The following is an excerpt from the manuscript of a novel I have been working on for a year and a half.
“So you are leaving, Clophas?”
Old Clophas looked up from the sack that he was packing. “Yes, Cephas. Miriam is not as young as she used to be and she wants to reach the inn by nightfall. We have already stayed a bit longer than we ought, and it will be a good stretch of the legs to arrive before dusk.”
The burly fisherman snorted with a subdued chuckle. “Miriam is getting old? Are you sure it is Miriam and not yourself?”
“I’ll walk the legs off of you,” the older man shot back. He slapped his thigh, still solid with muscle despite his years. “I was hauling wood and stone all over Galilee while you were still sucking on your mother’s breast. You spent your youth sitting in a boat, but you can’t sail across dry land, fisherman.”
Cephas tried to return the friendly jibe, “Fisherman I may have been, but I have put more leagues on these two feet in the last three years…” He couldn’t finish the thought.
The two stood in silence together, Cephas weeping openly but quietly. Clophas clapped him on the shoulder, a friendly slap that would have felled a large goat. “I know, son.”
“I can’t even think about what to do now,” Cephas wept. “The others haven’t begun to think that far, but soon they will, and do you know? I have that awful feeling they will look to me.”
“As they should,” Clophas answered stoutly, trying to find some words that would keep his young friend’s spirits afloat. “Who else is there, now?”
“But you don’t know how I failed. I failed Him. When He needed me most I failed Him.” He swiped his sleeve across his face, and the dust in the fabric made an awful mess of the tears and snot in his beard.
“We all did. All except our women. And young John. I was not there but I can’t say I’d have stuck it out any better than you. And when my Miriam went, I didn’t.”
“Ah, but you weren’t there when I… I did not just run away. I tried to follow him. I went behind the crowd from the garden to the High Priest’s house.”
“That was bravely done.”
“Was it? The moment they began asking questions of me I denied Him. I tell you I repeated it three times and swore an oath, I had never seen Him before in my life. Him! He whom I loved more than any brother, or even my wife or children. I always swore I would have died with Him…” He broke off sobbing.
Clophas did not answer for a minute. When he did his voice was grave. “I did not know that.”
He understood why Cephas looked older now, why he seemed subdued, somehow. Everyone had their share of the great sorrow, and most had their fair portion of the shame, but Cephas wore it differently. He threw himself into the grief without reserve, diving headfirst into self-blame without even an attempt at excuse. He was flogging his own heart unmercifully, but at least he was talking. The day Cephas stopped talking, that would be the day to start worrying.
“Cephas, you must bear up, man. They need you.”
“I am unable to help them. I am a worm and no man. He knew what was in me. I tell you He saw the cowardice my boasting concealed. Prophesied it. Told me to my face, and I still did it.”
“And yet He loved you anyway.”
At these words, Cephas choked out a high-pitched, crack-voiced cough. For a moment, his face was strained and paralyzed as if his tears were caught in his throat, strangling him. He was holding his beard in both hands, as if he would pull it out by the roots. For a moment Clophas worried, but he needn’t have. Cephas was incapable of restraining an emotion for long, and in a second he had burst out with renewed weeping.
The door opened and Clophas’ wife, Miriam, came out. She saw the state Cephas was in and she shook her head sadly, her own eyes far from dry.
Cephas made no effort to restrain his tears in her presence. In another man this would have been play-acting, but with Cephas they knew it was not. His heart truly was broken, past the point of caring, and he barely even noticed their presence, drowning as he was under his waves of grief. “And now they have even taken His body away! Why was I born to see this day? Why did I not go to death with Him? Then I would be with Him, but now I do not even know where I can go to find His blessed bones.” He made as if he would rip his tunic, but it was already torn down the front.
Clophas shook his head. “What do you mean you don’t know where to find His bones? Surely one of the women can show you where He is laid if you do not know. I intend to have Him moved within the week, as soon as I can arrange for payment on the new tomb. My brother’s son shall not lie in a borrowed tomb so long as I have a denarius to my name.”
Cephas looked up at the older man. “You do not know? You will not find His body. I don’t know where it is.”
“What do you mean?” Clophas asked, but Cephas was sobbing and tearing at his beard again.
“Cephas,” Miriam scolded, though her voice was gentle. “Buck up man. This will not do. The others need you. The Master would expect you to strengthen your brothers, not wallow in your own self-pity.”
Clophas thought this was a bit harsh, seeing as it had only been three days and two nights. However, he didn’t know but that Miram was right, and what Cephas needed was to be taken out of himself just then.
Cephas obediently made an effort to dry his eyes, and still his weeping at least long enough to bid them farewell. “Are you sure you won’t stay the night?” He asked.
“Pish!” Miriam answered succinctly.
“I think we won’t make it to Emmaus tonight,” Clophas observed.
“We can make it a fair bit of the way, and if it weren’t the Sabbath I would have been gone yesterday. I will not stay in this city another minute longer.” She spat on the dust of the street with inexpressible hatred.
“I must stay as long as… I suppose as long as Mother Miriam does.” Cephas muttered through his tears.
“You should go home and see your family as soon as may be. I expect she’ll want to be going home soon anyway,” Clophas said.
“She said she will live with John, from now on,” Miriam observed. “The Master especially asked him to look out for her. Almost the last thing he said on earth…” Her voice sailed up a few octaves and she buried her head in her hands.
“Well, I guess we’d best be off,” Clophas said. He embraced Cephas and kissed him on both cheeks. “Be well, Simon bar John. When you return to Galilee, look in on us.”
Cephas embraced them both, and they set off for the city gate.
Clophas knew better than to interrupt his wife while she was trying not to cry. He waited until she had wiped her eyes and put a spring back in her step before he spoke to her again. “How is young John?”
“Right as rain, though more than a bit shook up, I think. When I saw him last he seemed nervous and fidgety, like he was expecting something but didn’t want to expect it too hard.”
“Hey now, come again?” Clophas asked in amazement. “I saw him yesterday and I thought he was not long for this world. Like a dead man walking. Not even walking. He sat and stared out the window all day when he wasn’t checking on Mother Miriam.”
“He was a broken man,” his wife agreed. “Though he was admirable during…” she paused and looked her husband in the eye hesitantly.
“You needn’t scruple to say it, I already know. He went and watched the whole bloody business with you and Mother Miriam and the other Miriam. I stayed put.”
“You didn’t stay put,” she reassured him anxiously. “You were trying to rouse up some petitioners among the merchants. At least you were trying to do something.”
He grunted dismissively. “For all the good that did. Who would defy the chief priests to their beards? And anyway, I knew well enough it would come to nothing, and it would keep me well out of it.”
“You are too hard on yourself,” she murmured, gently squeezing his forearm with one hand.
“But what’s this you say about John? How has he recovered so fast? I would have sworn he was likely to follow the Master sooner rather than later.”
“That’s true. He did not budge all yesterday, except when he was looking after her.”
“He looking after her! As if she needed it. She was more likely looking after him.” Clophas chuckled. Then he looked at his wife as a new idea struck him. “Say, Miriam. Do you suppose that was what the Master was doing? Asking His best friend to look out for His Mother, but more for his sake than hers.”
“I shouldn’t wonder. He was a clever one, and He saw more than most men do.”
“I saw it,” Clophas pointed out, smiling. He nudged her with one arm.
“After the fact,” she retorted, but she was smiling too. “But at any rate, John was barely able to hold himself together, and last night he fell apart. He did not sleep a wink, but he could not weep either. You know, some griefs are too deep for tears.”
“They are indeed.” The old man knew it was useless to try to hurry her. She would tell her story when and how her mind happened to wander through it.
“But then this morning, you know how some of the women went out to the tomb?”
“I heard something about it from Cephas, but he didn’t seem to want to talk about it. Did he go with you?”
“Not at first, you see. It was just us, and we had those spices and the myrrh and aloe, and linen cloths to wash the body, for you know we had left Him in such a state because of the Sabbath.”
“Well, we had been preparing everything since sundown on the Sabbath, and I don’t suppose any of us had slept much either. Probably why none of us thought of it…”
“How did you get the tomb open?” her husband interrupted.
“There you go, spoiling the story!” she cried. “That was what I was getting to. We spent all night preparing and bless me if we didn’t forget that one simple thing. The bloody great stone! It took five men to put it in place when we buried Him, and we had to get the temple guard to lend a hand, and there we were, three women, blithely walking to the garden as casual as you please, with no more idea than… I don’t know what!”
Clophas sighed patiently.
“I’m getting there,” she told him. “Anyway, Salome had the thought first, you know how she is clever about planning things, and ordinarily she would have been the one to think of it in the first place. Magdalen had the idea to run back and call some of the men to help, but just then we turned the corner and saw it.”
“What did you see?”
“As I live, Clophas, the tomb was already opened.”
“So that’s what Cephas was babbling about the body not being there. Grave robbers I suppose? A damned shame, I say.”
Miriam stopped and stared at him. She shook her head and continued walking.
“What did I say?” Clophas asked in surprise.
“Grave robbers indeed! And that sealed with the procurator’s own seal, and watched by the temple guard! We saw their fire ashes and even their cloaks scattered about here and there like they had left in an almighty hurry.”
“I don’t understand…”
“And anyway, do you think I would be this cheerful about it if I thought some good-for-nothings had stolen the Master’s body, that I went out before sunrise to wash and anoint?”
“All right, then tell me. If it wasn’t grave robbers then what was it? Was the Master’s body there or not.”
“Where was it?”
“Well, that’s the thing. I don’t know.”
“Did you go in and see the spot where you had laid Him?”
“I’m getting there, Old Man,” she snapped. “Let me get there.”
He shook his head and gestured for her to continue.
“So there we stood in front of that gaping empty cave, with the rock off to one side. It was tossed, you see, not rolled. Some powerful thing grabbed that rock and heaved it like a shot putt.”
Clophas did not respond to this claim.
“So we went in, and there was no body, just an empty shroud all by itself. Magdalen takes one look at the spot and shrieks like a lost soul, just wailing and tearing her hair and carrying on! You know that dramatic way she has. Anyway, she screams and screams and then takes off out the door like a rabbit, and I don’t think she must have stopped running until she reached the house.”
“She must have arrived while I was out this morning because I never heard her.”
“We were standing there all come over with all these different feelings. Must have been quite a few minutes we stood there and stared and hardly dared to whisper to each other. I felt all cold and sinking, but then you know I think I was excited too. Nervous, you know, and expecting something. Like John was today. And all of a sudden we heard this voice. It said, ‘What are you looking for?’”
“Who was it?”
“Well, I turned and I about fainted. There were two young men there. I say young, though in truth they looked older than you are. They were the most beautiful men I had ever seen, and you could just tell they were not to be trifled with. I suppose if I had not been so astonished I would have been terrified.”
“But what did they do?” her husband asked in astonishment.
“They didn’t do anything. The one just asked, “Why do you seek the Living One among the dead? He is not here.”
“I suppose we must have looked as stupid and amazed as we felt because the other one laughed and said, ‘He is Risen! Just as He said He would! Don’t you remember all that He predicted while you were still with Him in Galilee?’ He said it all laughing, like you would scold a child who didn’t remember his lessons.”
“Risen?” Clophas asked in amazement, “What does that mean?”
“At that moment, we heard a rush of footsteps at the entrance to the cave, and here comes John. Magdalen must have run like the wind to cover the miles to the house and he ran twice as fast to cover the miles back. I don’t think it can have been more than 30 minutes.”
“John was always a fast runner,” Clophas observed.
“He stops at the outside all out of breath and gasping like he would faint, but he doesn’t come in. He just gasps and looks all wondering and confused. But I could see the idea coming to him. It spread across his face, no, across his whole body, like the sunrise.”
“And then a few minutes later up comes that big, lunky Cephas. He sees John at the door, but I don’t suppose he even gave him a proper look or he might have paused.”
“You are right!” Miriam laughed, this time with breathless excitement.
“Where were the two young men?”
“The angels? You needn’t scowl at me like that, I know what they were. Anyway, they weren’t there. We didn’t see them come, we didn’t see them go, and that with only one way in or out and John standing at the door. Explain that if you can, stubborn Old Man.” She pushed him playfully.
“What did Cephas find?”
“He found the grave linens just as we had left them, only no body in them. Then he saw the cloth we had used to cover His beautiful face. It was not lying with the shroud. It was lying off by itself to one side, neatly folded.”
Clophas was silent.
“We all went out, then. We met Magdalen near the tomb, weeping and laughing like a mad woman. When we asked her what was wrong, she laughed at us. She laughed and said, ‘Nothing is wrong, nor ever can be wrong again, ever.’”
“Had she gone mad?”
“She said, ‘He is risen!’”
“Hold on there, Miriam,” her husband protested. “I don’t understand this. Did you or did you not find the body?”
“We did not. Have you not been listening?”
“That is what it sounded like. But if you did not find the body, did you find out who took it? Or who knows where it is?”
“Then what I can’t figure out is why in the name of all that is holy do you seem so happy about it? I have been gone all day making preparations for our departure, so this is the first I have heard of all this. Do you know something I do not know?”
“O Clophas. I don’t know. Magdalen is convinced she saw someone she thought was a gardener, and she asked him where the body was. Only it turned out it wasn’t a gardener. It was the Master.”
“Miriam of Magdala has never been known for her steadiness of mind, you know that. Especially under stress.”
“I know, but…”
“And do you think it likely that she, of all people, would see the Master and not recognize him? Gardener indeed!”
“I am telling you what she said. The other menfolk all scoffed when we came back and told them.”
“Told them what? What do you think has happened? Come out and say it plain, woman!”
“Well… I don’t know. I’m afraid to think it, but then, He did so many wonderful things, and then there were all those strange predictions that He made. I didn’t understand them at the time, but… Clophas, what if it’s true what Magdalen said? What if the Master is alive.”
“Miriam, you saw Him die. You laid Him in His grave with your own two hands…”
“Yes, I know He was dead. But what if He is not? What if He came back to life?”
They stopped walking and stood facing each other in the middle of the road. “Miriam,” he said, and then he stopped. He had kept so busy since Friday morning, continuously running here and there to make arrangements. He had tried to organize a petition for clemency among the Jerusalem merchants. When that had failed and it was too late, he had begun searching for a permanent grave for the body. The Sabbath was a solemn one, and as the oldest man in the family it had fallen to him to lead it. That was no easy task, with everyone in the house grief-stricken to the point of distraction. Then the preparations for the journey had kept him out in the city all day. He had truly not had a moment to pause and digest his own reactions to this event.
He supposed now that that was not entirely accidental on his part.
“Jesus is dead, Miriam,” he said. Tears welled up into his eyes and he felt like an apple was stuck in his throat. He swallowed but it remained, an aching, throbbing pain that was, nevertheless, only a shadow of the deeper, deadlier ache in his heart. What was the point of going to Emmaus, or back to Galilee or anywhere? “Jesus, is dead,” he repeated. He began to sob, and he hid his face with his sleeve. “Miriam, I loved Him. He was my Master, my Teacher. I would have sworn by the Throne of the Almighty One that He was our Messiah. I thought… no I knew! Great things, Miriam. He was born of David’s line and not many of us are left who can claim that. How long, O Lord, how long!” He yelled the last words to the sky.
Miriam wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly, laying her gray head against his thick, warm chest. He held on to her just as tightly and wept. “But before all that, He was my nephew. My own brother’s son, all I have left of Joseph, my brother.”
“He was never Joseph’s son,” Miriam reminded him gently.
“I know, I know, woman,” Clophas replied, without any bitterness. “But still, Joseph raised Him. He was all I had left of Him. And He was such a good boy. I held Him on my knee when He was a baby, and His little hands plucked my beard. Those same hands that… Oh the cruel nails! Oh Miriam! I loved Him. I loved Him. My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken us? Why didst thou not take me and spare Him?”
The grief welled to the top, flooding the lump out of his throat with wave after wave of sobs. He did not try to hold it back. Miriam held him as he gave way to the sorrow and let the pain show itself as it would.
It was quite a few minutes before they were calm enough to realize that they were not alone on the road.