I did not want to go. I had travelled to that land of dreams. It was a light, serene place, a restful place. I had gone from life on this Earth. I had left the pain and the heat and gone away; away from my tired, sick body.
But when I heard him his voice was music itself. It threaded my soul back into sinewy surrounds, into the cavities of bone and flesh. Breath was born in my lungs again and my heart reverberated to the sound of his voice. It was my heart which heard his call. Then my ears responded, muffled as they were. My hands tried to pull the cloth from my face. There was the scent of aloes and of myrrh. My steps were slow and weak, my limbs numb. I leaned on the wall with one hand as I came, dragging the weighted linen which wrapped me. Blinded by the light, I felt the shock, the indrawn breath of the crowd but I couldn’t see them.
Then my sister Martha touched me warily. I could smell the wood smoke and warm bread in her hair. Her tears wet my cheek. Then Mary, my other sister, held my hand, rubbing the numbness out. I felt like a child again: their little brother once more, to be cosseted and plied with grapes and oranges.
Then Jesus held a lamp before my eyes and asked me to see. First the lamplight and then his dear face came into focus. We were all smiling. But later Mary came to me when I was resting. She looked troubled.
“Lazarus, this will not pass unnoticed by the men who would harm him. I fear we are near the end. They cannot bear his miracles”.
And Mary Magdalene was with us then. She was the one who saw more than the rest of us. She was completely devoted to Jesus. She came into the room holding the alabaster jar she had bought some time back.
“He will be going soon. We must prepare,” she said.
I was still dazed, not ready to understand the sadness in her eyes.
After supper she came with a basin and water to wash his feet and then rubbed them dry with her hair, weeping silently. Then she broke the top from the jar and poured the perfumed oil onto his feet and tenderly rubbed them. The rest of us sat in silence; except for a late bird ringing its bell tone in the tree outside, everything was stilled as we breathed the rich perfume. Then one of his companions said to Mary as she gathered up the shards.
“But this was valuable ointment. You are an extravagant woman. Why did you not put its price in the poor-box?”
Then Jesus spoke across Mary’s bent head, “There will always be poor people needing money. But Mary has seen what is coming. She understands my destiny. Did you not see her tears? She knows I am soon to leave you.”
He understood our hearts so well. I looked around at his companions, the men he had chosen. Some looked uncertain, puzzled by Mary’s act and by his reproof of Judas. Judas himself did not speak again but looked away, his lips tightly pressed.
A few, like John and I, had unshed tears. But we really didn’t understand him as well as Mary had. What harm could come to him? He who had this day called me back from the grave where I’d been lain three days before? Who could challenge such a commander of men as this?
Now that the year is past I can see that he came back to us four years ago, from the land of Hinde, the land of the Magi, only because he knew he must be killed. He had to allow the terrible, cruel will of the most aggressive men to manifest fully. Only then could he show the power of our Spirit which transcends all. My little death and return was not enough.
There were moments in the days which followed my return, after he was taken, when I could have wished he had not called me back. When we heard that they were torturing him, we could hardly even bear to breathe.
And later, after he and his mother, who is Mother of us all, after they’d gone away to Hinde, then, it seemed to me that it still was not ended: that the proof he’d shown would not be enough yet for people to change, to make themselves like him. There was still so much sadness in our lives.
When we were with him we could see and feel the truth of all that he said. He was clearly the manifest love of our Father. Even the dust of the roads couldn’t dull the radiance of his person. His body was fragrant, as if the flowers gave their perfume to him as he passed. The air around him shimmered and wherever his eyes looked colours grew brighter. His voice cooled our inner ear and caused our restless minds to expand into holy spaces.
But for all that, we couldn’t change the world when he had gone. The light went with him. Only his mother could comfort us then. She was truly a warrior’s mother. Later we realized that she had always known he was to be the sacrifice ─ apparent sacrifice, for death had no power over him. But in the days of darkness when we thought he had gone from us it was his mother, Mary, who drew us together and kept us from drowning in our grief.
We had gone to her house thinking to comfort her, to give voice to our mourning. We discovered her serene. She was arranging flowers in a vase and smiled a little at our pale faces and offered us food and comfort. As more and more people came she greeted each one with words of courage and nourished their poor faint bodies with fresh grape juice and wholesome bread. Some were shocked to find her so calm, so queenly. Had we not seen and shared her great pain? Seen through our tears as we’d witnessed his dying? As we’d clung together in that dark, dreadful place? But now, so soon after, she is untroubled. I marvelled at her nobility as she took each newcomer into her care. We had become quite a crowd, mostly silent but absorbed in the tranquility she spread about us.
Then we heard lively footsteps and all turned towards the doorway. Stephen appeared, glowing, overflowing with joy, breathless from his haste. His words were unbelievable. I thought at first I’d misheard him saying, “He is risen.” But there was no mistake. He looked directly across the room to Mary. Our eyes followed his and through our tears again we saw her smile and move her head in gentle affirmation, “Yes.”
Our hearts filled, and it is wonderful that we did not all leap up and exclaim and make a great noise. I imagine that the silence then was like it must have been at his first birth in that stable when his radiance and hers must have filled every living thing around with awe and peace. Then I understood how she had been able to fill us all with quiet satisfaction, with her own calm. She had always been so sure of him, this mother of warriors. She was absolutely certain of the ability of her son to transcend even death. He had always been like that. And they had known each other from before the beginning of the world. It was with this new awareness that she began to prepare us for the battles we were all to face in the years to follow.
(Photograph: The Resurrection of Lazarus by Jean Jouvenet. Courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)