is in there”—she nodded toward the inner rooms of the complex, “but he may be busy. They have some kind of problem.”
Jonathon’s message was, “I can’t break away right now, but I’ll see you later.” He gave no indication of when or where.
I explained to Peter when I got back that Jonathon could only mean his parents’ place and before the evening dinnertime. I found some stale bread, goat’s cheese that smelt as if it still had four legs, and the usual assortment of dried or salted meat. We chewed on the food and made halfhearted conversation.
Finally, I asked Peter, “What do you make of Mary’s report?”
He munched for a moment and said, “I think he is back. I think he is back to finish what he started. He never did set up the kingdom we all wanted when he rode into Jerusalem a week ago and now, maybe, having risen—when everyone thinks he is dead—is going to be his way of taking power without bloodshed. When he appears before everyone and confronts those who did this to him, there is nothing they can do. He is just going to step right by them.”
I weighed what Peter had just said. “But, Peter, Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world, that it was within us and that it wasn’t to be centered in Jerusalem or anywhere else. How many times did he say that to us? We need to forget all that stuff John the Baptist preached. It is not going to happen.”
Peter looked up. “Poor John. Do you remember how he harangued us? They got him in the end.” Peter shook his head. “If Jesus has been raised, what will he say to me about the other night?”
There was a knock at the door. Peter and I looked at each other in alarm. I got up and called out, “Who is there?” Jonathon answered, and I threw the door open.
He came into the room. “I got your message. I have an errand to run, and I hoped maybe you would like to come with me.”
We looked at each other as if no one was willing to begin. I didn’t know what question to lead off with, and Jonathon held back because of a sense of despair he assumed we felt.
“I’m sorry I could do so little. On Friday, by the time I got to Silvanus, there was nothing that could be done.” He waited for me to comment, and when I didn’t, he went on, “Annas got the full report this morning. I very nearly quit right then. I was sickened by his pleasure at what he had done. Then reports came in that you were spreading rumors that Jesus was alive, that one of you had seen him, and that Jesus had given you instructions. Annas immediately sent out word to have the rumors run down. He has sent me over to Silvanus to check on the facts about his death. Would you like to come?”
My first response was to refuse, but I thought that if there was any information, Pilate would have it. “Okay, but I think Peter should stay here.”
We both left for the fortress and, after passing the guard who looked at us with indifference, found our way to the office of Silvanus. He came out immediately and welcomed Jonathon, who explained the high priest’s order. Silvanus thought for a moment and replied, “Maybe we should listen to what the officer in charge of the detail last Friday has to say. We can ask around for any other information.”
He looked inquiringly at me and back to Jonathon, who explained my connection and my interest. He nodded and said, “I am sorry. It was a bad business. Maybe we can talk after we’ve spoken to the officer. There are a couple of things you might be able to help me with.” He led us through to the barracks and sent for the officer.
I recognized him as the officer in charge of the crucifixion detail; but in his clean uniform and this environment, he was the epitome of solid, dour, professional soldiery. “This is a debriefing for the governor and just routine. Do you have any comment about what happened on Friday?” Silvanus asked.
“Not really, started out like any other execution. That guy Jesus, though, was different. I didn’t like doing it to him. Some deserve it, some don’t matter either way, but with him it shouldn’t have happened,” replied the officer.
Silvanus asked, “You mean you disagreed with the verdict?”
“We don’t question verdicts. Orders are orders. No, it was something else. It was all wrong. It was like everything else was wrong, and he was right. All that we do and make and build were all wrong compared with him,” reflected the soldier.
Silvanus asked, “Do you regret it?”
The man said, “Soldiers can’t afford regrets, though I would have liked to talk to him. No, funny thing is, if it had to be anyone, I’m glad it was me. When you get ’em down on the cross, most curse you. He didn’t. He was already pretty far gone from the whipping. It was like I was helping him rather than executing him.
“No, I don’t regret it. Funny, but I don’t even feel sad, no. I tell you, though, that guy was one of the gods or one of their sons. Normally you just want to get drunk after executions, but this time it’s different. It’s like I’m waiting for something.”
“Waiting for what?”
I watched the officer search for an answer. He rubbed his bristly chin and shrugged his massive shoulders. Finally he confessed, “I don’t know. I’m getting too old for this kind of thing. You start thinking, you’ve seen too much, killed too many. Maybe there are too many ghosts in the past. No, I don’t regret Friday; it’s all the others I regret. Time I went back to Rome and quit this life.”
Silvanus nodded sympathetically. “The reason for my questions is that there have been rumors that he has been seen alive. Is there any possibility he was not dead, that he came to in the cool of the tomb where he was kept overnight and walked away?”
The officer gave a short laugh. “Nobody is going to get up and walk when we do the job. Believe me, that guy was dead. As I said before, I’ve done too many to be mistaken. In any case we can’t afford to make mistakes. That is why I lanced him in the chest. He took at least eight inches of steel in his chest and through the heart. If he hadn’t been dead before then, he would have been dead afterward.”
Silvanus thanked the man, and we returned to his office. Jonathon asked about Pilate and why he had signed the execution order. Silvanus shook his head. “Pilate did not sign any order, and when he was asked by the high priest not to advertise Jesus as the king of the Jews, he refused. He told them that they could explain to the people why it was necessary to seek the death of their king. Pilate was furious.”
Silvanus went on, “When he heard there was a rumor of Jesus being alive, Pilate smiled for the first time since Friday. ‘Serves the bastards right,’ he snarled. ‘I wish he were alive. How I would like to see their faces. No doubt the cowards would come running to me to do it all again. Fat chance.’
“Normally Pilate never swears. He is a cold fish and doesn’t show what is going on inside. He hates being used. You know we had kept an eye on Jesus for some time. We never came up with anything that really concerned us. We thought he was a player, and we even considered approaching him. Pilate had speculated about Jesus being an alternative to what we have right now. I had talked to Pilate about making contact, but that is all too late now.” Silvanus looked at me and asked, “You were a friend to this man? Is there anything you can say about the rumors he is not dead?”
I shook my head. “No, I have not seen him, but one of our people claimed she has. You know how at these times things can be misinterpreted or even imagined.”
Jonathon nodded. “Well, if anything develops, let me know. Maybe it’s his ghost or spirit. These things do happen.”
We thanked Silvanus, and outside the fortress I took my leave of Jonathon. As I walked back to my apartment to pick up Peter, I thought bitterly about the lost possibilities. What if Pilate had talked to Jesus? What if Jesus had gone to see Pilate when he arrived in Jerusalem last week? I remembered one of the temptations Jesus had told me about. He had been offered all the kingdoms of the world and turned them down, so we would have finished up in the same place even if Pilate had made contact.
Why did the Messiah have to suffer? I didn’t get it. My friend is dead, I thought, and I would rather have him alive and no Messiah. As I walked, the tears fell, and I could hardly see my way down the rough stone streets. I wanted to scream at the sky, but it was empty.
I found Peter asleep on my couch. I awakened him, and we made our way back to the others. Gone was the wild hope generated by Mary’s words that morning, and now a pall lay over all our hearts. The women busied themselves preparing food for the dozen or so people who now crowded the meeting room.
It was late evening when, for the third time that day, there was a banging on the outer door. [iv]Cleopas and his friend Matthias entered. We crowded around as they told a wild story of how Jesus had appeared to them on the road to Emmaus, their home village.
Jesus had caught up to them on the road, they explained, and walked with them and discussed the Messiah. They walked on for an hour, and when they got to Emmaus, they invited him to join them for supper. Until that time they had not recognized him; but at supper he took the bread, blessed it, and broke it just like he had done on Thursday evening. At that point they recognized him. It was definitely Jesus; he was not a ghost or anything like that but himself. The moment they recognized him, he was gone.
Doubt, hope, fear, and pessimism characterized our responses to Cleopas and Mathias. What was going on?
The women came in with platters of food. Mary laid her platter down on the table that ran the length of the room. With her arms crossed, she said, “You didn’t believe me this morning, and most of you dismissed my experience as wishful thinking. You thought I had imagined it. Now I hope you will begin to realize something is afoot. Jesus is not dead, but he is out there.” Mary nodded her head toward the door.
I sat down, and others followed suit. I had nothing to say. Peter had told me about a dream he had that afternoon while he was napping, in which Jesus had appeared to him. He assumed he had been dreaming, but now as he sat down beside me, he brought up the dream again. “Do you think he appeared to me this afternoon, and that was not just a dream?”
A hush abruptly fell over the room, and I looked up and nearly spilled the wine I had just poured myself.
[v]Jesus stood there in the middle of the room, right beside the table, and looked around at each of us. “Peace be with you,” he said. Some drew back from him; I struggled to my feet while Peter stood, immobilized.
Jesus faced us all in turn and lifted his hands to show us the wounds on his wrists. “It is me. You want to see more?” He lifted his outer garment and showed us his feet. “No, I am not a ghost or some spirit. Let us all sit down,” he said gently. He sat down in the same place he occupied on Thursday evening. Gingerly others sat too, but they ranged around him in a half circle.
He repeated his greeting, “Peace be with you.” Those closest to him edged farther away. The rest of us paused in whatever we had been doing and collectively held our breath.
Jesus said, “I promised you I would return, so why are you fearful? I understand, for only a few hours ago you could only believe what you saw with your own eyes on Friday. Everything you hoped for was dashed to pieces, and you grieved for me and for all we had talked about. Well, I am here to establish the reality of all I talked about.
“My kingdom is not of this world. Our Father has raised me from death, and now you see me and know me as the Christ, the Messiah you have all sought. You have heard me describe the kingdom of God as within you; now you see the first step in bringing that about. When we talked about the future, several of you said that what I taught made sense; but when I was not there, you became muddled and doubted the authority I had offered you to break free from the old ideas that have enslaved our people for centuries. This is the first reason for my resurrection, that I might be with any one of you wherever you are. I see you there, Cleopas; we met on the road to Emmaus, and I stayed with you for a meal, and here we are now. Do you all understand? I am to be available and in support of you wherever you are.
“I also gave you power to go out and preach and heal in my name. You came back amazed at how it worked. People listened to you when you bore witness to me and what I was teaching. There will be a time when I will again send you out, and you will go forth only to find me already there before you.
“As you discovered, without me you could do nothing, but through me you will again amaze yourselves. Imagine a vine. During the winter all the branches are pruned off, and the vine looks like a dead stick. That is how everything looked like to you yesterday. In the spring the new growth begins to happen and new branches thrust out in all directions. This moment today is the beginning of that springtime. I am the vine, rooted deeply in God our Father, and you are the branches. Just as I am rooted in our God, so you must be connected to me. As the Father is the source of all life, so for you I am the immediate source of that life. What I give you comes from the Father, what I have taught you comes from the Father. As I shall never be separate from the Father, now you must not be separate from me.”
I looked around at the others. Most of them were nodding but with bewildered looks on their faces. As Jesus paused, they looked at each other for some confirmation or agreement about what they had heard. When we looked back, Jesus was gone.
Mary stood in the archway leading back to the food preparation area and, walking into the room, said, “Now you know what I learned this morning. Since then I have been filled with that same inner certitude he gave me when we first met, and he drew me to him. On Friday I thought I had lost that. I now own it forever. I have known hell, but now I know heaven, and it is the power of the Most High. That power has raised Jesus from death, to be a Messiah in ways we could not imagine. This is the genius of our God.”
We stood round the table, not knowing what to do. Nobody wanted to leave, but none of us had anything to add.
We had no idea what this meant or how we should interpret what Jesus had said.
An hour later, Thomas came in. By then we had recovered and told Thomas what we had experienced. Of course he couldn’t believe it and said as much. I don’t blame him. He was like the rest of us. Lost in our grief, we had no way to accept such an unlikely and wonderful surprise.
Thomas asked, “Was he real? You say he came through the door when it was barred? Nobody saw him leave? Was he a ghost?”
We looked at each other with alarm, but Peter said, “No, he was my friend, my rabbi, and I would know him anywhere. He stood here”—and he motioned to the spot where Jesus had first stood, “and he sat right there. It was him and no ghost.”
Thomas shook his head. “Oh, God, I want it to be true so much. If I could see the wounds in his hands and feet and even the wound in his side, maybe I would be able to accept it. I saw him dead. His death was so utterly wrong. I can’t let it go. I have been in this despair for two days now. How can this be? I saw him dead, so dead.”
Thomas sank down on a bench and dropped his head into his hands and wept.
ive days after that first appearance, I was sitting with four other disciples in the late afternoon light that filtered in through the window opening. The sounds of the city were distant, bouncing off the walls of the buildings around us. We were all filling our time as best we could, for there was nothing to do but wait. We ventured out with some trepidation. Over time we relaxed and realized the authorities were not after us, but that first week we kept the doors locked and hardly left the building. We were beginning to argue with each other and the waiting was making us short in patience.
[vi]On this occasion James the son of Zebedee was bent over a scroll he’d been studying for some time. He looked up at his brother, across the table at which they sat. “I can’t make out what this says. Daniel the prophet is too hard for me. I never did pay much attention to the rabbi when he was trying to teach me to read.
“Listen to this, ‘And thrones were set up, one for the Ancient of Days,’ and it looks like ‘the other was for the Holy One, the One like a Son of Man was presented to the Ancient of Days.’ That is more or less clear and we know who the Holy One or Son of Man is. Clearly that’s Jesus. What, though, are we to do? Jesus has to come back and finish what he started, and sort this mess out just like it says here,” and he pushed the scroll of Daniel across to his brother, John.
“Where did you get the scroll?” asked Matthew. “The Essene brothers upstairs? Yes, I thought so. You can’t believe everything they say. They have very strange ideas. As for the writings of the prophet Daniel, they are dreams and fantasy wrapped up in a history lesson.”
James replied heatedly, “Jesus has certainly not done what we expected, nor what John the Baptist taught, nor what the Essenes or a bunch of others going all the way back to Amos expected. The day of the Lord is to be a day of Judgment and of reckoning. That is what we are looking for. Jesus is the only one likely to deliver on that. He will have to return.”
Thomas spoke from the shadow of his corner seat. “No, he has already returned; he told us how his Kingdom works. Don’t you remember the parable of the sower? That was about God sowing the seed in us, and it growing with a life of its own. Do you remember the mustard seed and the yeast?”
Thomas went on, “Oh yes, with all the violence and corruption in this city there will be hell to pay. There will be a day of reckoning all right, but we’ll do it to ourselves. My Lord and my friend, my holy one, wept over this city because he knew it would not hear his words of peace. I think you have it all wrong. Jesus loved this city. He loved his people. He did not want to see war, judgment and retribution.”
James indicated the scroll with his calloused hand. “It says here, ‘One like a son of man will come in the clouds.’ Well, that is him! He said he would be back, and he was going to destroy the temple. I remember him saying that. He described himself as the Son of Man and told us several times what the Son of Man would do when he came.”
His brother John spoke up. “Yes, when James and I asked him if we could sit on either side of him in his kingdom, he didn’t say there was no kingdom, but that it wasn’t up to him. There has got to be a kingdom. I agree with John about that.”
Andrew piped up, “Why don’t we get him to build a new kingdom out in the country? We could start at Capernaum and have it by the lake. Let’s get away from this place. I hate the way this city smells, the dirt, the noise and chaos everywhere.”
Matthew got up. As he took the scroll in his hands he turned to Andrew and said, “That’s an idea. Just leave this place to rot. Trouble is, this is Jerusalem and we can’t move it. What would you do? Put it on a cart?”
Matthew went on, “Let’s see. Here I see thrones were set up for the Ancient of Days. That has got to be our God, may his name be blessed. Then the One like a Son of Man is presented to the Ancient of Days. That’s Jesus, it has to be. So? We may suppose that has now happened and Jesus is on that throne. Well, what is he doing visiting here and spending time on us? No, I think this is nonsense. It is so unlike Jesus and all he stood for.
“Look here,” and he jabbed his finger at the scroll. “We have all these nations rising and falling. As far as I can judge, they are all destroyed and the Kingships and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heavens shall be given to the people of the Holy Ones of the Most High. That’s us. Right? It’s quite clear. It’s written here, and the Son of Man, that’s Jesus, gets to sit on the throne beside the Ancient of Days. From there he will do his judging at the end of time. Knowing Jesus, and the love and warmth of him, do you think he’ll want to spend his time destroying nations? I just don’t think so. It’s not like him. Nations mean people, and he never wished ill on anyone. I think you’re wrong.”
John snatched the scroll back. “Let’s see that. OK, here, I thought I had seen it somewhere. Here there is reference to the great Prince, Michael; I don’t know who he is. Is he an archangel, do you suppose? He will preside over the resurrection of everyone; some will go to destruction and others, those who were the wise, shall shine like the brightness of the sky. That sounds as if we all have to wait till this judgment day you mentioned, Matthew. Listen to this, ‘Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.’ That’s going to be us, don’t you think?”
I couldn’t take any more of the nonsense. “John, James you are wrong. Jesus’ kingdom is here and now. It’s not later. He told us over and over. Being with him is being in his kingdom. If we see him, we see God. His kingdom is not of this world but is within us. We live in it right now. Don’t you see? He is now available to us. Just last Thursday night at our Passover Supper, he promised us he would dwell in us. Don’t you remember what he said about the bread during supper, then the wine in Elijah’s cup after supper? We miss the point if we go running after all these prophecies. It’s all old history anyway. He told us to wait, there is more to come.”
James stubbornly shook his head. “Yes, but there has to be a kingdom here.”
John nodded. “Yes, and there has to be a judgment. People can’t get away with what they did to him. I want to see those clergy get it in the neck; they deserve it. God cannot let them get away with what they did.”
I gave up and left. I unlatched the door and stood in the opening for a moment, trying to put in words my frustration at the brothers’ obtuseness, but I gave up, shook my head, and left. I returned to my little home with its memories of Jesus sitting grinning at me over the rim of his cup of mint tea. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was utterly drained by my waiting, wanting, and remembering.
The next Sabbath we met again to eat the Sabbath meal, and we had hardly lit the lamps and said the blessing over the bread when Jesus was there with us. Thomas rose from his seat, and Jesus addressed him, “Thomas, look, here are my hands. Look at my feet. I am back.”
Thomas uttered a strangled cry of pain and threw himself at Jesus’ feet with a cry, “Oh, my Lord and my God.”
“It’s OK, Thomas. I tried to tell you all but how could you understand this? What is happening is beyond your understanding right now, but you will come to see how this is going to work. I am with you only a little longer; then you will see me no more. You will look for me, but I cannot be only here. I give you a new commandment: love each other as I have loved you and I will be there.
“When you feel me stir in you, and your spirit is moved, you will know who it is. That is why I am here now, so you may know it is really me that dwells in you. It is not your imagination. Your job will be to introduce others to me, so I may dwell in them also. This way, between us, we will give people that new heart you have read about in the prophets and which we have spoken of.”
Peter asked, “But where are you going?”
“Where I am going, you cannot follow. Let it go for now. Just know everything is on target. This is how it had to happen. There was no other way. So back off for now, just rely on God, and remember me as you know me now. I am off to prepare for the next phase. I will take you to myself, so that where I am you will be there also and our friendship will continue forever.”
Thomas, who had recovered and sat back on the bench beside the table, asked, “But why? We don’t know what we are supposed to do or where to go. We don’t know what’s going on.”
Jesus spoke in that emphatic way he had when he was making an especially important point he wanted us all to know. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Anyone can come to the Father through me. If you know me, then you will recognize the Father beyond me. Remember how I described the power to heal flowing through me like an irrigation ditch carries water all the way from the distant lake? Well, that is how it will be, but that power will flow through you. Just be patient and then you will experience what I am talking about.
“I am not going to leave you on your own, but I will come to you. The world may not see me, but you will and not with your eyes but with your hearts. You will know I am with you because you know what I am like. You will know it’s me because you will know I am raised from death. That’s why I am appearing to you now so you will be clear about whose presence you feel within you.
“All this is confusing for you now but remember the bread and wine I asked you to eat and drink as my body and blood; it is as simple as that. Take everything that is me into yourselves. Let my values, my hopes, my vision, and especially my love become your values. The wine represents my life; I want to be alive in you, so, like drinking wine, take my life into yourselves. My life is unlike any other life on earth; it is not going back to God, but rather I want to be alive in you. I will reside in you, and you will recognize me, for you know very well what I am like. Over time, if you allow yourselves, you will grow more and more like me, until you are illuminated by my presence.
“All I need from you is your answer to my invitation, your yes. It’s like that marriage feast I talked about; everyone was invited but only those who said yes to that invitation got to go. I will forever need your yes.”
We all looked at each other, then looked back, but Jesus was gone.
Over the years, stories of Jesus’ resurrection have been improved upon in an attempt to convince people it all happened. We experienced the Risen Christ for sure. We were with each other when it happened, except Paul, of course, but that was years later. Jesus appeared in our midst. Greeted us, made himself known to us, spoke with us, and then was gone. At that time we were afraid the authorities would come for us so the doors were locked wherever we were. It did not matter to him. He was there in the middle of us all several times.
There are stories of his resurrection that have him cooking breakfast and eating a piece of fish. I never saw anything like that. These stories were made up later to make Jesus’ appearance to us seem more real. I don’t blame those who invented them. For us, his appearances gave way to certainty of him dwelling in us just as he said at the Passover Feast that Thursday night. We had to know it was him, not just our imagination, because this was to be his answer to the conundrum of changing our very hearts. Even today, fifty years later, the bread still conveys to me his values, his dreams and objectives, or, in other words, his essential self, which he asked us to eat and make part of ourselves. I look back now and see I am changed in spite of myself.
The other half was the idea he expressed with the wine that he described as his blood. This represented his life, a life that unlike any other life in the world was not going back to God, but would animate us. In other words, his spirit would dwell in us and be about the tasks of the Kingdom of God. His presence would spread from person to person, embracing anyone, anywhere.
Jesus had told us he would return. He would be back to finish the job he came to do. Well, he is back. To this day he has never left, and is about the work of God’s Kingdom.
That was our first experience of the Risen Christ. At that time we were just glad to have him back. We had no idea what we were caught up in. We would rather have had him as he was before that terrible Friday, just Jesus of Nazareth, friend, companion, and personal rabbi. He is different now. He really is what he described to us when he was alive; I mean before. Now he is that Son of Man figure, the Holy One of God. I still wished it had never happened and we could have had him as our friend, joking and laughing along the road.
I call to mind his parable of the sower, about the crazy farmer who threw the grain all over the place. As the Christ, that’s what he has been doing ever since he appeared to us. Now there are all kinds of people saying yes to that invitation he mentioned. It took me a while to get it, but I’ve seen happen over and over what we disciples had experienced in his presence to begin with.[viii] His story of the wedding feast describes exactly what has happened since those early days after he appeared to us. Crowds of ordinary people hear themselves invited and they have said yes. Now they are all at the wedding feast. There is no limit to his invitation and it is going out all over the place. I have witnessed a tipping point in creation. I see that nothing has been the same since.
That was the last we saw of Jesus as one we would recognize with our eyes.
So, the Christ entered the world and is loose and beyond the reach of evil. Now that the light of the Christ is thrown upon it, evil no longer can exist without being recognized for what it is. No longer does the world reside in darkness, but anyone can walk in the wisdom of God’s love for his world. Evil does not threaten us; the Christ threatens evil wherever it raises its ugly head.
This great gift to the world comes from our nation, from Israel, that has herself struggled with the burden of its own calling as the people of God. The Christ—the Holy One of God—is fulfilling that old promise to Abraham: “Through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.”
The Christ is loose in the world, and he will do everything the Father has ever intended.
Over fifty years after these events I have described, I stood facing the rising sun on the island of Patmos, and I thought of Jesus’ words so long ago, “You don’t take a light and put it under a basket; no, you stick it on a lampstand. If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it?”
I thought again of my friends, remembering how they stood firm and refused to bow to the demand to worship the very image and face of evil. I thought, “Yes, we are the salt of the world. We are the light for the world. There are not many of us yet. But we are like Spartans without spears, the thin red line in the forefront of the action. Our mission is to announce to the people of this beautiful world the call of its creator.”
There is in the world that which will not recognize any such call, and recoils from any such hope or possibility. All that evil knows is the mindless need to deny and destroy. It builds nothing nor creates anything worth the material it is made from, but it spreads suffering and death to all it touches.
My Lord took me by the hand and showed me over again what I had known and what I had been part of. It was nothing short of the salvation of the world. Gone is my anger and hatred. Even in myself I can feel how that grotesque presence reached out to me to corrupt my soul. I was filled with its bitterness. I was brought to the brink of being utterly consumed in rage and hatred.
[i] John 20:1-18 Mary Magdalene was at the tomb very early. Why? Maybe she had been worrying the whole weekend about the safety of the body and the owner would order the disposal of the body if he had heard what they had done. Her worst fears realized she is unable to recognize Jesus when he appears, but thinks he is the gardener.
[ii] The Shroud markings indicate the event that left those marks lasted but a very short time, during which the cloth had not moved. It apparently fell in on itself and the body dissipated through the cloth.
[iii] Was Jesus’ return on that first day of the week indeed his second coming? Was this the beginning of what Jesus tried to tell the disciples at the last supper?
[iv] Luke 24:13-35 Jesus’ second appearance.
[v] John 20 19. Jesus appears to all the disciples.
[vi] What were the disciples thinking about during the days between the two Sabbath appearances. These conversations are fictitious, but based on the likelihood the disciples had not and would not relinquish their view of the Kingdom of God for some time I explore how their thinking about the second coming began to develop.
[vii] John 20:26-30 Jesus appears to the disciples and Thomas is there.
[viii] Parable of the wedding feast. Luke14:15-24 and Matthew 22:1-10