Happy Easter, everyone! This has nothing to do with our training and it’s a little long, but I hope you enjoy anyway.
The lid to the trunk was jammed. She pulled hard and tugged until it finally burst open. The scent of the incense was strong. This particular trunk had not been opened in almost 10 years. The heat and moisture of the years had almost completely sealed the lid. Now, the smells that the lid had blocked assaulted her senses. She inhaled deeply and coughed as they overpowered her. They brought back so many memories. She lifted the vial from the trunk and groaned at its weight. She set it on the wood table and sat down in a chair. The vial was still just as beautiful as when they had first received it. She scrubbed the dust off of it and sneezed as the dust floated into the air. The dust and the smells were making her eyes water. She went to the bucket on the floor and dipped a corner of her dress in it. Using the moisture, she cleaned off the vial, making it shine like new. She sank back into the chair and turned to the open door to watch the sun rise. Another beautiful day. Actually, more beautiful than they’d seen in almost a week. If only it wasn’t going to be such a sad day, she might be able to enjoy the sunshine and warmth. Time ticked slowly by and still she sat. Finally, her two friends appeared at the door, their eyes showing as much sadness as her heart felt. They each carried their own gifts. She picked the vial up off the table, wrapped her head in her black shawl, and walked out into the early morning.
The sun was bright, almost blinding, this morning. The dew was damp under their feet, but nobody complained. It had been their own choice to make this trek this particular morning. While the rest of the world slept, they walked softly in their sadness, each carrying their own memories.
Her memories were more vivid with each step. These hillsides held so many of them. The vial in her hand held even more. Her thoughts went back to one silent night, 33 years ago.
She remembered the night as if it had happened the night before. She had been just a child, really, when she gave birth to her first baby. It hadn’t been like she’d planned. In fact, it was the diametrical opposite of what she’d wanted. Her mother had tried to prepare her for a birthing and she’d even been in attendance at a few, but nothing could have completely prepared her for it. It was like nothing she imagined and her young husband had been about as helpful as the animals that had looked on in the stalls. He had run around looking for water and pulling cloths out of the baggage until she had grabbed his tunic and forced him to stop and help her.
The night had been awfully dark and perfectly still. Their cave had been set back quite a ways from the inn, so they had no noise from the other patrons. It had been just them in those first few minutes. The soft cries of the new baby were so beautiful, they had wept in happiness. It wasn’t their home; it wasn’t anybody’s home but the animals, and yet it had all been so perfect. Her husband had done his best to make it wonderful. He had lined the manger with brand new, soft hay that smelled so sweet. He had moved the louder animals outside and tethered them so they wouldn’t leave, in order to have a little more quiet. He had laid his best tunic on the earthen floor to give her padding, knowing it would have to be burned once the ordeal was over since it would be defiled. He had found fresh water and bathed their new child, wrapping him in soft cloths she had brought along for just this case. The soft lighting of the lantern had made it so special, almost romantic. They had laughed at his tiny little hands, struggling against the confines of the cloth. They had sighed with contentment as he nursed for the first time. They couldn’t take their eyes from his perfect little body as he slept in the uncouth cradle.
The silence of the night had been broken by some noisy local shepherds. They had rushed in with the tale of having seen angels in the sky telling them where they could find their king. She had always thought it was peculiar that out of all the shepherds in the countryside this time of year, these particular ones had been told of the baby. These were the shepherds that raised the sacrificial lambs. Could that mean something? No, she had reasoned, just a wonderful coincidence. When they had left, she and her husband had talked until morning about all they had been told.
Then, they had brought their precious baby boy in to the priest to be circumcised. She had been dreading the horrendous ordeal, knowing the pain it would cause her sweet baby. But, her heart had been calmed as she met two wonderful people – an elderly man and an elderly woman. Both rejoiced at the sight of her little baby and were overjoyed to have met the child. The child? Why? He was just over a week old and yet they were excited to meet him? She knew he was special, but why would anyone else think he was?
And then there was the night they had been visited by a whole group of kings. They had moved into a small house in town and she had been rocking her baby to sleep after the evening meal. Her husband had been working on building them a new table when the commotion had started outside. He had flung open the door, expecting something sinister, only to find more than 100 men outside, climbing off camels, dressed like royalty. He had not known what was going on, but then three stepped forward, obviously the ones in charge. After much formality, they had explained about seeing a star and wanting to worship the new king. The baby was not even three! How could he be royalty? But, she had hid her thoughts and allowed them to bend their knee to her child, sitting contentedly on her lap, sucking his thumb. He had squealed in delight as they had offered their gifts to him. She distinctly remembered him pushing off her lap and toddling over to touch the beautiful boxes. He had squatted down next to them as only a toddler can do and clapped his hands in delight. One of the kings had been down on the baby’s level and was surprised when the child climbed into his lap and snuggled next to the robes. She remembered the king not knowing how to react and ending up succumbing to the child and playing games with him, making his laughter ring through the house.
During the walk that morning, she smiled at this remembrance. Her precious child had been able to bring joy to so many people. She pulled the vial closer to herself and shielded her eyes from the sun. It seemed to be rising awfully early this morning. As she looked at the trees and shrubs scattered on the hillside, more memories came back to her.
Her boy had grown into a wonderful child, then a young man. As a child, he had been full of joy and had spread that joy to the neighborhood children. He was gentle and loving as he taught the younger ones all he knew. His childish wisdom had always seemed more than his years. This was most apparent on a trip to the capitol for the feast. After losing him for a couple days, they finally had been forced to return to the city and found him, their boy, teaching the religious leaders!
As a teenager, he had worked with his father as a carpenter. She remembered his hands growing rough from all the work. She had spent many evenings pulling slivers from his still growing hands. By the time he was 15, his hands were as rough as his father’s and he worked just as hard. He was still amazingly good with his younger siblings, though. He always took time with the kids, playing and teaching and loving. His sisters were enamored by their big brother and followed him around constantly. She smiled at the memory of her tough 16 year old son picking up his 6 year old sister and setting her on his bench in the workshop and teaching her how to handle a saw. She had loved spending time with him and was always begging to go play with her big brother. Even his younger brothers loved him. He taught them all he knew and they all secretly strived to be like him. She knew because she was their mother and mothers always know these things!
And then one day, he had left. He had stayed home long enough, she knew. Longer even than his youngest sibling. He had been content to live in the barn, among his work. All the other siblings had married and moved to their own homes. They visited often and he loved his new nieces and nephews. That was why it had surprised her so much when he had left. He had packed what few belongings he had, said a brief goodbye, and walked out. She didn’t know where he was headed or if he’d be back and she remembered crying every night for weeks on end, wondering where he was and if he was okay. And yet, she knew all along that everything was fine – just as it should be.
She had been lonely, though, since her husband had passed away a few years before. Her son had been her rock, always there for her, helping her and taking care of her. But, now, he was hardly ever home. And when he was, the neighbors and townsfolk treated him with such contempt, she was almost glad to see him go. Her loneliness finally got to her and she moved to the capital. One of her sons lived there as well and had allowed her to live in a room in their small house.
She made herself useful, taking care of the grandchildren. Her son stopped by often and she traveled with him when she could. But, her health was not as it once was, so she became more and more content to stay home and wait for him to come to her. Then, those visits stopped as well.
She went once with some of her sons to see him teach. The crowd had been bigger than she had imagined. She knew he was drawing large groups of people whenever he talked, but she had no idea it was this many! They had tried to push their way to the front so she could see her son, but the crowds had kept them back. She sighed as she walked, remembering how frustrated she had been that she couldn’t get near her son. They had passed a message up to the front, but he had refused to see them, almost not even claiming them as family! Oh, she had been hurt! His brothers had been angry, refusing to return for a second try to see him later. She hadn’t blamed them. It was hard to understand. But, as she sat in her old rocker that night, she remembered something.
When she had been told she would have a child, she had been informed that he would be different. His father was not her husband. His family was so much bigger – in many ways – than she first thought. It made sense, though she couldn’t put it into words, that he would refuse to see them that day. Yet, how could she explain that to his brothers? This thought had bothered her for months.
She tripped on a rock in their path and one of her friends grabbed her arm to keep her steady. She thanked her and brushed the tears from her eyes that were blocking her view. She brushed the top of the vial with her hand, making sure it was still closed and in good condition. She looked down at the road she was walking on, but all her mind saw was her son’s last footsteps.
He had been beaten. He was bloody and almost stripped naked. He was missing his customary Jewish beard, since the men had ripped it out. His once muscular arms and back were just strips of flesh, hanging on by sheer will, not because they should have been. He had stumbled, like she had just then, only no one had been there to catch his fall. The man who had kept numerous children from falling in the crowds that followed him; the man that had helped the elderly sit and stand as they listened to him teach; the man that had put everyone else’s needs long before his own – had fallen, landing with pounds of wood hitting his blistered back, with no one to help him back up.
She had cried out, trying to break through the crowds to get to her son. Her baby! Her precious boy! But, the crowds had held her back and the best she could do was make eye contact with him. That had been just as painful as watching him fall, though, because the sadness in his eyes was more than tangible. His heart spoke to hers and she knew this was how it had to be. Yet, her heart continued to break as she pushed through the crowds, following him up the hill.
The sounds of the hammers had rung through the still air. The air had been stifling, no movement at all. She had thought she would pass out. But, her son’s best friend had held her steady, holding her up by his strength. One of her friends had passed out – her friend that walked with her now, looking so defeated. When they had raised that hideous piece of wood with her precious child hanging from it, she didn’t even have the voice to scream. Now, of all times, the crowd parted for her and his friend and they went to the foot of the cross. The guards prevented her from even wiping the blood off his feet. He had looked down at her with those sad eyes and in an even sadder voice he had asked his friend to take care of her. Take care of her? How could he think of her at a time like this? In his last moments, he was still thinking of others.
Her tears had flown, watching her precious son die before her eyes. It’s not supposed to be this way, she had cried mentally. Parents are not supposed to watch their children die! Especially not like this! She had forced herself to stand there, watching the skies turn gray, until the ordeal was over. His last shout was still echoing in the hills when his head had fallen in death.
Now, as they trudged through the morning dew, she wondered how the world could be so bright and look so exciting when such an atrocity had happened just a few days before. Her baby, her innocent child, had been murdered for no reason! And now, she was headed to his tomb to anoint him with the kingly gift he had been given at his birth. She touched the spot on the vial where the paint had chipped. As a child, he had insisted on playing with it and his little fingernail had chipped the beautiful paint. She could hardly believe she was carrying it now to finish his burial process. Her son’s burial. This was just too hard to believe.
They talked as they walked about how they would move the giant stone in front of his tomb. The men had not wanted to come with them this early morning. Their grieving would be done locked in a house in the city. The women needed to grieve by touching his body and saying their final farewells. And yet, the men who had killed him had made even their desire to merely say goodbye almost impossible with their ingenious idea of putting a huge stone in front of the entrance so no one would steal the body. The three women had no idea what they would do, except coerce the guards into opening the door so they could pay their respects. They could only pray it would work.
As they neared, they knew something was different. They could feel it in their bones. While the others slowed their steps, she sped hers up. They were at the tomb before they knew it…but it wasn’t as they expected it to be. It was open! The guards were not around and the door was wide open! What was going on? It was too good to be true! They ducked into the low tomb and saw two men in white sitting where her son should have been lying. The message they relayed was unbelievable and the other women raced to the men back at the house in town to share the good news. She continued to stand, dumbfounded, looking into the tomb.
A voice startled her. She turned, but there was no one. When she turned back to the tomb, the men in white were gone. The voice came again and she knew what it was. It was her son, calling her “mama” once more. Deep in her heart, she could hear his voice calling out to her, telling her it would all be okay – just like he had after her daughter fell and broke an arm, after her mother passed away, and after his father passed away. This was no exception. She knew, in her heart of hearts, it was all okay.
Mary set the vial of unused myrrh on Jesus’ unused burial cloths. This was one gift that would never have to be used. Death had no hold on her son. She knelt in the tomb, her hands grasping the burial cloths. “My son. My Savior,” she said as she raised her eyes to heaven. “It all makes sense now.”
Lisa Biegert, 2006