I inhaled the scent of myrrh flowing from the depths of the cave as I held up my torch to turn the corner. The sweet aroma that covered his shroud floated through the air, masking any stench of death and decay. My heart pounded louder and louder as I stood at the corner where the breach in the cave’s walls opened and I closed my eyes. I didn’t know what I was going to find. The stone was moved when we came here to his tomb. Who moved it? Was someone tending to his body on this day it was our turn? Did someone take him away? My God, what has happened here.
I couldn’t open my eyes, I was too afraid, afraid of what I might see. I stood there in complete stillness and silence with a flipbook of memories flashing in my mind.
I remember the day he came to me. I was in so much pain, my body rejected every remedy I so desperately sought after in my own time of need. I could walk, eat, and drink so everyone thought I was fine, no one could see the pain, so they assumed it didn’t exist. But the pain resonated through my entire body, and I wasn’t ok. Because of the violent words and actions against me, my mind hurt too. I didn’t want to live anymore. I carried the weight of that pain and the feeling of not wanting to go on with such force, that my mind slowly started to slip away. That’s when I had the vision. I knew of Jesus and that he was healing people. I knew if there was any chance for me, it was through him. He came to me in a dream, he walked right up to me, laid his hands on me, and I was free. A few days past after this vivid image. I was at the well gathering a supply of water when my whole world changed. I lifted the pail to my shoulders and nearly cried out as my shoulder popped. I closed my eyes in hopes of some relief when I felt a soft touch at my waist. I knew it was him. Tears poured from my face and onto the sand like a flowing waterfall filling a dry, empty valley. As if in slow motion, the pail fell from my painful grasp and the water poured out, adding to the puddle forming at my feet. I fell to my knees and looked up with foggy eyes to the sight and sounds of so many people laughing and gasping at my very public actions. He placed his right hand underneath my knotted knuckles and looked down at me. He lifted my chin with his left hand to meet his gaze. He said, “you will never look down again my dear friend, raise your eyes to me. With the power of God, my own Father, I heal you of the burdens of your own mind, body, heart, and spirit. My sweet child, your pain is gone, as I carry it for you now, it will no longer burden your soul.” I closed my eyes once more, taking in the sounds and smells of that moment, knowing my life and everything before me would be different from that moment on and I wanted to relish in it. My tears transformed from pain to gladness and relief. I took a deep breath, inhaling the cleanest breath of fresh air and filling my lungs completely, something I never had the strength to do before. As I exhaled, my eyes met his. They were so warm and golden, they seemed to have their own light source shining from within. He smiled that crooked corner smile he always had that said so much without saying a word. He took both of my hands and helped me rise, I never looked down. I couldn’t look away from his kind eyes as he slowly closed them and took a deep breath and exhaled. My pain died that day, I had given it a soul and he took that soul to heaven for me, burying it deep within him as he did for everyone he healed. I followed him closely from that moment on and I made sure that he never had to worry about the weight of his ministry.
I opened my eyes at the cave’s corner again, the silhouette of my torch playing tricks on me, the flickering flame dancing across the stone surface like shadow puppets telling the story of how we all got here but can’t leave, chained to the walls. I closed my eyes once more, the flipbook of memories kicking in and rushing me back to the week before, which seems like an eternity ago.
The flame of the candles quivered in the evening air, shaking about much like our erratic heartbeats at the anxious breath we all carried that night. The 12 of us gathered around the table, hanging onto his words like we were gasping for air at the surface of the river. My heart was pounding just as hard as it is here in this cave. We knew he had to die in order to live for all of us, but we just couldn’t take hold of the idea that his body wouldn’t be there in front of us every moment. His hand trembled when he held the cup of wine and presented it to us as his blood. No one else noticed, but I did. He knew he was going to die a horribly painful death and he was scared too. That’s what people don’t tell you, he was human, of course he was scared. I don’t care how brave you are, how called you are, if you know you’re going to die, a piece of you breaks as your soul stands in waiting.
I ate the bread and drank the wine, tears filling my eyes as he turned to me in the moonlight peeking through the cracks in the window. He put his hand under my chin once more, pulling my face towards his and smiled that crooked corner smile saying, “never look down, for you will lift so many people up.” His mouth closed and my whole world fell silent. I stared at his solaced face, but I continued to hear his voice speaking to me, and only to me. I surveyed the room to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Looking back at him, eyes closed softly, I heard him say “I am speaking to you Mary. You will be the first. You will be the first witness to my resurrection. You were always the first. They won’t believe you, you will have to show them, and they still won’t believe you. Even centuries from now, they still won’t believe you. But you must know that it was always you, it will always begin with you, a woman, the only woman close to me aside from my own mother. You see in me something that the others do not. You see that I am feminine and masculine. You see the mother and the father. You see God in a way that no one else will and you will spend the rest of your life here and in heaven encouraging others to see your vision too. Wipe your tears, not because I am ashamed, your tears are like gold and honey. But wipe them to stay strong for those around you. I know it’s hard being a woman in this world, but I need you to take those tears and save them, use them to bathe by body, when you visit me, anoint my body in your tears.” He slowly opened his eyes, seeing the astonished look on my face, and nodded. I nodded back and wiped the tears that filled my eyes and streamed down my face.
Then I woke to find the sweaty hands of his mother Mary next to me. We were at the cross and wept at his feet nailed to the rough wood. So much happened and it was all a muddy blur of remembrances. How did we get here? Wasn’t it just yesterday he smiled at me so softly, reassuring me of my place in this ministry? Now I am at his dirty, stained feet, covered in earth, and salt, and blood. I touched his side as he came down, in the same spot he touched me at the well seemingly so long ago. I brushed across his ribcage and felt each one, so pronounced, so bruised and battered and bloody from the stab wounds.
We immediately went to work cleansing his body, doing what needed to be done. We buried him in this cave, a place given to us by a humble man. Wrapped in a clean white shroud, myrrh dripping along the fabric, its sweet scent filled the cave’s solitary room. The light of our torches cast strange shadows on the wall, shadows of the thousands of souls saved by his death. My heart ached for him, my soul felt simultaneously lifted to the heavens and ripped from my very ribcage all at once.
The days in between that moment and where I’m standing right now are hazy. There was so much persecution and hateful words in the grisly death of him. So many boastful he was gone, yet so many honored he existed as a human being. All those words and emotions are swirling around me now as I await to turn this corner, their echoes and whispers clinging to the air like haunting music.
Today is my day to cleanse. I have all but forgotten the words he spoke to me the night we ate bread and drank wine together for the last time: “I am speaking to you Mary; you will be the first.” I can hear these words echoing through the cave. But today is supposed to be my turn to spend time with his body alone, to talk to him after everything that has happened. We took the long dirt trail, lit by a fraction of sunrise as it broke the surface of the earth, to gather spices and more myrrh at the market. Then we headed to the stone entrance where we last left him and discovered the large stone was moved. I ignored all logic and ran inside, torch blazing. I felt the walls of the cave, like the embossment of his ribs when he came down off the cross. My fingers dragged along the stone surface so hard that dust fell to the ground in place of the tears he told me to not shed anymore. And now here I am, stopped in my tracks at the corner of this desolate and dark room where I last saw his wounded body, and I’m barely able to open my eyes, trying not to crumble to the floor like a demolished building.
Lifting my torch around the corner and preparing for what I would find, I expected to see the shadow of his body lying there in the muslin shroud, but only that sweet smell of myrrh followed. I turned the corner and gasped, completely in shock. I fell to my knees and tried not to cry out, just like that day at the well, because I KNEW. My mind and all logic told me that someone must have broken in and taken his lifeless body away, never to be seen again, but my heart and soul told me otherwise.
I remember how I held him; I held his hand when he healed me, I held it again when we laid his body here before we wrapped him in the shroud. His eyes were kind and loving, the wave of peace and serenity that he left in a room when calm and prayerful is something that sticks to you, its palpable, like a strong perfume that sits in the air with a thickness you can taste, sickly sweet.
The lightness in my heart is floating me off my knees and through the air now. I’m running, running as fast as I can through this maze back to the entrance where my friends are waiting. We ran to Peter. I fell at his knees like I fell to Jesus when he healed me, but Peter looked down at me and didn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth. “What do you mean his body isn’t there? What happened? Who did this?” We all ran back to the cave, the tomb buried deep within its walls. I knew if they saw this vision with their own eyes, they would believe me, I would believe me. But they became angry that his body was desecrated and stolen, fleeing back to the town, and leaving me there to weep at the place where his shroud lay limp on the dirt floor, the smell of myrrh ascending into my nostrils and reminding me of his suffering and death. I ran out of the darkness and into the light of the blazing afternoon. It seemed brighter than usual; the whole sky was like staring directly into the sun. I looked to my left and saw the gardener standing there, tending to the colorful wildflowers that had so swiftly grown outside of the cave on this third day. He started to speak to me and asked “woman, why are you crying?” My heart skipped a beat at the sound of his voice, seemingly so familiar, but my eyes were playing tricks on me, still dancing around in the darkness frolicking with silhouettes of memories, as I was blinded by the sunlight, white dots like angels fluttering in my peripherals.
The gardener stepped closer to me, he closed his eyes and smiled a familiar crooked smile. Without moving his lips, he said “I am here Mary.” Then he opened his eyes, took my hands in his and said out loud “Remember, I chose you.” In that moment, my whole world came swirling back around me, the light of heaven became so blinding I fell to my knees once more at the sight of it. But I still couldn’t look away. I saw an angel flapping her wings, she fluttered there softly, gently, light emanating from within. He has risen. “Rabboni?,” I said. An all too familiar nod followed.
The Red Egg
Χριστός Ανέστη! Christos Anesti!
Orthodox Easter Sunday is the best time to share the story of the red egg because it is such a big part of the celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church. The egg is a symbol of life, the color red representing the crucifixtion, life-giving blood, and red cloak of Jesus. The tradition of dying red Easter eggs and cracking them open on Easter Sunday just as the tomb was cracked open, is a regular practice today.
The reason why Mary's icons (including the one I wrote) are depicted with a red egg is this: The story goes that Mary was carrying a basket of eggs with her into Jerusalem and had an interaction with the new governor, Tiberius. She came to the city to wish him well and be righteous unlike his presecessor, Pontius Pilate, who ordered the execution of Jesus Christ. As Mary was exclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, Tiberius said to her “Jesus has risen like those white eggs in your basket are red.” But as we know from past mystical and miracle stories of the Bible, one does not want to make accusations and not expect a result. Therefore, the white eggs turned red before his eyes and he became a believer. Mary said to Tiberius, “Christ is Risen!” and he replied, “Truly, he is risen.”
Aληθώς ανέστη! Alithos Anesti