Easter- the story in the garden…

I wrote this piece for our Aoradh Easter gathering… He is alive!

It was still dark when Mary left the house.

Not that she had been sleeping. The house was full of fear since Jesus had been taken. Fear of the soldiers coming by torchlight and beating on their doors. Fear that they too would face a long lingering death on a cross.

But there was something worse than fear- worse even than death. When they killed Jesus, everything that Mary had hoped for- everything she had believed in- had fallen apart.

All she had left was a dead body.

To prepare for the grave.

She would have gone sooner- but yesterday had been a religious festival, and the pew police would have been out in force to prevent anything that looked like work. Particularly this kind of work, for this kind of man.

So she carefully closed the door behind her, and gathered her cloak against the morning chill and walked softly through the empty streets towards the edge of town.

As the sky lightened to the east, she came to a small hilly area, full of cool early morning shadows, and grand old trees. It was the garden of a rich man- where he had prepared a tomb for his family.

He had been one of those ‘secret’ supporters of Jesus- Mary felt anger burn in her- another powerful religious type who had a reputation to maintain. Where was he during the terrible mock trial…and the beating…and the humiliation….and the long walk toGolgotha? Still- he had supplied the tomb which was not without risk, and had also paid for some expensive perfume and spices with which to prepare the body. Guilt money she thought, bitterly.

It was already getting lighter as she walked under the trees, the dew on the grass soaking the hem of her skirt. It suddenly occurred to her that the tomb would be closed. The stone would have been rolled across the entrance and her journey would have been in vain. A sudden anxiety quickened her steps.

A rocky outcrop lay ahead, still laced with morning mist. She was almost there.

As she reached the tomb, shafts of low sunlight were beginning to filter through the trees, making it hard to see clearly.

The tomb was open.

Someone had moved the stone.

Mary’s pace slowed almost to a stop. She walked as if through water. And she had forgotten to breathe.

Standing in the entrance to the tomb, her eyes had to adjust to the darkness. She finally took a shaky gasp of air, and steeled herself for the task ahead.
Steeled herself for another glimpse of that broken body.

But the stone cut slab lay empty.

Empty apart from the winding sheets.

At first, she could not take it in. What was this? What did it mean?

Then it hit her like a new bereavement. It was not enough that they should just kill him, they also needed to erase his memory from the people. The last thing they needed was a shrine to give a focal point for more of his kind of revolutionary activity.

They had taken the body.

They had taken her Lord.


Later, when she told the story (and there were always people who wanted to hear it) she would always struggle to remember what happened next.

She knew that she had started running- retracing her steps through the garden, and back into the town. The streets were coming alive, and she must have looked like a mad woman, running crying over the cobbles and hammering on the door.

She knew too that Simon and John set off to the tomb to see for themselves, because she followed behind.

She remembered walking the garden, hardly able to see the ground in front of her because of her tears.

In the middle of it all, she found herself back at the tomb- but she was no longer alone. Two men, dressed in white stood with her. She was past caring who they were, or where they had come from but remembered the surprise in their voices when they asked her “Woman, why are you crying?”

A strange question to ask anyone in a tomb.

Then she stood in the morning light again, not knowing what to do, where to go, who to speak to. Feeling desperate, alone and hopeless.

Suddenly, came another voice- “Who is it you are looking for?”

She mumbled something about the taking of a body, and taking him for a gardener, began to ask if he knew anything about what had happened, when another word stopped her in mid sentence.

“Mary” he said.

Spoken softly and gently- with a tinge of humour, and a dripping with of love.

It was a word on which her whole life pivoted.

He was alive.

And now, so was she.

Lazarus laughs again…

There are many people mentioned in the margins of Bible stories… some by name.

There is the Gentile-convert-to-Judaism-convert-to-Christianity called Nicolas of Antioch, chosen as one of the seven stewards in Acts chapter seven- along with Stephen, the first martyr. Nick from Antioch- what was his story then? Spiritual gypsy perhaps? A bit of a hippy? But considered trustworthy enough to be given a role as a servant of the embryonic church, and mentioned by name for thousands of years to come…

Later recorded though (By Irenaeus- see here) as starting another Gnostic sect and getting his doctrine all Hippy-shaken.

Then there is Simon the Leper. Mentioned a few times, including as providing a feast for Jesus in his house in Bethany (Mark chapter 14)- you may remember this as the time when a woman broke an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it on the head of Jesus- almost as if she had some idea that soon he would be anointed for burial… who was she- and what motivated her towards this act of excess- what had she seen in Jesus- how had he touched her life?

But back to Simon the Leper. How did he get his name? Was it because he was an extremely spotty kid and the cruel nickname stuck?

Or perhaps he really had been a leper?

If so, why was he mingling with people and not away in a leper colony with the other unclean people, outcasts, not party throwing?

Could it be that Jesus healed him? And after he showed himself to the priests, and was declared clean, he returned home, and his story was known far and wide?

We know that Jesus had some other friends in Bethany, whose story is more well known- the wonderful story of Lazarus, perhaps the most hen-pecked of people in the Bible, sandwiched between Mary the starry eyed dreamer, and Martha the houseproud (if grumpy) hostess.

It is the stories behind the stories that are fascinating- the filling out in three dimensions of these half glimpsed characterisations. Mary, who in many traditions was the same woman who broke the jar of perfume, and was known as Magdelene, from whence she had returned to live with her brother, under some kind of shameful cloud.

And after the events of the story- what happened to these people? Did they make the journey to Jerusalem to watch the triumph and tragedy and then glory of what we now know of as the Easter story?

Were they in the upper room when the Spirit came in power?

Was Lazarus the same man who went as a missionary to what is now Cypress, and whose bones still lie in a shrine there? Did his sisters go with him? Did Martha give those Cypriots what for when they trod dirt onto her clean floors?

So here is something I stumbled on that retells some of Lazarus’ story again- enjoy!