Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Dark Before Dawn

From, written by Sylvia Dorham

April 6, 2007

It's Friday night, after they have hastily entombed the body.

John brings Mary back to the house. He puts her downstairs in a sleeping room, and climbs the ladder to the Upper Room.

Peter is sitting on the floor against the wall. John tells him what happened. Peter curls into fetal position on the floor and sobs.

John looks up to see Mary climbing unsteadily into the room. Peter's cries have roused her.

Mary, consoling Peter, sits with him on the floor, wiping tears from his beard and staunching his running nose. She sops his sweat with her mantle, and he sees blood on it. He bursts into a fresh paroxysm of tears. She hugs his head to her, rocking him. Petting his head, reminding him to strengthen his brothers.

He is ashamed that she is nursing his weakness as she only recently nursed her son's strength, but it is without bitterness that he climbs to his feet and, with her encouragement, begins to welcome each of the disciples as they trickle furtively back into the Upper Room, each as ashamed as Peter at their betrayal.

It is the Sabbath.

Like criminals, stealthily, they have returned to the place they were last together. Peter seats them at the table. He breaks the bread and blesses the wine, serving each. They choke it down, remembering.

Peter has John tell what happened.

He tells them how Mary is their mother now. They must care for her.

The others relate what they heard during the night. Plans to hunt down and kill the disciples. Earthquake damage reports. Rumors about Judas' suicide. Anger and disbelief over what he did. Incomprehension. In fury, they cry.

Peter tells them to sleep, and they curl up on the floor, miserable but together.

All day, the Sabbath, they sleep, eat when they can, pray quietly, and make Mary comfortable. Everyone is very quiet for fear someone will come and drag them away to be crucified.

Each disciple glances at Mary, now their special charge, who, looking dazed, spends much time holding John's hand. She is very quiet. At mid-day, she puts a veil over her face. An occasional caught breath is the only indication of her emotion.

James travels covertly through the city and brings other women to the upstairs chamber to sit with her. They try to get her to eat.

The women plan a proper burial. Too hasty, last night. The men quietly slip into the streets to obtain supplies. They cannot travel far. Several friends provide the hundred pounds of herbs, ointments, and spices. The women will stay overnight.

Peter doesn't want to go. There is a guard detail at the tomb, he's heard. They'll arrest him the moment they see him. No one will bother an old lady and her companions as they embalm a dead body, but him! He fights the urge to run.

The day creeps into evening, and the pit in Peter's stomach grows heavier. He decides to go home. To Capernaum. At least he can still fish, even if the townspeople laugh at him for his itinerant preaching days.

In the morning. He'll go in the morning.

A distant roar wakes John. It's a heavy noise which reverberates like a living sound over the sleeping city. He gets up and tiptoes past the somnolent disciples to waken the women. It is still dark, but the sun will be up and the Sabbath over by the time they are ready. Each woman will carry a heavy jar of ointment. Mary will take the spices.

John opens the front door furtively, peering up the street before beckoning with his hands to the women, a silent black parade who follow him as far as the edge of the garden, where Mary insists he return home. John is almost back to the house when he is overtaken by running soldiers. They are disheveled with wild eyes. Some are missing their equipment.

John presses himself against a house, hoping to be overlooked, but the soldiers fly past as if the very gates of hell were loosed at their heels. John steals back to the Upper Room, not missed by the sleeping disciples.

The sun creeps up. Peter's been asleep. Warm. Comfortable. It's the moment between waking and remembering.

The door is flung open by a wild, round-eyed woman, yelling! The disciples are dazed. Half asleep, they tell her to calm down. Dust dances in the streams of sunlight pouring through the windows she's thrown open.

They shield their eyes, annoyed. Wondering at her impropriety.

From the ashes of anguish in Peter's heart, there leaps a bolt of ecstatic hope at her words. Oh God! Can it be?

Exchanged looks with John. This would be just like Jesus! Their eyes meet in wordless agreement. They bolt from the house, clattering down the ladder past the woman who is breathing hard, too excited to say more.

She follows Peter and John and the other apostles who are struggling into coats and straggling after them through quiet, early morning streets.

A million thoughts fly through Peter's brain — "Son of Man will rise again," is this what he meant? Oh God! Oh God! Please! Please!

John gets to the garden first and runs to Mary, who is standing, still and beautiful, a look of profound peace on her countenance. He stands with her, looking into the tomb.

Peter stumbles to them, and stops short, gasping, digging fingers into his side against the cramp. He tries to make sense of the massive boulder flung like a child's toy away from the entrance. It is fifty cubits UP the hill, lodged behind a clump of trees.

Several spears and helmets are scattered about as if abandoned in great haste.

Impulsively, unable to think, he shoulders past Mary and John and plunges into the cool darkness of the tomb.

The cave is deep, but light pours in through the entrance. Peter gives a strangled cry and falls to his knees, clutching at the burial shroud.

It is empty.

Sylvia Dorham is a mother of eight, freelance writer and voice over artist from Maryland. She and her husband are converts to the Catholic Faith.


BJ said...
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Christopher said...

That is a beautiful reflection on the empty tomb. I wish I had stumbled across your blog earlier, this would have been great for my youth group's Triduum Retreat.