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Death. Chapter Twenty-one in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers


Chapter Twenty-one in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

Two criminals are crucified with Jesus. Above his head the charge is placed: ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ Many passers by read the notice, written in three languages, and so the chief priests find it necessary to go back to Pilate. They are annoyed and tell him: ‘You have got it wrong. This man is not the king of the Jews, he just pretended to.’ All this talk of Jesus about the Kingdom had long been abomination to them; how can they suffer this Roman Lord to perpetuate the idea? But Pilate is getting weary and exacerbated. ‘I have written what I have written, and it stands!’ he shouts, and with gnashing teeth the chief priests leave the forecourt of the heathen prince and hurry back to the place of execution. The soldiers, however, charged with keeping guard, have a piece of good luck. When they prepare to divide the spoils, they notice that one of Jesus’ garments is in one piece and beautifully woven by some woman’s hands. So they decide to leave it as it is and to draw lots.

Oh, the degradation and the sadness of the women who have gathered at the foot of the Cross. Above them is the dying figure of the Rabbi, robbed of all human dignity. These are long painful hours, not only for Jesus but also for the little group of the faithful. How slowly time passes. If only Jesus’ heavenly Father would bring these sufferings to an end…

The afternoon is dragging on, the afternoon before the Sabbath. For three agonising hours until finally Jesus bows his head and gives up his sprit. When the little band of followers have seen Jesus die, they delegate one of them to hurry to Pilate with a request. It happens to be one of the Pharisees who had been a secret follower of the Master. He will have to ask Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body from the cross. A friend of his, also one who came to hear the Rabbi only under cover of dark, brings herbs and aloe leaves. Together they take the cross down to start removing the nails. Then they carry Jesus’ body to a nearby tomb. After placing a heavy stone in the opening in order to keep it safe, Mary hastens home with the other women, for the Sabbath is by now upon them.

That night, when at the Sabbath meal the youngest person present asks, ’Why is this night different from other nights?’, every one at table in Bethany sheds bitter tears. The horrors they have witnessed have left never-to-be-forgotten imprints on their hearts and minds. It is hard to repeat the words of that night’s liturgy with its reminiscences of the happy occasion of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt. The bitter herbs are the only items that do not seem out of place.

Mary and the other women discuss what is left for them to do. The burial having been a summary affair, they want to go back as soon as Sabbath laws permit, in order to wash and anoint the Rabbi’s body and finish the ritual of the burying of the dead. Meanwhile they try to get some rest. Sleep evades them, however.

Each of them is left with their own memories and images. As for our Mary, she must have thought back to the days of the Baptist, when she first heard of the coming of the Saviour. She must have remembered her first meeting with Jesus. His visit in their house at Bethany. Her share in the ministry. Moments of great joy when somebody had regained their health through the powers of her Rabbi. His teachings. But again and again the horrible images of the tortured body and soul of the Rabbi return to her inner eye. It made her feel even more bewildered and depressed than she did a short while ago, when Lazarus had died.

If only…

© Theresia Saers

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