Mary – wife and disciple
We walked along the road, our feet kicking up puffs of dust with every step we took. Even though it was still early, the sun was gaining height, and it was already very hot. Somehow the heat seemed to be affecting me more than usual and every step was an effort. Although we moved along at our usual pace, the spring in our stride had disappeared as we travelled with heavy hearts back to our home.
We talked all the time. In low, subdued voices we discussed the events of the last couple of days. Gone were the laughter and the jesting that defined our relationship. Oh, the love was still there – no doubt about that, but somehow the joy we had been feeling for the past few months, that deep joy that was so difficult to describe, had melted away and we were sad.
For we had lost a friend. No, he was more than a friend. I am not sure how to describe him. He was certainly not like anyone else I had ever met – not even Cleopas, my beloved husband. He was a man who made me feel as if I was the most important person in the world to him. He was never too busy to stop and greet me. He was interested in everything about me – what I was doing, how my children were; one day he even asked me how my father was – and that on a day when I had received a message that my father, who is elderly and failing, had rallied with a sparkle in his eyes and a lilt of laughter in his voice! I must say I wondered how my friend could have known about my father. Although Abba’s health was a deep concern to me, I made sure that I did not bore people with my worries. No one else knew of him, except of course, my husband – and things had not always been good between these two men whom I loved so much. But my friend knew. And it would not surprise me if he had known about the rivalry between them. This was his way.
We had seen some amazing things happen as we travelled with this man. Simeon raised from his bed when his friends lowered him through a roof (in front of Pharisees too – that was a bit of a laugh); Peter catching fish to pay his tax (yes, I’m telling you – I saw it with my own eyes!); Jairus’ little daughter, whose parents thought she had died, waking up and eating an enormous meal!
Now all this had changed. For Jesus had been arrested on Thursday night; and crucified in haste on Friday; before Shabbat. Now it was the day after Shabbat and we were going home. There was nothing to keep us in the city any longer. It was a dangerous place for us. If we were recognized as being some of his friends we could also be arrested. We had little ones to consider. No, this had all been an incredible experience, but now it was over and it would be safer for us to return home. But we could not stop thinking or talking about it. The things we had seen had burned themselves into our minds – never to be forgotten. We had had such high hopes. Now our hope had crumbled and lay around our feet like the dust that rose with every step we took.
As we walked I became aware of someone coming up behind us. The man was walking fast and we could hear him singing. We did not want to be part of a lively conversation so, glancing at Cleopas, I looked down at the road, leaving him to nod acknowledgement of a fellow traveller and then look away, as a sign we wanted to be alone.
But the stranger was having none of it. Surely he could see that we did not want company? He greeted us with a slight laugh, as if he was glad to have companions on the road. I tried to ignore him as Cleopas fielded his questions. So many questions. And then Cleopas asked one of his own, which made me gasp in fright.
‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ he said.
‘What things?’ the stranger asked
‘About Jesus of Nazareth …’ and Cleopas told him everything that had happened.
That seemed to be just the invitation the stranger needed for he began to talk. Now more often than not I do not take a lot of notice of men’s talk. They can go on for hours about this passage and that passage in Scripture; but somehow, this man made it sound fascinating as he traced the story of God from the very first time he is mentioned in the Scriptures right through the psalms and the prophets. He explained everything so well that even I began to understand as I listened to him. He seemed to open up God’s story for us.
And somehow, as we arrived at our home, I did not feel quite so sad. I knew that Sarah, my mother-in-law, would have a meal prepared and that there would always be enough for an extra person. This man had cheered us up – not that we had stopped grieving. (Would we ever get over this grief?) Yet there seemed to be a glimmer of hope in my heart as I did the only thing I could do and asked Cleopas to invite him to join us and spend the night with us before continuing his journey tomorrow.
He accepted and Cleopas welcomed him in and extended the usual courtesies that we offer to any guest who enters our home. After a while the men sat at the table. There was a good meal spread before them. I was still in the room waiting to see what else they would need. Cleopas picked up the bread and offered it to our guest. As he did so he began to ask the man his name, but he never finished the question. Our guest stretched out his hand and took the bread and broke it … and my heart stood still.
I had watched that scene played out just a few nights before in a private room in the city. The hands suddenly looked familiar, the movement was the same. The stranger glanced at both of us, one after the other with a look I will never forget. Love, like I had only ever been loved by one man; and – was that amusement, a twinkling in his eyes? I gasped and looked at Cleopas. His eyes were wide, fixed on the stranger in wonder.
‘Cleopas, Mary …’ the stranger spoke our names with laughter in his voice.
And then we knew – this was no stranger. Of course, now his lively conversation on the road made sense. No wonder he had brought the Scriptures alive. We realized that all the words of the prophets that he had discussed told his story – in detail – for they were his story!
This was Jesus!
Cleopas glanced at me, amazement written all over his face – and as we turned back to Jesus, both already asking questions – he had gone! Disappeared! How could this be?
Well, Cleopas is a serious man, not given to demonstrations of emotion. But he leapt up from the table and flung his arms around me and whirled me round and round with joy and excitement! The children, not having any idea what was happening came running, laughing and clapping their hands. My mother-in-law must have thought we were mad. Cleopas and I did not discuss what to do next. We just knew we had to return to the city. Grabbing the bread and a skin of wine, we kissed our family goodbye and ran out of the door, hand in hand, like young lovers.
The return trip to the city was very different! We talked and laughed all the way. Jesus had told us that death would not conquer him and it had not! We could not wait to tell our friends as we burst into the room, breathless, tired and dusty, with our hearts almost exploding with joy. They were incredulous at first, but then, as we shared out story with them – Jesus was there with us in that room. We did not see him come – he was just there! Some were afraid, but Jesus said,
‘Peace be with you.’
He had come here too! Now they believed! How we celebrated that night!
Life was never quite the same again. I have heard others say that when they encountered the risen Christ their lives changed. And so did ours. We told everyone we met about Jesus. It was dangerous, yes, but some weeks later we had another visit – this time from the Helper Jesus had promised us. The danger seemed to fade in our minds as the Helper made us bold and we told our story everywhere. Even our children, Tabitha and Samuel, shared their story, for once you meet the risen Lord you cannot keep quiet about him.
That walk home from Jerusalem is a time I will remember forever; the memory of that special meal made the room seem to glow with his love for us – and the happy journey back to the city to be with the others was such a joyful time that it coloured our relationship and we love each other more than ever, Cleopas and I.
Jesus, still our friend – but now our risen Lord and the Light of our lives.