Before daybreak on the first day of the week the Lady Joanna and Mary of Magdala were making their way through the empty streets to the north gate; they were carrying spices to continue the embalming of the Master’s body.
The wife of Clopas was waiting for them at the gate. “I have been wondering who sill roll the stone back for us,” she said as they walked towards Joseph’s garden. “It’s too heavy for us to move.”
“I’m told there’s a company of the Temple Guard on duty there,” replied Joanna. “Perhaps we can get some of them to help us. They surely can’t object to our performing the customary services for our friend.”
As they entered the quiet garden, they were all conscious of a sudden thrill, as if the very air were charged with some strange spiritual presence. Yet there seemed nothing to account for this feeling of expectancy. They noticed without particular interest that no soldiers were to be seen or heard, though in one spot there were evident signs of their recent occupation, for the grass was trampled and the embers of their campfire were still smoking. The silence of dawn was broken only by the twittering of birds waking to the business of a new day. Everything looked just as they had expected; but they all knew that a stupendous experience was at hand.
The mouth of the cave was concealed by two cypress trees which Joseph had planted years before when the tomb was first made. They stood somewhat formally several yards away from the mouth, to mark the spot as a place of burial. By now they had grown tall and straight and there was a space of only a few feet between them. Mary of Magdala was leading the way. As she reached the gap, she stopped suddenly.
“The stone’s been rolled away,” she exclaimed.
The three hurried forward and peered into the cave.
“He’s not there!” said Mary. “What have they done with him?”
It was then that they became aware that the tomb was not empty. In the dimness of the shadows they could make out the form of a young man. Though he stood in the darkest corner of the cave, his garments radiated subdued light.
“Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here; he is risen. See, this is the place where they laid him.”
They could not say afterwards that they had actually heard the words; but they all knew what had been said.
Trembling between hope and fear they hurried from the tomb.
“I must let the Twelve know,” exclaimed Mary and ran on ahead.
Young John opened the door to her.
“Where’s Peter?” she panted. “I must see him at once.”
John detected the urgency in her voice. He did not stop to ask questions, but ran upstairs. In a moment he reappeared with Peter.
“He’s gone,” the girl cried. “They’ve taken him away and we don’t know where they’ve put him.”
“What are you talking about, lass?” said Peter. “Pull yourself together and tell us what’s wrong.”
“The tomb’s empty; the stone’s rolled away; he’s not there. There was a young man inside—”
But Peter did not stop to listen. “Come, John; quickly!” he said and dashed from the house.
John reached the garden some way ahead of the older man. He stooped down and peered into the tomb, but felt a certain reluctance about going in. When Peter came up, he pushed his way past the boy and stopped in amazement.
“Come in here, lad,” he said in a hoarse whisper; “what do you make of this?”
There were the grave clothes exactly where Jesus’ body had lain; the cloth that had been wrapped round his head was separated from the winding sheet, just as it had been when the face had filled the intervening space.
“What I don’t understand, John,” whispered Peter, “is how they’ve removed his body without disturbing the grave clothes.”
John shivered. “Can a body just disappear?” he answered. “That’s what it looks like.”
In silence they stepped out into the sunlight. The dew lay thick upon the grass. There were no footmarks except their own and the three women’s.
At the garden gate Mary of Magdala was awaiting their return.
“Was the—the young man still there?” she asked.
“Young man?” said Peter quickly. “What young man?”
“He was in the tomb,” said the girl. “He told us the Master had risen. What did he mean? His clothes were all shiny.”
“You’ve been imagining things, lass,” said Peter kindly.
“The others saw him too,” asserted Mary, “the lady Joanna and Clopas’ wife.”
And Peter remembered the footmarks in the dew. How had a strange young man gone in and out without leaving any traces?
“There’s more in all this than simple folk like us can understand,” said Peter slowly. “Are you coming back with us, Mary?”
“I’ll stop here for a bit,” replied the girl. “I’ll be all right. Don’t wait for me.”
She walked again into the garden, passed between the cypress trees and gazed long into the dark corner where the young man had been. There was no one there now.
“We couldn’t have all imagined it,” she said aloud. She sat down on a low rock outside the tomb and tried to think. The words spoken by the mysterious young man came back to her: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here; he is risen.”
She realised that tears were trickling down her cheeks; but whether they were tears of grief or of exultant hope she could not tell. It couldn’t be possible that the Master was alive, she told herself. Things like that just didn’t happen.
Suddenly she became aware that someone was watching her; there had been no sound, no movement; but she knew there was someone behind her. She turned quickly.
Between the two cypress trees stood a man; the sun was still low in the eastern sky and it dazzled her; she did not recognise him; it must be the gardener.
“Sir,” she began, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him. I’ll see that he’s buried somewhere else.”
The name was spoken quietly, almost laughingly, as the Master had often spoken it when he was teasing her. No one else had ever spoken to her like that. She sprang to her feet.
“Master,” she whispered. She drew near to touch his hand, to assure herself that he was real.
“Don’t touch me,” he said quickly; “the tissues of my human body are not yet completely changed as they must be before I can return to the Father. But go and tell the Twelve you have seen me; let them know that before long I must return to my Father and your Father—to my God and your God.”
She did not take her eyes off him, she was sure of that. But he was gone. The cypress trees raised their slender forms skywards; the sun still shone into her face; unimaginable joy was in her heart. But the Master was no longer there.
How she got back to Deborah’s house she could never remember. She supposed she must have run, for she was out of breath when she burst into the upper room.
“I have seen the Master,” she exclaimed.
An incredulous gasp greeted her words.
“You must be mad, Mary!” cried Philip.
And looking at her white face, her wild eyes and her dishevelled hair, they all thought that she had lost her reason.
With a supreme effort she mastered her agitation. “I’m not mad, Philip,” she said quickly; “I’ve seen the Master.”
“Hysteria,” muttered Thomas. He strode out of the door and slammed it behind him.
Andrew crossed the room; he was the only man there who kept his head. This was what he knew would happen.
“Sit down, Mary,” he said gently. “Tell us all about it.”
They crowded round her. Simply and without exaggeration the girl told her amazing story.
When Mary had left them, a lively discussion began. In several hearts an unexpected hope had been born; but, apart from Andrew, none could feel certain; the girl might have imagined it all; the glare of the rising sun might have played tricks with her eyes; was it likely that the risen Master would have made his presence known first to a young girl?
“Oughtn’t we to let the Master’s mother know what we have heard?” suggested young James.
“Well, do you think so?” argued Matthew. “We know nothing definite. Isn’t it rather cruel to raise the poor woman’s hopes if there’s nothing in it?”
“She ought to be told,” said Andrew positively.
So it was decided that Andrew himself, with Philip and Nathaniel, should break the news to Mary of Nazareth. They found her with Deborah downstairs. Her face was lit up with a calm and serene joy, which made it clear that she had already heard the girl’s story. Nathaniel felt a catch at his heart; how bitter would be the blow if there were any mistake!
“You have seen Mary of Magdala.” Andrew spoke the words, not as a question, but as a self-evident fact.
“She came in and told me; yes,” was the reply.
“And you believe her story?”
“Why should I doubt it?” said Mary.
“It might have been imagination,” Nathaniel suggested tentatively.
“Mary isn’t that sort of girl,” replied her namesake. “Her early life and upbringing have taught her to see things as they are.”
“The queer thing to my mind,” said Philip slowly, “is that the Master should choose to show himself first to a girl like that. It would have been more natural if he had come to you, or even to one of us.”
A quick smile passed over the Mother’s face—a smile that they knew well in her son. “That’s the very thing which makes certainty even more certain,” she said quietly. “Isn’t it exactly like Jesus? All her life Mary has felt herself different from other people—an outcast. Now she knows that the Master she loves has given her the highest privilege of all—to be the first to welcome him back to life. Don’t you see that it will make all the difference to Mary? And isn’t it like Jesus to think of that?”
No one answered. But they all felt the truth of her words. An atmosphere of peaceful certainty pervaded the little room.
“I have always known Jesus was marked out for some great work,” continued Mary. “His birth was foretold to me by an angel of God; he was born in the stable of an inn at Bethlehem at the time of the great census, and Shepherds from the hills near by saw a multitude of the heavenly host who guided them to my baby; a new and brilliant star appeared in the heavens and brought wise men from the distant east to do him homage. Since my husband’s death fourteen years ago, I have never spoken of these things except to Jesus himself. Now I have told you to make you understand how it is that I believe so readily. My helpless little baby, my toddling boy, my carpenter son, was the one chosen by God to be the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. God’s chosen Messiah could not be conquered by death. When I stood by his cross I suffered, as only a mother can suffer, because my son was in pain. But I knew that was not the end. God’s purpose could not be stopped by our priests or by the might of Rome.”
The three men could say nothing; they were too profoundly moved.
It was the other mother, Deborah, who could not restrain a question born of sympathy. “But you hope to see him again, don’t you Mary?”
Again there came that swift smile. “I have seen so little of him the last three years, Deborah; but he has always been with me. Perhaps he will come to me now, as he has come suddenly, and without warning, in the past. If there are others who need him more, it is to them he will go. But whether these eyes of mine see his loved face or not, I shall be content and happy, for I have him always with me in my heart.”
On leaving the tomb, Peter did not return to the city with John. He felt he must get away by himself to think things out. He walked fast because his brain was in a whirl. With no fixed intention he found that he was near to the Garden of Gethsemane. He made his way along the track which led to the spot where he and the sons of Zebedee had witnessed the Master’s agony such a short while ago.
He found the gnarled olive-tree under which Jesus had prayed. And here he sat down with his back against the lichened trunk. It seemed as if the Master was very close to him and he closed his eyes that the illusion might not fade.
Had Andrew really been right? Was it the Master’s purpose all along to die and return to life? How else could one account for the appearance of the empty tomb and of the discarded graveclothes?
Peter had none of his brother’s childlike outlook; he was a practical realist; he smiled as he remembered the first occasion when he began to realise that his new friend might actually be the Messiah: it was when he had spotted the great shoal of fish which none of the professional fishermen could see. And gradually a series of events had brought him to the conclusion which Andrew had reached on his first meeting with the Master. Now again he was frankly puzzled; his belief had been badly shaken when Jesus was put to death on the cross. To Peter’s practical mind death spelt failure. But if the dead Master were actually to return to life again...
“Andrew was right, you see.”
Instinctively Peter moved to his left to make room for the speaker to lean against the tree trunk. For a moment it did not even strike him as odd that the Master was sitting by his side. For no one but the Master could have spoken in that tone. Then the full significance of the situation rushed upon him like a flood. He opened his eyes.
The Master was looking at him with a whimsical smile. Peter could feel the pressure of his shoulder against his own as they both sat against the tree. The very familiarity of the meeting was far more convincing than any sudden and dramatic appearance.
“Andrew was the only one, wasn’t he?” the well-known voice said again.
“Andrew’s generally right,” replied Peter humbly.
“Andrew sees with the eyes of a child,” was the answer. “Children believe what they are told.”
“It seemed so impossible,” said Peter.
“It would be much more impossible for the Father’s plan to fail,” Jesus replied. “This was the only way in which success could be achieved.”
“What I don’t understand,” Peter went on slowly, “is why you have come to me. Why not to Andrew, who is more worthy?”
“Do you remember me saying once, ‘Those who are well do not need a doctor?’ Andrew needs no proof; he knows already.”
“But why did you pitch on me?” persisted Peter. “It was I who denied you.”
“And the rest ran away,—” the quick smile came. “There’s not much difference.”
“I still don’t understand,—” Peter began.
“It’s for you to take the lead among the rest,” Jesus explained. “For that reason you must be sure of your ground. You haven’t Andrew’s spiritual perception; you haven’t the education of Nathaniel or Philip or Matthew or Thomas; but you can lead; and the rest will follow you.”
“What about James or John?” said Peter dubiously.
“For a long time I have made it clear that you three are to take authority among the others,” Jesus replied. “James and John will be magnificent lieutenants. They are too impetuous to have supreme control.”
Peter sat up suddenly.
“But Master,” he said, “why are you saying all this? Why can’t you still lead us yourself? We’re none of us fit to take your place.”
Again that swift smile.
“I shall not be with you as before. In a very short time you will see me no more. But though you cannot see me, I shall be at your side, Peter, to help you in difficulty and strengthen you in weakness. On you Twelve depends the future of the Kingdom of God; and you Peter, are the rock on which the kingdom must rest.”
A great joy flooded Peter’s whole being. In spite of his weakness, in spite of his ignorance, in spite of his doubts, the Master still trusted him. He would prove himself worthy of his trust.
The passage of time ceased to have any meaning. Peter did not know whether the silence lasted for minutes or hours.
“Master,” he said at last, “you spoke of us Twelve. But Judas has gone.”
“Another must be chosen to fill his place,” Jesus commanded.
“What an able chap Judas was,” said Peter, reflectively; “how tragic that it all happened like that.”
“There is no short cut to the kingdom of God, Peter. Judas tried to find one. That is how he came to grief.”
“He wrote to me,” said Peter, “just before the end. He said he was hurrying after you. Did he find you over there, Master?”
“Judas found me. I think he understands things better now.”
And Peter remembered a story that the Master had once told of a father who welcomed home a stupid, sinful son. And he began to have a glimpse of the goodness and generosity of God.
Then his mind went back to the responsibility which had been laid on his own shoulders, the impossible task of continuing the Messiah’s work.
“Master,” he cried suddenly, “I haven’t the strength, I haven’t the brains, I haven’t the courage to do what you ask!”
There was no reply. He was sitting alone, leaning against the gnarled olive-tree.
“Next time I looked round, my lord, the stone was rolled away.”
Sergeant Reu was making his report. At the round table sat the High Priest, with old Annas on one side of him and Captain Nimshi on the other. The Captain looked uncomfortable.
“In other words,” said Caiaphas sternly, “you and your six men were all sleeping at your posts.”
“I beg pardon, my lord,” protested the sergeant; “none of us slept a wink all night.”
“It is easy to doze off without realising it,” continued the High Priest. “Don’t you see, man, that that is the only possible explanation?”
“I’m sorry, my lord,” the sergeant said stubbornly; “it wasn’t like that at all. We were gaming all night.”
“Dicing, my lord,” Captain Nimshi explained. “It’s a very popular pastime with the men.”
“I take it you were at some distance from the actual tomb, sergeant?” said the High Priest.
“Not more than ten yards at most, my lord,” asserted the man. “We were in full view of it all the time. It was bright moonlight too. Nobody could have got to that tomb without us seeing him, my lord. I’ll take my dying oath on that.”
Caiaphas smiled superciliously.
“Yet someone—or, to be more exact, several people—actually did visit the tomb, roll away a heavy stone and remove a corpse. And all this in bright moonlight while you and six men were sitting less than ten yards away. Your account is, on the face of it, absurd. Have you questioned the other men, Captain Nimshi?”
“Yes, my lord,” replied the captain immediately; “I examined them all separately. Their reports agree in every detail.”
“It is my experience,” remarked the High Priest coldly, “that if seven accounts agree in all details, the story is an invention: in other words, a put up job.”
“As soon as Sergeant Reu reported to me this morning, my lord,” protested the officer, “I questioned the men. I then went down with them to inspect the site. Their campfire was precisely nine paces from the mouth of the cave; they showed me exactly where each man was sitting for the game. Four of them, including the sergeant, were facing the tomb; the other three had their backs to it. All the men I detailed for this duty are reliable fellows, my lord.”
“Did you examine the place for footmarks?”
“Certainly, my lord; there had been a heavy dew and there were a number of footprints.”
The High Priest looked up sharply.
“But I’m afraid we can take no account of them, my lord. I understand from people living in the vicinity that several of the Nazarene’s followers were there this morning—to be exact, three women and two men. But all the people I questioned were positive that they came after my men left the place. They had gone before I got there.”
“The tomb was sealed according to my instructions?” asked Caiaphas sharply.
“I sealed it myself, my lord,” answered the captain; “a thick tape on each side of the opening, sealed at both ends—one seal on the solid rock, you understand, and one on the movable stone.”
“What was the state of the seals this morning?”
“All unbroken, my lord. The tapes were hanging loose, still firmly fixed to the outer rock; the other seals were still on the end of the tapes, but had become detached from the block of stone. There were no signs of their having been prized off; in point of fact, I think that would have been impossible without breaking them.”
“What is your explanation then, Captain Nimshi?”
“I have none to offer, my lord. The whole affair is incomprehensible.”
The High Priest turned again to the sergeant.
“I think you said you saw the stone roll back, sergeant.”
“No, my lord. We never saw it move.”
“Yet you yourself and three of your men were facing it.”
“That’s right, my lord.”
“Four men suddenly struck with blindness, is that it?” said Caiaphas sarcastically.
“We were intent on the game, my lord.”
“So intent that you didn’t hear the stone moved.”
“There wasn’t a sound, my lord. That I’ll swear to.”
“You immediately went in and examined the tomb, I take it?”
“I can’t say I did, my lord.”
“Oh, how was that?”
The sergeant looked supremely uncomfortable.
“I didn’t care to, my lord,” he stammered.
“I see. Then you don’t know whether the body was there or not.”
“I could see inside, my lord. The winding-sheet was still there, but the body was gone.”
“What was the state of the tomb when you inspected it this morning, Captain Nimshi?” Caiaphas asked.
“Just as Sergeant Reu has described it, my lord. The body had disappeared. The graveclothes were apparently undisturbed.”
“An easy enough illusion to fake,” snapped the High Priest. Old Annas raised his eyebrows, but did not open his eyes.
“Now, Sergeant Reu,” went on the High Priest, “I am going to run through the salient points of your story. Stop me, if I go wrong. You were taken down with a squad of six men on Friday evening by Captain Nimshi. You yourself saw that the body was then in the tomb. You watched Captain Nimshi seal the stone and then he left you. Nothing occurred the first night. On the Sabbath morning you were relieved by Sergeant Aaron and his squad. No one entered the garden during daylight. You came on duty again at six o’clock that evening. You lit a fire nine paces from the opening of the cave and sat down to a game of dice.”
“Begging your pardon, my lord, we ate our rations first.”
“Very good, sergeant; you had your supper and then started your game.”
“That’s right, my lord.”
“At about five o’clock this morning,—”
“I couldn’t swear to the time, my lord.”
“Let us say sometime in the early morning then,” continued the High Priest, unruffled by the interruption; “you looked up and noticed that the stone was not in position. How long before had you looked at it?”
“Maybe five minutes, my lord, maybe a bit more. Is it important, my lord?”
“Not vitally important, sergeant,” and the High Priest again gave his enigmatic smile. “You did not actually see the stone move and you heard nothing at all. You then noticed that the tomb was empty. On seeing this, you returned to report to Captain Nimshi.”
“That’s quite correct, my lord.”
“And you are prepared to state on oath that no one except yourselves was in the garden from the time that you took over from Sergeant Aaron to the moment when you all decamped.”
“I can swear to that, yes, my lord.”
The High Priest rounded on him. “My good man, the whole thing’s impossible.”
“That’s what I said at the time, my lord.”
“Then how do you explain it?”
“Witchcraft, my lord.”
Old Annas half opened his eyes and closed them again. His son-in-law laughed outright.
“I fancy there’s a simpler explanation, Sergeant Reu,” he said cynically. “If you will listen to me, I will tell you what actually occurred. After Sergeant Aaron left you, you were eating your supper. Two strangers came into the garden and fell into conversation with you.”
“Certainly not, my lord,” exclaimed the sergeant indignantly. “Nobody at all came near us.”
“Kindly listen to me, sergeant,” said the High Priest severely; “and refrain from interruptions. I am telling you what really happened; and you will do well to remember what I say. This is the story you will tell, if anyone questions you; is that clear?”
The sergeant hesitated a moment and glanced at his superior officer for guidance. Captain Nimshi gave him an almost imperceptible nod.
“That quite clear, my lord,” the man said solidly.
“These two strangers came in, then,” continued the High Priest in an even tone, “and began talking to you. They offered you a drink; you had two or three all round. The next thing you remember is waking up with splitting headaches to find that the tomb has been robbed. That’s a more likely story than your cock and bull tale of moving stones and witchcraft, isn’t it? And nearer to the truth, eh, Sergeant Reu.”
“It certainly sounds more likely, my lord,” the sergeant agreed unwillingly, “but,—”
“There are no ‘buts’ about it, sergeant. Kindly understand that that is what happened.”
“Very good, my lord.”
“Captain Nimshi,” went on the High Priest briskly. “I wish no blame to attach to the squad. They have had a trying experience. Let them have an extra month’s pay and free drinks all round at the expense of the Treasury.”
“Very good, my lord,” said the Captain promptly. “You can depend on the men. They won’t give the show away.”
“I don’t understand you, Captain Nimshi,” was the cold comment.
Nimshi got very red. He saw that he had blundered badly.
“I mean, my lord,” he corrected himself, “they will remember that your lordship’s account is the correct one.”
The soldiers saluted. The two statesmen were left alone.
Old Annas opened his eyes.
“I congratulate you, Caiaphas, on a masterly reconstruction,” he said; “is that to be the official account for the Council?”
“Some report will have to be made to them,” replied his son-in-law. “I can’t give them an impossible account like the sergeant’s. The whole occurrence is most awkward, especially when there is already disagreement on the council about the impostor’s crucifixion. You heard, I suppose, that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea sent in their resignations on Friday evening?”
“So I understand, yes,” said the old man; “a pity; they were both capable men.” There was a moment’s pause. Then Annas added: “I thought Sergeant Reu seemed an honest sort of fellow.”
“Seemed, yes,” returned Caiaphas; “but he must have been shielding himself and his men.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, look at his story! It’s manifestly absurd.”
“That’s just the reason why I think he’s speaking the truth,” said Annas, “or at least what he believes to be the truth. No one but a born fool would invent a story like that and expect us to believe it.”
“Then you don’t agree with my theory,” said Caiaphas.
“It’s very ingenious, Caiaphas, because it is more or less probable. But I certainly do not believe it to be the true explanation any more than you do.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Caiaphas quickly.
“One does not give men an extra month’s pay for a grave dereliction of duty,” answered the old man.
“You think it was imprudent to do that?” asked his son-in-law.
“Certainly not,” said Annas; “don’t misunderstand me. It was the only way to have the truth suppressed; and that, I take it, is what you want.”
“I certainly don’t want tales of witchcraft or miracles to get about in connection with the Nazarene,” said the High Priest with an anxious frown.
“No,” agreed the old man. “It would be most inconvenient, of course.” He hesitated. “Caiaphas?”
“What do you think really happened last night?”
Cleopas and Nathan, the leather-workers, had been in Jerusalem for the Feast. The Passover Sabbath was over and they were returning to Emmaus to resume their work. Their minds were occupied with one thought. Their friend, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified by the order of the Roman governor.
“What does it all mean?” said Nathan vehemently. “A man like Jesus couldn’t be a law-breaker.”
Even as he spoke, they heard quick footsteps on the road behind them. A tall stranger was approaching, trying to catch them up.
“Do we know this chap, Nathan?” asked Cleopas.
“There’s something familiar about his build,” said the younger man. “But I can’t place him.”
“You look very serious,” said the stranger cheerfully, as he came up with them. “What weighty subject were you discussing, if it’s not rude to ask?”
The leather-workers exchanged glances.
“Have you been in Jerusalem?” asked Cleopas.
“Then you might guess what we’re talking about,” said the leather-worker; “it’s been on everybody’s lips. You must be the only pilgrim in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard it discussed, if you really don’t know the things that have been going on there.”
“What things?” asked the stranger.
“All about Jesus of Nazareth,” replied Cleopas.
“He was a prophet,” put in Nathan, “mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and everyone else.”
“The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to the Roman governor,” continued Cleopas. “What the charge was nobody seems to know. But he was condemned to death and crucified.”
“And we had always hoped,” added the younger man sadly, “that he would turn out to be the Messiah.”
“A queer thing happened this morning, too,” said Cleopas, warming to his subject. “Some women we know went quite early to the tomb with spices. And, would you believe it, his body wasn’t there! Well, back they came and declared they had seen an angel who told them he was alive. Two of his followers ran straight off to the tomb; they didn’t see any angels, I’ll admit; but they found the tomb empty right enough, just as the women had said. But no one seems to have seen him yet, so far as I’m aware.”
“What a curious thing it is,” said the stranger, “that so many people read the scriptures without understanding what is written there! Don’t you know that one prophet after another, from Moses downwards, made it clear that the Messiah must suffer in order to succeed, and triumph!”
And the stranger began to quote passages from the ancient prophets to prove his words—passages which Cleopas and Nathan knew well, but which now took on an entirely fresh meaning. And as they listened, their hearts seemed stirred within them by the magnetic personality of their chance acquaintance.
When they reached the turning to Emmaus, the stranger bade them farewell. But Cleopas remembered another chance meeting and all that it had meant to them.
“Excuse me sir,” he ventured, “but the afternoon is drawing on and you’ll have to go some way before you reach any decent accommodation. Our house is only a small one, but we can give you a bed, and if you care to take pot luck with us, we shall be only too pleased.”
When supper was on the table, Cleopas addressed the guest: “You’re a scholar and a holy man, sir. Will you bless the food?”
The stranger took a little loaf of bread, broke it in half, and spoke the words of blessing: “May our Father in Heaven who gives life to all his creatures bless this food to our use and accept us in his service.”
Cleopas rose from the table in his excitement.
But the stranger was no longer there. On the table lay the fragments of bread which he had broken.
The door of the upper room was locked. Young John had brought the information that reports were being circulated that some of the Twelve had stolen Jesus’ body during the previous night. Their position seemed precarious. Mary and Deborah and her son had joined them upstairs.
“Where’s Thomas?” asked young James.
“Haven’t seen him since this morning,” said Simon.
“He went out when Mary of Magdala was here,” Thaddaeus volunteered. “He’s not been back since.”
“We’ll keep something for him,” Peter decided. “It’s not worth waiting supper.”
A loud knock sounded on the door. They looked at one another.
“It may be Thomas,” suggested Philip.
“Just see who it is, John,” said Peter in as offhand a tone as he could muster.
John unlocked the door and opened it a little way.
“Why, it’s Cleopas and Nathan!” he said in astonishment. “Come in. I thought you said you were going back to Emmaus today.”
John closed the door and locked it carefully.
“We’ve been back,” said Nathan.
And the leather-workers told how they had recognised Jesus. The rest listened spellbound till their story was finished. Then everyone started to talk at once.
“There can’t be a shadow of doubt about it.”
“The Master has actually risen from the dead.”
“Peter’s seen him too.”
“And young Mary of Magdala.”
Such were the excited comments which greeted these new tidings.
“Peace be with you.”
The words were spoken clearly, as they had heard them spoken many times in the past. It was the customary formula on entering a house; but in the Master’s mouth they had always had a special significance.
They looked up, torn between hope and fear. Jesus was standing by his mother, his hand upon her shoulder. Even as they gazed at him, she took his hand and pressed it against her cheek.
“Jesus, my son,” she whispered.
They heard him laugh. They saw the amusement in his face.
“What are you afraid of?” he said; “you surely haven’t any doubts now! You’re staring at me as if I was a ghost. Look at my hands and feet; they are the best proof that it is I myself.”
And in his palms and insteps they saw the scars where the nails had been driven through.
“You can touch me, if you like,” he went on in the same bantering tone; “a ghost hasn’t flesh and bones! But you can see and feel that I have.”
Still they gazed at him, as if he were unreal, and spoke not a word.
He laughed again—that low, infectious laugh which had often set them laughing too.
“It’s supper time, is it?” he said. “Perhaps if I have some with you, you really will be convinced. Fish, is it? That reminds me of Capernaum, James. We shall meet again there before long.”
It was a happier meal than the last which they had eaten together.
The Master had left them as he had come; Cleopas and Nathan had set forth on their second trudge home; the women and young John had retired to bed. It was almost midnight when there was a light tap on the door. It was unlocked and Thomas came in.
Several voices greeted him.
“Thomas, we’ve seen the Master!”
Thomas went deathly pale. For a moment they thought he was going to faint.
Then he broke out furiously: “Isn’t it enough that we’ve lost the Master? Isn’t it enough that we’ve had to listen to the ravings of a hysterical girl, without all of you conspiring to pull my leg about it? Do leave the subject alone or I shall go mad.”
He flung himself down on a couch, buried his face in his arms and burst into a fit of sobbing.
Matthew sat down by his side. The rest looked at him in awkward embarrassment and moved to the other end of the room. They all knew that Matthew understood Thomas and his fits of depression better than they did. It was better to leave them together.
For nearly half an hour Matthew reasoned with the frantic man; soon he grew quieter, exhausted by the violence of his emotions; he listened dully while Matthew recounted what had happened in his absence.
At last, in a toneless voice, he said, “Unless I see with my own eyes the marks of the nails, unless I put my fingers in those nail-marks, unless I feel with my own hand the wound in his side, I refuse to believe.”
And for the next week no one referred to the Master in Thomas’ presence.
Again it was the first day of the week; again supper was ready; again the Master’s voice spoke.
“Peace be with you.”
Thomas started. For a moment he did not dare to look round. His face was ashen. Then very slowly he turned in the direction from which the voice had sounded. Into his eyes came the ecstatic look of one who has recovered his reason. The Master was smiling at him.
“Come here, Thomas,” he said. “Reach out your finger and touch the nail-marks. Now put your hand on my side and feel the scar. You shouldn’t have doubted the others, Thomas.”
And in a small, humble voice Thomas answered: “My Master and my God.”
In Jesus face there was reproof as well as infinite compassion.
“It is only because you have seen me that you have believed,” he said. “Happy are those who can believe without the evidence of their senses.”
At the old bench, at which his eldest brother had worked as a boy, Joses was planing a cedar plank. His face was thoughtful, his brow puckered into a frown; his mind was not on his work, but on a low shapeless hill outside far-off Jerusalem, and on what he had seen there on his occasional visits to the capital—crosses of stout timber—and strong men like himself writhing in agony upon them.
Rumours of his brother’s fate had already reached Nazareth from fast-travelling pilgrims. But he knew nothing for certain and was impatiently awaiting his mother’s return. She would depend on him for sympathy now, for James would most likely carve out a career for himself in Jerusalem. Again Joses frowned; he knew he could never be to his mother what her first-born son had been.
A shadow fell across the bench; mechanically Joses looked up.
“Why, James,” he exclaimed, “whatever brings you back so soon? I thought you were stopping in Jerusalem over Pentecost. Is Mother with you?”
“She’s staying on with friends in Jerusalem,” James replied. “You’ve heard about Jesus, I suppose?”
“It’s true, then?” muttered Joses. “He’s been crucified?”
“It’s quite true.”
James came into the workshop. He looked tired and ill. There were black lines under his eyes.
“I’m throwing up my work as a scribe,” he said.
Joses glanced at him, but said nothing. For as long as he could remember, that had been James’ absorbing ambition, to study and expound the scriptures.
“I couldn’t work under men like that, Joses,” he explained. “The priests, I mean. My God!” he burst forth violently, “you should have seen the craft and dishonesty they used to bring about Jesus’ death! The whole priesthood is rotten, Joses, the whole Council corrupt! The only two honest men have resigned from it. I used to think it was wrong of Jesus to criticise them, but he was right, Joses; yes, by God, he was right! I’m beginning to realise that Jesus always was right.”
“They say he actually claimed to be the Messiah, James,” said the younger brother; “that surely couldn’t be true? Granted he was one of the finest chaps who ever lived. But the Messiah!”
“I’ve been taking a course of the old prophets,” replied James. “They always seem to be saying the Messiah must suffer and be put to shame. Suppose we’ve had the Messiah of Israel living among us most of our lives. It’s a big thought, Joses. And the question is, should we have known it? Don’t you remember how Jesus himself has sometimes said to us, half in joke, that a prophet is never recognised in his own home town, or by his own kith and kin?”
“But Jesus is dead, James,” urged the practical Joses. “You can’t have a dead Messiah.”
“No,” answered James uncertainly; “no, I suppose not.”
Joses went on with his work.
“What are you going to do now, James?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” was the indifferent reply; “I’ll get some sort of job—something in the secretarial line, I expect. It doesn’t much matter.”
During the next few days the brothers saw more of one another than they had done for many years; and this enforced intimacy drew them closer together. They made no further reference to Jesus’ work or claims, but they constantly found themselves talking of the old life when he had been at home, the admired elder brother who had inspired a romantic hero-worship in their hearts. Half forgotten little incidents occurred to their minds—intimate scenes in which Jesus had figured, bringing back memories of laughter and childish tears. In the evenings they would chat far into the night, after the younger brothers had gone to bed. Gone forever was James professional manner and narrow-minded outlook. He had shed them at the foot of Skull Hill where he had seen his childhood’s hero die on a cross of shame. And the loss of them had left him freer and happier, as a man who is relieved of a mighty burden.
There came a day when Joses was away on a job at a distant farm, taking Sim and John with him. James was reading in the inner room. The rhythmical sound of planing came from the workshop; so much was this a part of the life of the place that for a time it made no impression on his mind. Gradually he found the words he was reading swinging in unison with the plane. This woke him to a full sense of his surroundings.
“Joses and the boys are all out,” he said to himself aloud; “who’s monkeying about in the workshop, I wonder?”
He laid down his parchment and stepped quickly to the door. There was no doubt about it; someone was trespassing in the workshop. He opened the door swiftly and stood transfixed.
Stripped to the waist, in a rough pair of breeches and a leather apron, a familiar figure was working at the bench. As James watched, he laid aside the plane and ran one finger along the timber to test the surface. He appeared satisfied, for he picked up a chisel and began to carve letters on the smooth side of the board. So absorbed did he seem in his work that he never glanced up from it. As he put the finishing touch, with his head bowed over the chisel, he spoke.
“I knew I should find you here, James,” and the voice had not changed, “that’s why I came.”
James tried to speak, but no words would come.
“You’re a silent old beggar, aren’t you?” said the worker. “Silent and critical as usual.”
“Silent, perhaps,” James managed to get out; “but no longer critical. Silent with joy and wonder.”
“So you’ve given up the idea of being a scribe?”
“I could not submit to the authority of your murderers,” said James.
The carver laid aside the chisel and looked up. “What are you going to do now?”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“There’s work for you in the Kingdom of God.”
“I’m not fit to do your work,” said James.
A sudden smile lit up the other’s face.
“There are a lot of queer workers in God’s Kingdom, James—people you’d turn up your fastidious nose at. There’s work for all sorts.”
“Sin is of many kinds,” answered James; “but the worst of all sins is self-satisfaction. I have seen that now. And it has always been my failing.”
“When you are working genuinely for the extension of God’s kingdom, James, self-satisfaction becomes impossible. There is so much to do that you can never be satisfied till it is all accomplished. And century after century must pass before that can come about. Think it over, James. You will find Peter at Capernaum.”
James had not moved from the open doorway. Now he took a step forward.
“Jesus,” he cried, “how do you come here? I saw you crucified! I saw you die!”
As if in answer, the elder brother held up his left hand. On the palm was a scar, where a nail had been driven right through.
“Not a good advertisement for a careful carpenter, this hand, is it James? Tell Joses. When he was a small boy he used to laugh at me when I hurt my hand and say he’d be a better carpenter than I was.”
“I saw the nails driven in,” James’ voice was hoarse. “I saw you dead! And death had no power over you! Then you are,—”
The workshop was empty. But the carved panel lay on the bench and there were fresh shavings on the newly sanded floor.
James bent over the panel. On it he read in Hebrew script the single word: “Messiah.” And below was a beautifully carved cross.
“Through shame to triumph,” he said aloud. “My own brother! How could I tell? How could I tell?”
The afternoon sun sparkled on the placid ripples of the lake. Peter, Andrew and Zebedee’s sons were discussing the weather.
“It’s not worth losing your sleep with the wind in this quarter,” declared Andrew. “You won’t smell a fish if you do go out. I’m having a good night’s rest.”
And he walked off along the quay.
“Andrew’s quite right, of course,” remarked Peter; “but I don’t like to disappoint the lad; Philip and Nathaniel promised him a night’s fishing, and he’s off home again tomorrow.”
“I’m ready to come with you,” said James. “Pity he shouldn’t have his night out.”
John showed his teeth in the broad grin which was so characteristic of him.
“We’ll have a nice quiet night anyhow; might as well sleep in the boat as in bed. We’ll take the small boat; she’s handier to manage if the wind drops altogether.”
It was a fortnight since they had returned north and they had all agreed to be back in Jerusalem by the end of the following week. Though the Master had given them no definite instructions on this point, they had all discovered to their surprise that they instinctively felt that great events were to take place in the near future, events which none of them must miss. In the interval they had decided to return to their own homes to see their families or attend to their business.
In return for Deborah’s hospitality, Philip had invited young John to pay a visit to his people at Bethsaida; his strenuous term’s work and important examination, followed by the emotional strain caused by Jesus’ death and subsequent return, had left the by tired and run down. And Deborah had gratefully accepted the invitation on his behalf, making light of his scruples about deserting Jesus’ mother, whom he felt that the Master had specially commended to his care.
“I can look after Mary much better than you can,” Deborah had said, and this had settled the matter.
A quiet week in the country and the invigorating lakeside air had done John a world of good, and he was keenly looking forward to a night’s fishing with his friends. He and Philip, with Nathaniel and Thomas who were also staying in the house, were to meet the fishermen at eight o’clock on the Bethsaida quay, where they were coming by water to pick them up.
James and Peter were lowering the sail as they reached the quayside; John held the tiller.
“Come aboard, boys,” he shouted cheerfully, as he deftly swung the boat’s head round and brought her alongside the slimy steps. “You’re not going to catch many fish tonight; but you’ll have a bit of a sail if the breeze doesn’t die away. Where are we making for, James?”
“With the wind like this, we might cross to the creek where the Master gave us our orders, before the first preaching tour. It’s not a bad place for fishing either.”
Andrew’s pessimism was justified. Several times they tried the nets but all the fish seemed to be sulking at the bottom of the lake. To the fishermen this was no disappointment, for they had expected nothing better, and had come out solely for the sake of the others. To young John the novelty of spending the night in an open boat, with its good, wholesome tang of tar, stale fish and wet clothes, acted like a tonic and he enjoyed every moment of it. When the men were not handling the nets, they recounted stories of previous nights when the Master had been with them on the lake; they told of his stilling the tempest, of their adventure with the maniac, of his walk across the waters, of still dark nights under the stars when he had spoken of the Father’s love. No, life for the city-bred boy was not dull out here under the broad, twinkling expanse of God’s good heaven; and his companions found their pleasure in watching his enjoyment.
Daybreak found the boat close inshore near the creek of which James had spoken. They had made a final unsuccessful attempt with the nets.
“Well, young fellow,” said Peter to the boy, “you’ve not brought us much luck and you’ve eaten up our whole store of biscuits. It’ll take us a couple of hours to get home. I’m for a bathe and then back for a late breakfast.”
The seven stripped and plunged into the cool, refreshing water. The rest had dried and were half dressed before Peter pulled himself over the gunwale.
“That was good,” he remarked as he shook the water out of his thick hair and beard.
“Buck up, Peter!” grinned his younger partner; “we’ll get no breakfast at all at this rate.”
“It’s James’ turn to take the tiller,” laughed Peter. “You fellows have left me nothing to dry with. I shall have to lie in the sun.”
“Hullo! You there in the boat!”
The hail came from the shore. Through the light moving mist they saw a man standing; he was leaning against a big rock and watching them intently. He shouted again.
“Have you any food aboard, boys?”
“No, we haven’t,” James called back.
“Lower your net on the right side of the boat,” the man shouted again. “There are fish there.”
“A lot you know about it,” said Peter, with a wink at the rest.
“Oh, do try once again,” urged young John, and a moment later was half ashamed of the request which would give the fishermen extra trouble.
“All right, we will try,” said his namesake, “if only to show that interfering stranger he doesn’t know more about fishing than the old firm. Come on, Peter, do something, man!”
Grumbling good-naturedly, Peter came to help his partners. The net was lowered. The moment they began to haul it in they were conscious of its extreme weight. Young John watched with the excitement of a novice.
“That chap wasn’t far wrong,” muttered James, straining at the net.
At the reference to the stranger on the shore, young John turned round to see if he was taking an interest in their success. The man was standing now at the water’s edge, and the sunlight illumined his face. He waved.
Young John touched Peter’s bare back.
“It’s the Master!” he said.
“Here, Philip, hang onto the net,” cried Peter.
“I’ll row you ashore,” said John. “Someone take my place.”
Thomas and Nathaniel sprang forward to relieve him, and John took the oars. He began pulling in.
Peter had by this time dragged on his old oilskin, and jumped into the water. He waded ashore to greet Jesus.
“This reminds me of the time when I first began to understand,” he said.
Then he turned round to help drag in the net.
Peter made fast the boat. James was laying out the fish, and John was counting them. The landsmen clustered round the Master.
“I’ve been making ready for you,” said Jesus. “I don’t expect you’ve had any breakfast.”
A little fire was crackling merrily between two big stones; a few small fish were sizzling on it. There was a heap of little loaves lying on a clean rock.
“There’s not enough fish here if you’re all hungry. You must spare one or two of your catch,” said the host.
“A hundred and forty eight, a hundred and forty nine, a hundred and fifty, and three more, a hundred and fifty three. Not bad, James,” exclaimed his brother triumphantly. “Wanting some fish, Master, did you say? We can spare you one or two.” And his teeth gleamed cheerfully.
It was quite like old times to be picnicking again with the Master under the blue vault of heaven, across which puffy little clouds merrily chased one another; the ripples lapping peacefully on the shingle, the scream of the gulls overhead, the scent of seaweed, all brought back memories of those days when their work was beginning. And now the Master had passed through suffering and humiliation, through the very gates of Death, and had been restored to them in the glorious vigour of a new life. They knew he could not longer share with them the daily routine; but when he came to them he was the same Master, gentle and strong, as he had been before his Victory on Skull Hill.
Peter, still wrapped in his oilskin, was sitting close by him. Young John was the only one of the party within hearing and he was lying face downwards, on the beach; Peter thought he was asleep.
“Peter, do you love me?”
Three times in quiet urgent tones the Master asked him the question; three times Peter assured him of his love and loyalty. Three times Jesus gave him the same command: “Feed my flock.”
At first the repetition of the question hurt Peter. Surely the Master was aware of his deep affection, his longing to serve him. Then suddenly out of the blue waters of the lake rose the vision of a long, gloomy, pillared hall and of a frightened Galilean fisherman sitting among a group of unfriendly faces and sniggering girls; he heard his words: “I don’t know the man!” Three times that fisherman had denied his Master; and now he felt that the Master had three times given him the chance to atone for his cowardice. And he had given him work to do as well, work which would need all his energy and loyalty and manhood.
“Feed my flock.” Perhaps the Master had noticed that shepherd on the next hill, leading out his sheep to pasture; a shepherd does not drive his sheep, thought Peter, he leads them. And he remembered the words that Jesus had spoken to him under the gnarled olive in Gethsemane: “It’s for you to take the lead among the rest.”
Peter had consulted some of the others and found that they all heartily approved of his plan. He had suggested that before they returned to Judaea, they should collect together as many as possible of those who had believed in the Master’s teaching, and tell them the plain facts about his trial, his crucifixion and his return from death. All sorts of ridiculous rumours had reached Capernaum; and these had been further distorted as they passed from mouth to mouth.
“Let ’em have the unvarnished truth, I say,” Peter declared. “That’s wonderful enough in all conscience. But these silly stories make me sick.”
On the appointed morning a crowd of something like five hundred people assembled on the quayside. Zebedee’s big boat, the “Whale,” was moved a short way out on the water, and in it sat the eleven survivors of the original Twelve. Peter was to act as their spokesman; he had tried to get out of making the speech but had been overruled by the rest.
“You’re our leader now,” John had said, “and we’re not going to have you shirking the dirty work.”
In the crowd were people of all classes, both men and women. Isaac was there with his wife and little Joab, who was perched on an inverted tub; Dr. Luke was chatting with old Jonah; Abinadab had come down from his office. But most of the assembly consisted of quayside folk among whom Jesus had spent most of his time during his stay in the city. All were eager to hear the truth about the fate of the man whom they had once hailed as a prophet. The scribes and Pharisees were noticeable by their absence.
Peter stood up. Silence fell on the crowd. He rested one hand on the mast of the boat, as if he needed support. He started nervously, but as he went on, his voice gathered volume; and the simple splendour of his story carried his hearers with him.
“Mates,” he began, “You all know me and you know I’m just an ordinary working man like most of you. I’m not here to make you a proper speech, but we thought you’d like to know what’s really happened to our Master who used to be loved by everyone on Capernaum who really got to know him. We were all with him in Jerusalem at Passover time and I’m going to tell you straight out the simple truth about how he was betrayed and tried and crucified—and about what happened afterwards.”
He told of the last supper in the upper room, of Jesus’ arrest in the garden, of his examination before Caiaphas and his trial by Pilate. He described the scene on Skull Hill, how his Master had hung on a Roman cross between two robbers and how the priests had mocked and insulted him. He spoke of Jesus’ death and of the earthquake which followed it, of his burial by two councillors who were his friends, of the sealing of the tomb and the posting of a picket to guard it.
“But that’s not the end,” Peter continued, and his voice gained strength; “the Roman centurion knew he was dead; the Roman soldiers knew he was dead; they pushed a spear through the heart, to make sure, before they took him down from the cross; the friends who buried him knew he was dead; and for two whole nights and a day he lay dead in the councillor’s tomb. But on the third morning the tomb was open, the stone was rolled away and his graveclothes were still lying in the cave, just as they had been wrapped round his body. And we’ve all seen him alive, not once but several times; we’ve seen him and talked to him and touched him. The first person who saw him was young Mary of Magdala, whom some of you used to know here. Then he came to me and I had a long talk with him. The same afternoon he walked home with two friends of his to a village some miles from Jerusalem. That evening he had supper with us in that same upper room I told you about. A week later we saw him there again. And only two days ago he was here on the other side of the lake, where we were fishing.”
A child’s voice suddenly spoke in the silent crowd, a shrill excited voice: “Daddy, look! There’s the good shepherd! There, behind the fisherman who’s talking. Hullo, Good Shepherd!”
Joab was standing up on his barrel, waving frantically.
Everyone turned to see who he was waving to, and a sudden gasp went up from the throng. Close by Peter, returning Joab’s wave, was someone they all knew.
Peter turned and saw his Master.
“There’s no need for me to say any more,” he cried; “you have seen for yourselves.”
Quietly, simply as of old, Jesus began to speak and the crowd thrilled to his voice; for this was the voice of one who had been dead and was alive again.
He spoke as he had often done of the Father’s love and of the coming of his kingdom, the kingdom in which love and kindness, manliness and purity, honesty and sympathy should flourish, in which every man would be eager to serve God and his fellows, asking no gain or reward or position in return.
“The Kingdom of God will not come by our just looking for it; long years will pass before its influence can spread throughout the world; but the Kingdom of God is within you and each man or woman who tries to carry out its laws is helping to bring man nearer to the nature and love of God. Where the strong use force to oppress the weak, where the rich grow fat while the poor starve, where men forget the Father who loves them, there God’s Kingdom is thwarted and his purpose hindered. A little company like this seems a small force to change the world; but the seed has been sown in a few hearts where it will spring up and grow into a crop which will one day cover the face of the earth. What is needed by every citizen of the Kingdom is a man’s courage, a woman’s sympathy and a child’s trust in the love and wisdom of the Father.”
The boat was brought to the quayside; he stepped ashore; he mixed freely with the crowd; he sought out Joab and little Simeon and the other children he had known.
It seemed that he was only a few minutes on the quay. Yet afterwards it was agreed that he had spoken to everyone in that crowd, and to each he had said what was welcomed and needed most.
The eleven were back in the upper room of Deborah’s house.
They had seen the Master several times since his appearance in the boat at Capernaum. He had given them clear and definite instructions about their work and the organisation of the Kingdom. He had ordered them to carry his teaching and the story of his life far and wide into every corner of the world; he had told them to use baptism as the sign of admission for new citizens of the Kingdom. He had reminded them that their spiritual life could be nourished by his own body and blood, as he had taught them at the last supper before his crucifixion. He had urged them to keep in touch with him and the Father by constant prayer.
They knew that they would see him on this earth once again and then no more. This did not sadden them, for he had promised that he would be with them and all his followers, close though invisible, to the end of time.
There was a strange feeling of expectancy in the room. No one was surprised when the Master’s voice sounded in the street below.
Without a word they obeyed the summons. He was waiting for them. He led them swiftly, without speaking, out of the city gate, through the Garden of Gethsemane to the hill which overlooked Bethany. Here he stopped, and they remained silent, gazing out over the peaceful landscape. Nestling in the valley was the village itself; on the hill opposite they saw the smoke rising in a thin, straight column from the chimney of Martha’s kitchen; cowbells tinkled from the pasture below; a shepherd boy whistled a plaintive air on the slope of the hill on which they stood; they could even make out young Tobias’ back as he bent over a row of onions. It was all commonplace and tranquil; and the fields and olive-groves shimmered in the noonday heat.
“You must remain in Jerusalem, waiting for the fulfilment of the Father’s promise, about which I have told you. For the Spirit of God, the Source of Power, will soon be given to you.”
Silence again, broken only by the familiar sound of the countryside. A blackbird sang his full-throated song in a copse near by.
In young Simon’s romantic heart a question clamoured to be answered. It was a question which he had often asked himself when he looked at the beauty of the land he loved. “Why should this fair country of ours be exploited for the foreigner? Why should our people be ruled by Rome?” The Master could answer that question. This was his last chance to ask it.
“Master,” he said aloud, “is our nation ever to be free and prosperous again? Is that time coming soon?”
For the last time they saw that sudden smile.
“It is not for you to know times and seasons,” was the reply. “The Future is the Father’s secret. A nation is great, not because it is prosperous, not even because it is free, but only when it is of service to the world. From our nation has come salvation for mankind; from our nation you are yourselves to go forth to be my witnesses, not only here in Jerusalem and Judaea, not only in Samaria, but to the uttermost ends of the earth. And for that work you will be invested with Power when the Spirit of God is given you.”
Even as he spoke a cloud of glory enveloped him with light, eclipsing the brightness of the noontide sun. And their hearts were filled with gladness, for they knew that their Master had triumphed over human life and death, and was returning to the Father, with whom he was One.
So they went back to Jerusalem with great joy.
It was the day of Pentecost.
Once again the number of the inner band had been raised to Twelve. Matthias had been chosen to fill the vacancy left by Judas’ death. And by a unanimous vote Matthew had been appointed to take his place as their treasurer.
Jesus’ brother James had returned to Jerusalem for the express purpose of offering his services to Peter in any capacity that he might wish. His only stipulation was that he should not be paid for his services, and should live as the Twelve lived. After consultation with his colleagues Peter had asked James to undertake the duties of secretary to the organisation, an office for which his training as a scribe made him particularly suitable.
Joses had travelled south with James, with the intention of accompanying their mother home after the Feast of Pentecost.
The feeling of the Twelve during these days was a curious mixture of joy and anxiety—joy in the triumph of their Master, and anxiety lest they might prove unequal to the task which he had assigned to them. They were to be the Master’s witnesses; that was what he had said; they were to tell the story of his life and death and return from death, and so persuade other folk to believe in him and his teaching. But how were they to begin?
They were supremely conscious of their own incompetence; most of them were men of little or no education; they had had no experience of organisation. And they knew their own weakness; they remembered with shame that they had all forsaken him and fled; might not this happen again if they found themselves in difficulty or danger?
“Well, at any rate we do know now for a certainty,” said John, “that the Master is the Messiah. That ought to give us confidence. We know what we’re out to tell people.”
“We knew that before,” objected Matthew. “It didn’t stop us from running away.”
“Do you think we really did know it then?” said Nathaniel thoughtfully. “We hoped it, certainly; but were we absolutely sure? When the Master was arrested and crucified, Andrew was the only one of us who still believed he was the Messiah. The rest of us lost any belief we had. Now, as John says, we do know for a certainty. The empty tomb and our own experience has given us that certainty.”
“What strikes me is this,” said Thaddaeus; “the Master knew us all pretty well. He knew what we could do and what we couldn’t do. And he wasn’t the sort to give us a job that was beyond us.”
“You’re right, Thaddaeus,” agreed Peter stoutly. “And we mustn’t forget what he promised either. He said we’d be given strength to do his work; he said the Spirit of God was going to be given us. What he meant I’ve no more idea than you have; but if the Master promised it, you can depend upon it, it’ll happen.”
Every morning the Twelve went up to the Temple to give praise and thanks to God for the life and victory of the Carpenter of Nazareth. Every evening they assembled for prayer in the upper room with Jesus’ mother and brothers and Deborah and young John. Nicodemus and Joseph would often come in at these times; they had severed all connection with the Council. Mark was almost always there, and Joanna and Mary of Magdala. Simple, homely prayers they were. They talked to the Master as if he were visible in their midst. They asked him to show them what they were to do and give them the strength and courage to do it. And they always finished by repeating together the Master’s own prayer.
On Pentecost morning the Twelve were alone together in the upper room. They had returned from worship in the Temple Courts, which had been crowded with pilgrims from all over the world.
“When I saw all those people from foreign parts,” said Peter, “it made me feel so small—just a common fisherman from a little town in a little country; and I began to wonder how we could ever do what the Master’s set us to do. And then I felt all of a sudden that the Master was standing by my side and looking at me in that queer way he had—you know, half serious and half laughing at you. And he seemed to be saying to me: ‘Of course you couldn’t do it on your own, Peter. Nobody could. But when the Spirit of God comes to you, then you’ve only got to do what he says. And if you’ll only let him use you, you need have no fear of failure.’ All the way back here the Master walked with us; he’s here with us just as surely as he was when we went about with him day by day. He made us a promise, didn’t he? Well, he’s never let us down yet, and he won’t let us down now.”
They all heard it. It was a noise like a rushing, mighty wind. They all saw the light. It was like the cloud of glory that had hidden the Master. It seemed to part asunder, shining with dazzling splendour above each man’s head. Then it was gone, as if it had been absorbed into their inmost being.
The promise was fulfilled. They knew that they were equipped for their work.
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts