How could we put up with it? How could I live suddenly alone? She was my mother, more than only mine, for twenty-four long years. She was a mother to all of us, and it was wonderful to be back in the Holy City again with the brothers, all of us returned to where it all began. Like the scripture says, ‘From north and south, east and west, I gather you.’ She was so calm, and her eyes looked so dreamy, almost as if she were going to weep, when she told me, ‘Just think! Only a fortnight, and I will see him again!’
See him again? ‘What do you mean, Mother? Is this why we have all come back to Jerusalem? Is this why you were so insistent that we all find ourselves here, together, as we once stood on the Olive Mount, watching him go? So that as the angels declared, we could watch him come back in exactly the same way we saw him go?’ Words such as these with half-hope and excitement I blurted out, forgetting all else, and spoiling the serene moment that surrounded the lucid jewel of her expectation.
‘No, no, beloved Son, not that! Not even he could tell us that, nor could an angel of the Most-High! Only the Father knows that time, that hour.’ Still perplexed, I waited for her to continue. What she related was difficult to grasp, and to accept. To blunt its sharpness, she reminded me that the same message would one day be vouchsafed to me as well, but not yet. I too would see the day I would go forth to meet him, but that day was yet far off. No, this was her time. Angels always bring good news.
The word had gone out, I don’t know quite how, but all of us, all except Thomas, were now somewhere in the City, or close by. Over the course of a few days, I had chance to meet with them, with Cephas, with my brother Jacob, with all of the brothers, by ones and twos, and I handed over to them the news that our Mother, our beloved Mother, the Mother of our beloved Master, had given me. It was never easy, and there were tense moments, words of astonishment and incomprehension, even of disbelief.
‘Of this we are sure,’ I told them, ‘that on the fourteenth day after the angel’s visit, the Master will welcome his Mother into the Life eternal, carrying her as a babe in his own arms, escorted by the angelic host.’ No, we would not see what she would see, but we were privileged to encircle her bed at that precise moment, and through her eyes, the Light of Light, even the true God of true God—blessed, blessed, blessed be He!—was to shine on us, casting away forever all shadows from her life and ours.
Twenty-four years of living together, her silence as well as her testimonies teaching and strengthening me, crossing lands and seas, preserved by her witness, by her very being, the Mother of my Lord and Master, Jesus, of my Savior… over, forever over! I was disconsolate. But when had I not known it, understood that this time of blessing would also come to an end, that all that is human must, like a book, be finished and closed? Yet the One who writes us and fills the world with our testimony, He lives.
‘Evening came, and morning came, day one,’ I began counting, clinging desperately to the words of scripture, fervently hugging to myself every moment I was able to spend with her, while she continued living as she always had, caring for me, creating the inner world for me to retreat to after laboring so hard to build the outer—but I, while she waited so patiently and with unperturbed certainty for her Son to arrive, I could not keep myself on task, I could not work. It was a very strange kind of fasting.
Little did I think to feed my body, even though with foods from her hand I would never taste again. No, but I fed my eyes with her beauty, yes, her beauty, for though she was my Mother, to see us together, one would think at most she were my sister. But now, my hair grown white, my beard and side locks the same, though still young inside I was, outside those who did not know me took me for an elder of Israel, and she for my young bride. And indeed, a bride she was, whom we knew as ‘the Unwedded.’
Sojourning among the Gentiles in the northlands, in Ephesos of Diana of the hundred breasts, we walked together, meeting the people where they were, her womanly witness the hidden foundation of mine seen and heard, and when we coaxed her to speak, she speaking of her Son, Jesus, enlivened all hearts and minds, unleashing many from the bondage post, and watering their lives as a life-giving fountain. How many miracles followed us wherever we were sent. Yes, she was a water-bearing rock, for me.
And that day we were cast ashore, alive, from the raging sea. Who would imagine that a humble daughter of Israel would be found following her young son, taking ship and sailing to the copper island, to Cyprus, to visit the only man living who was dead and brought back to life after lying four days in the tomb? But the God and Father of us all, who sent His beloved Son to us as her Son, guarded our path wherever we went, toppling idols as He did when we were cast, boatless, on that rocky shore.
‘Zeus and Hera!’ they shouted, the villagers, as they ran to greet us and ask us to preserve them from the wrath of the earth quake. But we were only humans, the mother of Jesus, and his beloved friend. We sat down together on the shore, made fires to warm ourselves, and waited for the rescue that the Lord would decree, meanwhile calming their frightened faces with the story of the only Lover of mankind. How they took to it! how they believed! not from my lips only, but from the Mother of us all.
My mournful thoughts return to that final day. Long since I had stopped counting as the day drew near. The days count themselves when we are afraid of what lies ahead. It happened so peacefully, everything so in order, as if everyone were directed intimately in thought, word and deed. We gathered around where she lay, and waiting, our fast more natural and unconscious than our own heartbeats. Expecting a miracle, she just fell asleep, and we, afraid to awaken her, just looked on. Fragrance filled the room.
What happened next, I cannot remember clearly. It seems I was brushed aside as others more vigorous in intention and plan—it was obvious they knew what to do—took charge. I saw the holy body of my little Mother carried away somewhere and I, still grieving, sat with my back against a wall, wondering what I would do next, what life I would have beyond tomorrow. My brother Jacob came and raised me up and so much as said, ‘Come along,’ and my body sheepishly followed, my mind lodged in my heart.
The next thing I remember was the sealing of the tomb. My eyes saw, but my heart did not believe, and inwardly I wretched to the core of my being. ‘You will not abandon my soul to She’ol,’ I murmured to myself, remembering my Master, who trampled death by death and bestowed Life to everyone in the tombs. Like Thomas who said it aloud when, arriving a few days later and coming to see us, Mother and me, like Thomas I cried inside, ‘I don’t believe it! It’s impossible! She can’t be dead!’ as I looked on.
And Thomas did finally arrive. Why was he allowed to be late? Why was he the only one not there? Just like the last time, he missed the Lord when he came among us, resurrected. Only this time, none of us saw the Lord with our physical eyes, as we did behind that locked door, in that room. But we believed the word that the angel spoke to Mary, as she told us, ‘The God who loves me is coming.’ Sometimes we have nothing to rely on but our faith but, as Jesus said, ‘Your faith has healed you.’ So, faith is enough.
Again, he must see with his own eyes, or he will not believe! ‘Thomas, can’t you let anything alone? Why must we disturb the rest of her body in the tomb, just for you? We told you, she has been taken by her Son, our Lord. Isn’t that enough for you? Isn’t faith enough?’ He regained his calmness and after a moment, ‘No, faith is not enough, not for me. I want to see her one more time. It’s not that I don’t believe what you’ve told me. I just want to see what all of you saw. Can you grant me that?’
Suddenly, we were ashamed of ourselves. How thoughtless, how unfeeling of us. She was his Mother as well as ours. In fact, Mary had a very tender place in her heart for Thomas and always seemed to dote on him more than on the rest of us when he appeared at her door. They seemed to understand each other, the mother of faith and the brother of doubt. So we relented. With a slow, silent pace we walked to the garden where her tomb was. We broke the seal and with difficulty shifted the stone covering.
There was that fragrance again! The same fragrance we smelled in the room when she fell asleep! Like roses, only richer, deeper, like an essential oil. There were roses scattered about the floor just inside the tomb, at least that is what I saw. Cephas went right in, as he did the last time, but I stayed outside, somehow afraid of what I might see. Thomas followed him closely, and Cephas bumped into him as he abruptly turned about and pushed past him to shout, ‘She is not there! Her body has disappeared!’
Now, as I lie here and ponder the darkness of unknowing, how great is the wisdom of God! how profound His mystery! He does not ask our permission before He moves. He just decrees His will and performs it! ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in the heavens!’ we pray over and over, yet when He does what we have asked, we are dumbfounded. The Mother of our Master, of our Lord, yes, the Mother of our God—how can we say such things?—but yes, the Truth is dawning on us.