Via Dolorosa

Yochanan

I ran and hid till morning.

Shortly after dawn I met Shimon on his way out of Jerusalem. He was in great distress.

“I—he—it happened just like he said,” he said, and flung his arms around me.

“Shimon, what’s happened? Are you running away?”

“Yeshua, he—he told me that I would deny him three times before morning.”

I remembered what he was talking about. During supper Yeshua had told us that he was going where we couldn’t follow. Shimon had protested that he would never abandon him, and Yeshua had prophesied.

“I followed them, bar-Kepha and that rat Yudah and the rest, to bar-Kepha’s courtyard. Someone asked me if I was one of Yeshua’s disciples. I wanted to stand up for him, protest his innocence, but they would have killed me, Yochanan. So I told them—I told them, no, not me. Then they asked me again, when I was warming myself by the fire, and I denied him again, but they didn’t believe me, so I repeated myself. Then the cock crowed and I remembered. I betrayed him, Yochanan. I—I’m no better than that bastard Yudah.”

“Shimon,” I said, “none of us is perfect. If Yeshua were here, he would tell you that God is gracious, and to pray for forgiveness. It could have been any one of us: if we don’t lie low now they will kill us like I fear they will him.”

Shimon said nothing, and I watched him walk into the distance. I sat there by the road for a long while. Maryam found me in the late morning.

“They’ve sentenced him,” she said. “He’s to be crucified.”

“What do we do?” I asked. “What can we do now?”

“There is nothing we can do to save him,” she said. “All we can do is go to the place where they will do it and pray for him.”

We sat, not looking at each other, for a long time.

A jeering sound came from the direction of the city, slowly getting louder, and we saw Yeshua walking in front of two other condemned prisoners, and a large crowd behind them.

Even with the heavy burden of a cross, and a crown of thorns that the guards had put on his head cutting into his brow, with the crowd shouting mocking insults, he still had the same quiet dignity. His forehead ran with blood, running in rivulets down his cheeks. My eyes filled with tears. We joined the grim procession, walking beside him, no longer caring who saw us.

A short while later, Yeshua stumbled under the weight of the cross and fell to the ground. I made to help him, but a soldier brushed me aside and picked him roughly up.

Ahead of us was a face I recognized: Maryam bat-Yoaqim, Yeshua’s mother. She ran to him and seized his hands. I tried to imagine what it must be like for her to lose her son like this. She joined us walking with him.

Two people fought their way to the front of the crowd. I recognized them as being among those who had travelled with us near the beginning of our mission. The man picked up the end of Yeshua’s cross. The soldiers conferred to one another, but did not stop him. The woman wiped his face with a fine linen cloth.

Yeshua fell again, his face in the dust. He grimaced, and this time picked himself up without the soldiers’ help. We walked on, until, exhausted and afraid, he fell again and lay prone on the ground. The soldiers shouted at him to get up.

At last we reached the place which is called the Place of the Skull. Yeshua’s clothes were taken from him and we watched, grief-stricken, as he was nailed to the cross. His cross was raised between the other two condemned, and we sat on the ground at the foot of the cross, praying with him.

“Woman,” he said to his mother, “behold your son.” At first I thought he was talking about himself, but I soon realized he meant me, that I should take care of her when he was gone. To me, he said, “Behold your mother.” I swore that I would do all I could for her.

Yeshua’s torture lasted for hours. It tore me up to watch him, but I could not look away. Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, he gave a loud cry. The crowds watching misheard him, or misunderstood him on purpose. They said he was calling for Eliyah, but we heard what he said.

God help us, we heard him.

Gethsemane

Maryam

It was the evening of Passover. Yeshua had sent Shimon and Yochanan to prepare the meal. We had escaped the crowds that had followed us from Bethany after the miracle at Eleazar’s tomb, and had lined the streets as Yeshua rode into the city on a borrowed donkey. He had sent most of his followers away, and said it with such heaviness that they listened. He seemed drawn, distant, as though he was afraid of something we couldn’t see. Andreas, Shimon’s brother, had joined us not long before, bringing the news that his previous teacher, Yochanan bar-Zechariah the Baptizer, was dead. Yudah too was still with us. The rest of us were growing weary of his anti-Roman diatribes, except for Yeshua, who now seemed not to hear them.

Yeshua led us to a two-storey house not far from the Temple, into the upstairs room where the table had been prepared for us. Yeshua took his seat between his mother and me.

“Yeshua,” I said, “what’s wrong?”

He didn’t answer for a long time. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “I will not eat the Passover or drink the fruit of the vine until all these things are fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

“Yeshua, I don’t understand. What is going to happen?”

Yeshua picked up the unleavened bread from the middle of the table and said a prayer of thanksgiving. “This is my body,” he said. “It is given for you.”

I began to understand, then.

I went through the rest of the meal in a daze, not wanting to think about what Yeshua had said. Some of the disciples talked amongst themselves, but we were mostly silent except for the required prayers.

At the end of the meal, Yeshua refilled his cup and gave thanks once more. “This is my blood of the New Covenant,” he said. “It is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.”

Each of us drank in turn from his cup. I hoped that he was mistaken. After all I had been through, I couldn’t lose him like I had lost Yitzhaq.

We went with him to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

“Wait here,” he said. “Pray that you do not come to the time of trial.”

I prayed, harder than I had my entire life. Yeshua walked into the darkness. I saw his figure kneeling not far away, but I couldn’t hear what he said. I turned back to find Yudah gone, and the rest of the disciples asleep.

Yeshua returned, apparently strengthened. When he saw the sleeping figures his brow knitted.

“Wake up!” he said. “Can you not watch with me one hour? Get up and pray!”

As he was speaking there was a commotion behind us. I turned and saw a group of armed men, with torches and cudgels. With them was Yoseph bar-Kepha the high priest, and beside him Yudah bar-Shimon.

I was shocked. I knew Yudah was frustrated that Yeshua wasn’t listening to his revolutionary ideas, but he had made his opinion of the Judæan government very clear. Surely he wouldn’t have sold Yeshua into the hands of people he considered traitors and collaborators?

Yudah said something to bar-Kepha, then walked towards Yeshua, who made no attempt to keep him away.

“Yudah,” he said, “is it with a kiss that you betray the Son of Man?”

Yudah didn’t answer. He walked up to Yeshua and kissed him on the lips. Bar-Kepha’s guards seized him. Something moved quickly through the air and one of the guards screamed, his head gushing with blood.

“No more of this!” said Yeshua, breaking free of the injured guard. He picked something up from the ground: it was a severed human ear. I felt sick.

The guard flinched as Yeshua reached out with the ear. In a moment he was healed and he renewed his grip on Yeshua.

“Have you come out with weapons, to arrest me like a bandit?” asked Yeshua. “Why not arrest me in the Temple or the synagogue? You had ample opportunity. But no, this is how you work. Quietly, under cover of darkness. So, do what you have come here to do.”

Yeshua was led away, and I sat in the garden until daybreak, weeping to myself.

The Eve of Battle

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“The Rt Reverend James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, broke ranks with the official church line to call for it to consider offering weddings in all but name for same sex weddings… He questioned whether the current prohibition was a Christian approach, asking whether it was tenable for the Church to ‘deny any blessing of God to that which is just’ any longer.”   (www.telegraph.co.uk/news 16 March 2013)

“Once there are women bishops… Anglo-Catholic opponents will not be able to recognise bishops as true bishops…sacramental assurance will be lost.”  (www.fulcram-anglican.org.uk accessed 22 March 2013)

He looks first at his mother, then at Mary and the others.  Glancing down the road from the Mount of Olives he hears the distant shouting and the sound of a great body of people making ready for the morrow. The anticipatory sense of release of tension in the air is palpable.  The journey from Jericho had tested his companions, in mind and body. But not to their limits; that ordeal was yet to come. They were exhausted and nervous. The preceding days had seen the rumours flying thick and fast from all over the region. Haven’t you heard? There is to be a great battle! He will be triumphant, victorious! With a navy he will control the seas… with an army and war horses he will cut off our enemies… law and order will be restored… things will go back to just the way they were before the occupation…

He watches  Peter closely, listening as his gruff voice rumbles through the late evening air. He is arguing, as usual. Rough and ready, clumsy but to the point.

Jesus smiles.  He sees Peter in the days and weeks and years to come. There he is- standing with his companions, his voice booming confidently above the cacophony of  sound coming from the large crowd gathered from every nation under heaven. Peter knows. A language for all peoples. A language for all men and women. He remembers the words of the prophets as he booms above the crowd’s head. Through the Holy Spirit the sons and daughters of God’s people will prophesy. Everyone who calls on His name shall be saved.

Noticing Mary watching him, Jesus steps out from his reverie. She moves closer towards him. Tomorrow the colt will be ready. He stares into her eyes and recalls teaching in the synagogue the words and teachings of the prophets. He looks across towards Peter, whose voice has risen clearly above those arguing with him. Jesus’ mind once again casts to the future as he hears Peter’s voice addressing that large crowd.

“For what goodness and beauty are His!

Grain shall make the young men flourish,

and new wine the young women.”

God’s love and God’s redemption, for all women and all men of all nations. Mary stretches out her hand towards Jesus. Together, they walk back to where the others are waiting.

The Fragrance of Love

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The scent of Mary’s nard lingers down the centuries, a glorious sweetness, both of giver and of perfume.  Only her hair, her crowning glory, was soft enough to wipe those feet in adoration…
Something awaking in her soul, the profound understanding (in that singing height beyond words) of this Son of God.   Son.   of God.     The bursting, impossible joy of knowing…   Nothing is now finite…   near-silence stretches into eternity… and there comes awareness that THIS is the Awaking, this is the heaven of all our searching.

and that will be heaven
and that will be heaven
at last    the first unclouded
seeing
to stand like the sunflower
turned full face to the sun        drenched
with light    in the still centre
held    while the circling planets
hum with an utter joy
seeing and knowing
at last   in every particle
seen and known  and not turning
away
never turning away
again      Evangeline Paterson

The picture is Stanley Spencer ‘The Awaking’