T A K E N
He had been taken.
Long had she dreaded this moment, though she had known it was inevitable all along. It had never escaped her mind, not in the tenderest of moments as she had rocked him to sleep in childhood, or quieted his tears when he had cut his hand in his father's woodshop. That had been before he had learned to use the tools properly. Joseph had taught him, with much patience, his son hanging on his every word. Jesus had learned as other children did, but with the gentleness most of them lacked. He was never unkind, never cross, never harsh with any living thing. He had treated the lambs with the same compassion he had shared with the children in the village. He had never disobeyed her, but had often contradicted her when she was in the wrong. She remembered the frantic fear of discovering him lost, when he had abandoned them to speak with the priests in the temple. He had gently chastised her then for her concern, for her anger that he would wander away and leave them.
He felt sorrow as all of them did and she had never seen him more wrought with inner pain than when his earthly father had died. He could have woken him from the dead, spoken and the breath of life would have returned to Joseph. But it was not yet time and so he remained dead. Mary had missed him in the years since, yearned to speak with him, and longed for the warmth of his arms now as she sat in the darkness knowing the time had come. His purpose was to be fulfilled and there was nothing she could do to comfort him. She could not even go to him, for they would never allow her to speak with him, to see him. This, he must do alone.
There was stillness to the darkness, an unusual quiet that had fallen over Jerusalem. It was never this silent, even in the hours before a storm, but for once the animals were not restless, all of them aware of what had happened. They too responded to him, perhaps more than the people who followed in his wake, stretching out their hands, desperate to touch the hem of his robes. One of them was resting nearby and Mary took it up, feeling the fabric she had carefully made into a garment. It smelled of his scent, of sweat and wood shavings and clean air, and she breathed it in, rubbing it against her cheek and feeling a lump rising in her throat. She must not cry, for he would need her to be strong.
No one else could have ridden a young colt into Jerusalem but he had done so, the colt willing and even honored to bear him through the city gates. Palm fronds had been thrown in front of its hooves as they had surrounded him shouting, "Messiah! Messiah!"
His disciples would be frightened. Many of them did not understand and others thought he meant to build a kingdom here on earth. She had always known the truth and as each year passed had dreaded it more, this moment. She did not know how she knew that he had been taken, but a great weight was constricting her heart.
Beside her, in the gloom, Mary Magdalene slept uneasily, her breathing quickening as she shuddered in her dreams. She had lived with them ever since he had cast the demons out of her, becoming as much a daughter to Mary as her own children. It would soon be time to wake her, but not just yet. Mary would let her sleep, for none of them would rest again for many hours.
The door opened behind them and John entered, breathing heavily, for he had run a long distance. Magdalene started upright and sweat gleamed on her throat, both from fear and the anguish of her dreams. Mary tightened her hand around his garment, the ache in her chest increasing as she waited for him to speak. Drawing in gasping breaths, he looked from one to the other and then with evident fear said, "He has been taken. They have scattered. I do not know where most of them have gone. They came for him, and we… we left him there! We have deserted him!"
His voice convulsed into a sob and Mary went forward to place her arms around him. He clung to her with anguish, begging her forgiveness without a word. When he could meet her eyes, she placed her hands on either side of his face and with a calm that came not from within but above, she said, "Take me to him."
"They will not let you in."
He was right, for women were not allowed in the inner temple, and the Sanhedrin would know who she was. This did not concern her as she covered her head. It did not matter, for she went for him and not for them. There was no hope of his release, as it would not be permitted. He would not allow it.
The others did not know of the horrors ahead. But she did, for he had warned her when he felt she was fully prepared to understand. She had listened with understanding and then once out of his sight, had wept for several hours, though he was but eleven and there were many happy years before his warning would come to pass. But then, she had not thought to face them alone, for she had assumed Joseph would be there. The pain of his passing had long diminished but she missed him in that moment. God had spared him this sorrow, to see their son die, but had left her for the hour her son would need her most. And she would stay with him, as near as she dared and was permitted; she would witness each and every blow, until his final breath left him and he fulfilled his purpose.
"Mother," John prompted, and she looked at him. Her hand lowered to his shoulder and she lifted her chin, her voice steady as she said, "He will know we are there. We must go to him."
Magdalene quickly drew on her sandals and glanced toward the inner courtyard, where the rest of the women slept. "The others… should we wake them?"
"Yes, but do it quickly." Mary turned away as the younger woman did as she was bidden, the quiet murmur of voices transforming into open concern and even weeping as they were told what had happened. She held her son's garment, fingering the hem where the woman had touched him in the crowd and been healed. He had worn another this evening and kissed her cheek on his way out. She remembered the caress of his warm brown eyes, so kind that all were touched by them, even heathens who did not believe he was the messiah. Enormous crowds had come to hear him speak, caring nothing for the hot sun or their ravenous stomachs, hungry to hear more of his words or hoping to be healed. Children especially loved him and a smile touched her lips as she remembered when a boy had approached bearing a lamb with a misshapen foot. The disciples had tried to shoo him away but her son had rebuked them.
Enormous eyes of the clearest blue had looked on him in wonder, sudden shyness quieting his tongue as he drew near, staggering slightly beneath the animal's weight.
"What do you ask of me, my child?"
Hesitation melted away at the kindness of his voice and the boy had blurted out, "Please, heal him. My sister cries over him each night, for he is her favorite and our father says there is no room for a cripple in his stable."
Jesus held out his hand and with eagerness in his step, the child placed the lamb in his arms. Those around him watched with curiosity, the women leaning slightly forward. Holding the lamb against his chest, Jesus said, "It is a heavy burden to carry alone."
"But I will not have to carry him home," answered the child with complete confidence.
The smile this prompted had warmed all their hearts and with warmth, Jesus had answered, "No, you will not."
He had left them leading the lamb on four sturdy legs, its gentle brown eyes full of wonder as it walked for the first time on its own.
Mary breathed deeply of the scent once more and laid the garment aside. So many memories and miracles were attached to it and she would bear them forth into the night, to strengthen her in the dark hours ahead. The others were ready to leave and she accompanied them out into the street. Word had spread rapidly and they were not the only ones who hastened toward the temple courtyard, concerned faces cast in torchlight. They approached the outer gates and a servant attempted to hold them back. "You can go no further," he said wearily; she could tell his heart was not in it, for he had looked at her son, met his eye as he had passed, and knew as she did that this was unjust.
In the background stood the military palace and on its high walls were Centurians, curious about the mob but under strict orders not to interfere. She knew someone would have been sent to inform Pilate and wondered if he looked out from one of the high windows down on the crowd. Mary could not help pitying him. He knew nothing of her son, but soon the messiah's blood would be on his hands. In the distance a rooster crowed, warning of the coming dawn. Crowding nearer, their path crossed that of a man pushing through the gate, his face stricken as he saw them. "Peter," she said, and reached out to comfort him, but he pushed aside her arm and fled.
She felt Magdalene clutching at her arm, frightened, but Mary felt only a quiet calm, almost of peace. His presence was there in the courtyard, and the inner sanctum. John strained at her shoulder to see, his hand on her shoulder, and beside her she felt Magdalene take her hand. Her heart was heavy with sadness but also emboldened by faith. He had said he would live, die, and return and she believed him. "I am frightened," whispered her companion.
"You must not be," said Mary, squeezing her hand. "It is why he has come."
Why he had come, why he had been sent, the purpose in his existence and in the first miracle that had transpired so many years before when the angel had come to her. The promise begun that night as she had knelt in humble, tearful servitude over the enormous gift and responsibility God had chosen to bestow upon her was to be fulfilled. None of it mattered, not his miracles or his powerful sermons, not the kindness and respect he had shown her, nor the tears he had shed over the death of his father and other friends, some of them he had returned to life with an outstretched hand and spoken word. All that mattered was his ultimate purpose, why he had come.
Fear would have filled any other mother's heart, but in hers was only overwhelming gratitude, for after this night, he would be no longer her son, but her savior.