picture from www.cardiphonia.org
He was dead.
After three years of the most unbelievable miracles, of awakening hope in the hearts of the people, of bringing light to hearts darkened by sin and dispelling fear and despair. After everything…. He was dead. A most unbelievable fact.
Rage, disappointment, grief and shame warred for prominence in Cephas’ heart. The Christ, the Messiah, dragged through Jerusalem like an animal, nailed to a tree like a common criminal. He who had woken from sleep to still a storm, he before whom demons cowered had stood in silence as his trial turned into the most abominable travesty. The very people who had rejoiced with palm branches and shouted hosanna as he rode into Jerusalem had cried out as one that he be crucified. Now he was dead, dead as the wood to which he had been nailed.
Cephas looked round the room, filled to capacity with men who had given everything to be with the Man from Galilee. A gentle man whose hands had tickled children… and held a whip to chase the tax–collectors out of the temple. A man whose eyes held no censure when calling Zaccheus out of the tree, and yet those same eyes had blazed with rage at the Pharisees, denouncing their hypocrisy and lies. A man who had laughed at their jokes, teased them, loved them and who had cursed a fig tree to eternal barrenness.
Cephas turned away from his companions. It hurt to watch them. They were broken men, weeping, gnashing teeth, fearful for their lives. If the Jews could brutally put to death a man whose “crimes” included healing lepers and raising the dead, what would they do to his followers, the ones who had tried to protect their Lord from his seekers? That had been the thought uppermost on Cephas’ mind that horrible night at the temple, after Judas’ betrayal at Gethsemane. Shame filled him at what he had done, denied his Lord, not once, not twice, but thrice. He didn’t know if he would ever tell the others. Even the fact that they all bore guilty consciences as well didn’t make his own betrayal any easier. Yes, all had fled at the sight of the soldiers, Mark without his clothes. But none would ever know the depths of self-disgust he felt, none had looked into the eyes of the Master as dawn broke and the cock crowed, and realized he had just fulfilled his Lord’s prophecy.
He started as the door opened, but it was just Thomas going out. Thomas was always sent out for things when the women were gone, like now. They had left early for the tomb with spices and ointment. Nathanael had been worried but the truth was that they were a lot safer outside than the men.
Cephas, you must encourage your brothers when the time comes.
Cephas remembered the Lord’s instruction. Did all that matter now? The end had come, the Jews had won. He didn’t feel like he was worth anything much less a rock upon which anything would be built. He was just a fisherman, like James, like John. That was life, that was reality. Not illusions of grandeur in the Kingdom of God, not walking on water in a storm, not multiplying bread and fish. The past three years had been a grand adventure but the show was over, the Man he had thought was God’s Son, had done a most un-divine thing. He had died. That was Cephas’ cue to get back to real life. He glanced at the Beloved, still weeping, still refusing food. He understood the younger man’s grief; it found its mirror image in the primal depths of his soul. I will grieve first, no shame in that. I will mourn, and then I will return to Galilee, he thought. He stood up to comfort John and then – The door burst open and the women burst in, crying and talking unintelligibly.
“What is it? What is it?!” James shouted, fear contorting his face into an angry mask.
“Our Lord! He’s gone and we do not know where they have put him!”
Another woman began, “There were angels…”
Cephas was already out the door, John hot on his heels. Cephas didn’t think of the angry Jews, didn’t wonder about the soldiers who should have been guarding the tomb. All he wanted to know was where the Master was. Who could’ve taken the Lord? Not one of his followers, surely. The Jews? When? Yesterday? To desecrate his body? But it was the Sabbath yesterday. They would be unclean all day!
He didn’t notice John overtake him and when he got to the tomb and saw the stone had been rolled aside, he dashed in, leaving the other apostle anxiously peeping in but afraid to enter. The slab where the Lord had lain was empty, nought but the headdress neatly rolled up at one end even hinted that it had once been occupied. Cephas’ breath hitched in his throat, his heart missed a beat. Gone. He was Gone. His eyes swept the small space wildly, looking for his Lord, searching for his Saviour as if He had shrunk and could be located in the sands of the tomb’s floor.
“Cephas! Cephas!” He heard John call for him and the fearful excitement in his voice pulled at him. He ran back to the sight of Mary Magdalene and Salome, the first crying and laughing alternately, the other on her knees in worship.
“What is it?” Peter asked, his eyes narrowing. He was in no mood for further alarms.
“My Lord. I saw him,” was Mary of Magdala’s reply.
He took hold of her shoulders. “Where? When? How?” He almost shook the answers out of her.
“Here…in the gardens… after the others ran back to tell you, I stayed to look for Him. And I found Him…” she collapsed in tearful laughter. “I didn’t recognise Him at first. He bids you go to Galilee and wait for Him. All of you.”
Cephas stared at her, joy, hope and doubt chasing each other in his mind. “You speak the truth, Woman?”
“I do. He lives.” And she dropped down and joined her sister in praising God.
John was already racing away, presumably to tell the others. Cephas closed his eyes briefly. It couldn’t be possible. And yet…fragments of past conversations floated in his mind…hadn’t this been the plan all along? Mary wasn’t one of the Twelve the Lord had confided in during his ministry. She could not know He had said in so many riddles that He would rise. He had done it. He was alive. Cephas allowed a smile to break across his face and his step was lighter as he began the slow walk back to his brethren.
He was alive.
Note: We often make a big deal of the fact that Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter denied him three times, and so? We deny him a thousand times. A thousand, thousand times. Don’t we? Don’t we? Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” It is often said that he asked three times because Peter denied Him three times. If so, then I wonder, how many times He’ll ask me, “Do you love Me?” Every day. At every crossroads. With every decision I make. Do you love Me? Not because He doubts but so I may not doubt His longing for that love. And so I may remember that at every moment I live in the presence of the One who owns me. Because with every idle thought I give free rein, with every sarcastic retort, with every sin, I deny Him. But with every thought taken captive, with every kind word spoken and bitter word held, with every act carried out for Him, I join Peter to answer, “Yes, Lord. You know all things. You know that I love You.”