Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Sometimes my sermons come out as stories. This one has be growing and developing over several weeks. Let me know how it impacts you.

Mary was looking for Jesus. But she just couldn't find him. Not in the fixed eyes which used to be so intense and clear, nor in the slack mouth which used to be so expressive, nor in the gore-encrusted hands that used to be so strong and yet so gentle. Mary could see nothing of her son in the hideously abused body that lay in the dust at the foot of the cross. Her mind told her that this was Jesus but she could not feel anything towards the grotesque remains that barely resembled him. It was like looking at the corpse of an impostor. She couldn't find any emotional resonance in her for this thing that used to be a man.

She had cried and prayed and keened for him as he suffered his last long hours on this earth. She had strained to hear his last words, rasped out of his parched and bleeding lips. It was agony. She did not think anyone could suffer that much. And maybe that was why she could feel nothing now. As her body had emptied itself of tears, it had drained her of every last drop of sorrow. All her emotions were poured out and sucked up by the thirsty earth. It was almost peaceful, this surrender to apathy and the death of the spirit. She wasn't sure she wanted to feel anything, even if that were possible. There was nothing to look forward to but the endless quiet of the grave.

The man from Arimathea was talking to some servants and though she could hear his voice clearly, Mary could not grasp the meaning of his words. All her senses seemed dull, muted--sounds, colors, even the metallic smell of the blood of 3 men. Mary did not try to take it in. She let it blow past her like the hot, dry wind that whipped her gown around her. She felt apart from the world and it was not a bad state to be in. There was, at least, no pain.

The servants were reluctantly taking positions at the head and feet of the corpse, and looked as if they were searching for any excuse not to touch it. It was obvious that this went beyond the fact that they would become unclean to celebrate the Passover. The rich man gave a command and the servants bent down and gingerly took hold of the body. They started to lift when the servant at the head began to lose his grip. They hurriedly let the body down and that servant worked his arms under the body's arms and clasped his hands across the chest, grimacing at the close embrace.

They accomplished the lift this time and crab-walked the body sideways over a very expensive burial linen. After some realignment, they lowered the body onto the cloth. The one servant tenderly yet squeamishly let the head down, stepped back and then vigorously rubbed his hands together and brushed his cheek.

Mary forced herself to take a last look at what remained of her son. This would be the last time she would see him and some part of her told her to make the most of it. Her eyes swept slowly over the obscenity they had made of her beautiful boy. No. This was not him anymore. She saw nothing there that could touch her any longer. Until her gaze lit on the scar.

The crescent-shaped scar shown whitely against his sun-burnt leg. Mary hadn't seen it in decades. But then she hadn't seen her son naked since he was a boy. Still she knew the scar in an instant. She had put it there.

She had been cooking and tending the fire, an endless task when her children all lived at home. She was making bread when she heard the scream. She was galvanized, not only because the pitch mean serious pain but because she was shocked by which child the scream belonged to. Jesus never screamed.

In a second Mary had stepped into the front room of their modest house which served as Joseph's shop. Jesus was sitting in the middle of the dirt floor, Joseph's second best hammer and a chisel on the floor, a block between her son's leg and a pool of blood spreading out from him. Mary grabbed Jesus up and put him on a work table, looking for the source of the blood. It was not hard to find. The chisel had sliced a thin but serious-looking flap of flesh on his inner thigh. It was still firmed attached at one end and appeared to be mostly fat but Mary was at a loss for what to do. Nazareth had no doctor, nor could they afford one if it had. Joseph knew a lot about how to treat cuts and small accidents, since injuries were an occupational hazard. But he was in Sepphoris, 4 long miles away. Take Jesus to the rabbi? He couldn't staunch the bleeding and mend the flesh. An awful clarity came to Mary. She would have to do this herself and quickly.

She yelled for her other children. They came running, alarmed at her tone of voice. When they saw Jesus and the blood, they stopped, goggle-eyed.

"Boys, hold your brother down," Mary barked, disentangling the sobbing, clinging Jesus from her gown and laying him down on the table. "Girls, get the wine and my sewing things."

Mary arranged James, Jude, Simon and little Joseph to hold Jesus' arms and legs. Jesus wailed louder. When the girls brought the wine, Mary poured some on a rag and washed the wound. Taking her sewing kit, Mary quickly considered which needle she would have to use and what thickness and strength of thread. Ordinarily a woman of her means would not have much of a selection in sewing supplies but Mary supplemented Joseph's income by making clothes for other families. She chose what she would need carefully but without hesitation and then said to her children in a no-nonsense voice: "Don't let him move."

It must have been horrific to watch and hear but Mary was focused on doing what she had to do. Whipping off her head scarf, she kept wiping away the blood, holding the flap in place, inserting the needle, pushing and then pulling it through, continually telling her children to fetch this, hold that and for God's sake, stop Jesus from squirming. Finally James laid his body over his older brother's lower legs, using his weight to stop Jesus from kicking and rolling his leg away from Mary's sewing. By the end all the children were crying but they grimly hung on. After 2 tries, Mary finally got her trembling fingers to tie a knot that held. She stood up. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. She picked up her sobbing and trembling firstborn and held him tight. She sent James to fetch the rabbi.

The whole village was at the door by the time the rabbi arrived. He looked at the wound, expressed some surprise at Mary's work and then anointed Jesus with oil, laid hands on him and prayed. He recommended giving Jesus some wine to help him sleep and said he would return in the morning.

The next few days were a blur. Jesus ran a fever and the boys fetched water to cool him. Mary was could barely leave his side, though they all lived in one room. The girls took over the cooking and did a fair job with a limited number of dishes. Mary got very little sleep.

She started awake one dawn to see Jesus, sitting up and looking at his stitches in the early light of day. Joseph and the other children were sleeping. Noticing she was awake, Jesus said, "You hurt me."

Fighting the temptation to reply, "You hurt yourself," Mary said, "I had to."

Jesus furrowed his brow. "Why?"

"I had to mend you."

"But it hurt."

"It would have been worse if I hadn't. As it was you got sick."

"But you shouldn't hurt people."

"Sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have to hurt people to keep them from real harm."


"I don't know. I didn't want to. But sometimes we have to do things we don't want to, to help people, especially the people we love."

Jesus seemed to ponder this and then said, "I forgive you."

Mary gasped at this. "And I forgive you for playing with your father's tools without permission."

Jesus looked abashed. He fingered the scar gingerly. "Sorry." He looked so small and miserable that Mary wrapped him in her arms. "I would have taken that pain for you if I could have," she whispered into his fine hair.

"But you couldn't."


Jesus was quiet so long that Mary thought he had fallen asleep again. And then he said, "But God could."

Mary didn't know what to say.

And suddenly Mary came back to herself, out of the memory, to find herself crying, reaching out to Jesus' body, gathering him to her, not caring that his blood was staining her gown any more than she did on that work table, sobbing so hard she was gulping for air, saying his name over and over. The other women fell on their knees, hugging her and holding her while the men looked distressed and shifted uncomfortably. The Roman centurion turned away and stared at the ground.

Finally, a voice said, "Mary, Joseph is waiting." Mary raised her head and looked uncomprehendingly at the young man who had spoken. Joseph? Here? Back from the dead? But John was gesturing toward the rich man from Arimathea. Oh. Right. He was Joseph, too. Common name, after all. Just wasn't thinking. When I lose the men I love, they never come back.

Mary watched as the servants wrapped a towel around Jesus' face and then wrapped his body in the shroud. They lifted it and she followed them as they carried his body to a nearby burial garden. They carried him into a rock-carved tomb, a new one by the look of it. As they started to roll the large millstone-shaped rock over the entrance Mary protested that they hadn't properly washed and anointed the body.

"The Sabbath is almost upon us," said Joseph almost apologetically, looking at the rapidly falling sun.

"I'll come right after Sabbath and do it," said the other Mary, the one from Magdala. The other women immediately promised to go with her and help.

The stone was rolled into place.

And is that it? thought Mary. Is that the end of her son, the one the angel had announced, the one conceived by no man, the one God called his son. Was he simply to die like any other man? Is this the salvation he was to bring? Is this the blessing Mary had sung about? Is this really the end?

John touched her shoulder and brought her out of her reverie. He offered her his arm. "Come on," he said. "It's over."

Looking back at the tomb one last time, she turned and said, "It better not be."

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