My name is Miriam. It's a common name in my world, and there were at least three of us who stood at the bottom of the cross yesterday as our leader and Rabbi hung there, a victim of Jewish jealousy and Roman fear of insurrection.
While no women had ever been named disciples or apostles, we women were there to support those who were so named, as well as to enable us to be near Jesus and to learn from and of him. Most of us had means so we were able to help buy food, and we cooked and did such work as was normal for women in our time. It was hard to live, going from place to place as we followed Jesus, but somehow it didn't matter. What was important was being near him and feeling his gentleness, power, and love. He taught us a new way of living, and for that we loved him even more.
The night he went to Gethsemane, we were not permitted to come along. The first we heard of the trouble was when others came back to where we were and told us that Jesus had been arrested. They told us about Judas betraying him, and we all gasped in shock because Judas had been as a brother to us, just like all the others. Yet he had betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It was so hard to comprehend. It was Judas who pointed Jesus out to the Roman soldiers who invaded Gethsemane and bound Jesus’s hands behind his back before pushing him back towards the city itself and Herod’s praetorium. Now we knew where Peter had gone.
We heard the next morning the Jesus was going to be crucified. It was a shameful form of execution, with no dignity given to the accused, no pity, and no empathy. We ran to Golgotha, the place of the skull, and we waited as he was brought up the hill, with a stranger carrying his cross for him. Jesus had been beaten severely and savagely, and he had a crown of thorns on his head which made his scalp bleed profusely. The stripes on his back were bloody and deep, and his hands and knees were scraped and raw because he had fallen several times under the weight of that wooden cross they had forced them to carry.
Finally, they forced Jesus to lie down on the crossed pieces of wood and hammered nails into his wrists and into the sides of his heels. Many who had experienced this screamed in agony, but Jesus uttered not a single sound. They hoisted the cross up so that his whole weight hung by those nails in his wrists. We could hear him as he gasped for breath, and occasionally he would try to push himself upright to take the strain off his arms so that he could breathe more easily. It was a painful struggle, and painful to watch.
We moved close to the foot of the cross, close enough for him to see us women and to know that we were with him. The only disciple that came with us was his beloved John. The others stayed hidden for fear of being arrested themselves.
We could see the blood flowing from wounds. It must have been agony every time his back moved against the rough wood of the cross, but still he said nothing. Jesus spoke out several times, not in screams of agony or even moans of deep pain. At one time he began to recite a psalm,” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was as if for the very first time in his entire life Jesus felt deserted, and at a time when he most needed the comforting presence of God. It must have broken Jesus's heart, for we saw tears running down his face and there was nothing we could do to comfort him. At the end he cried out one last time, "It is finished. Into thy hands I commend my spirit," and with a shudder he died.
His side was pierced with a lance, just to make sure he was dead. They took him down after a while, and a rich man who had followed Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, claimed the body. After wrapping it in linen, his men carried the body away. Most executed criminals were not given such treatment, but Joseph was influential, and when he asked, Jesus body was given to him. It was getting close to sunset, so they hurried to a new tomb that had been carved out of rock, Joseph’s own future tomb. They placed the body on the stone slab and quickly rolled the stone across the face of it before rushing home for the beginning of Sabbath.
Our own Sabbath came, and we gathered in an upper room, men and women alike, mourning the loss of our teacher, our spiritual guide, and our friend. There were wails and sobs, but we weren't allowed to truly mourn because it was the Sabbath and mourning was forbidden on the Sabbath. Still we sat, tears running down our cheeks, as we spoke of Jesus. We spoke of the lessons that he had tried to teach us, the prayers he taught us, the happy moments, as well as the sad moments we spent with him. It was all we could do to try to understand this loss; it was so great yet could not really be expressed. Had it been any other day of the week, we women would have gone to the tomb and anointed his body with herbs and spices and then wrapped him in clean linen and then left him in that tomb. Being the Sabbath, however, we were not permitted to do that, or even really to leave the house except to go to synagogue or the temple. That day which you call Holy Saturday seemed like it was a million years long. Only when the sun set could we thank God the Father that we had made it through that horrible, empty, lonely day.
You of course know the rest of the story. You know what happened on that first day of the week when sunrise came, and we could leave to go and do what we needed to do. It's no surprise to you, but to us it was incredulous, unbelievable, and confusing. Then we went back and told the others and they came and saw what we had seen, an empty tomb.
On the first day of the week, the day you call Easter, you express the joy that we felt when we found why the tomb was empty, when we saw our beloved Rabbi among us again, and could hear his voice once again preaching, teaching, and being among us despite scars that remained on his body.
May you have a blessed Easter — tomorrow. Today, remember us who were so lost and so disconsolate but who ultimately witnessed a miracle called the resurrection.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 31, 2018, under the title "Eyewitness."