Jesus' death was horrible enough. Now the body was missing.
C. S. Lewis once wrote "Reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning."
If you're like me, sometimes it's hard to wrap your mind around the resurrection at Easter. We've heard the story so many times that it's impossible to experience what the disciples did. After all, they got to watch it happen!
But if Lewis is right, we can recapture some of the resurrection's meaning through imagination. This article is an imaginative retelling of the first Easter, as though it took place in March 2008. My prayer is that it will help people recapture some of the joy of Jesus rising from the dead.
Of course, my retelling is no substitute for the original — I highly recommend reading the Biblical resurrection account. To reframe Lewis' expression, John 20 is the truth. In this article, I've just added a little imagination.- GH
* * *
The images of death jolted him awake.
Tom had been too cowardly to witness the Master's execution, but he knew how it happened. Once as a boy he'd snuck out to watch an unknown man suffer and die. He was involuntarily riveted by the whole grisly procedure; morbidly fascinated by the bloody rotting stench and cries of agony. He could see the faces of the weeping mourners; hear the gallows humor from the callous execution squad....
Tom had waited until the sun started down to leave the scene. Then on the walk home, every shadow was the executioner; every sound in the street the cry of a condemned man. He had nightmares for weeks.
But now, 20 years later, huddled in a ragged blanket on a clammy tile floor, Tom was unable to banish the images from his dreams. The childhood nightmares now had a new face for the condemned man. The face of the Master....
Suddenly, a pounding at the door. Tom stiffened. He looked around frantically for a hiding place; a weapon. On the other side of the room, Simon bolted upright on the couch and fumbled for his newly-acquired pistol.
The pounding came again, more urgently. Simon moved to the door while Tom burrowed deeper into his blankets. "Who is it?" Simon snapped.
"Simon, it's Maggie. Open the door—"
"Who's with you?"
"Just Mary. Simon, please...."
Simon unbolted the door and stood back, gun pointed squarely at the unknown danger. The two women stepped inside and he hastily relocked the deadbolt. "Why are you out? It's dangerous—"
"Simon, he's gone!" Maggie whispered.
"The Master! He's gone—"
Simon looked warily at the women. "We know, Mags. We buried him Friday ... remember?"
"No — it's empty. The coffin; it's empty...."
"During the night, someone dug.... We were going to leave flowers, but it's empty...." Tears began to spill from Maggie's eyes.
Tom listened beneath his blanket, motionless but mind racing. Who would rob the Master's grave? Who would touch the mangled body and the caked blood and ... he tried not to think about it.
Meanwhile, Simon — always the man of action — crossed the room to the recliner. He bent over and shook John.
"John, Maggie was at the cemetery ... someone took the Master."
John stared; his groggy mind uncomprehending.
"Someone stole the Master's body. Come with me."
"What? Call the cops—"
"Probably was the cops. Get up." Simon tucked his gun into his waistband; started poking through the piled coats on the table for his Carhart.
"Are you sure it's gone? Maybe the girls went to the wrong—"
"It's empty, John!" said Mary through her tears. "They dug the grave; the casket is open ... they only left his suit—"
"His suit? What kind of sicko would—"
"We got plenty of sickos to pick from." Simon threw a worn leather jacket at John; shook his head as though clearing a bad dream away. "Mags, Mary — you coming?"
Mary shook her head violently.
"I ... I don't wanna see it again," mumbled Maggie. "I'm gonna ... I dunno; take a drive...."
Tom still lay on the floor in stunned disbelief. He didn't understand this; didn't understand it any more than he understood the Master dying. He pretended to sleep while Simon, John, and the two women slipped quietly out the door.
Around him, the others slumbered on, so exhausted by grief they didn't hear the exchange that had just taken place. Or they ignored it — closed out the sound as they struggled to turn off painful thoughts and drift back to unconsciousness.
That's what Tom was trying to do. Only it wasn't working.
* * *
"Oh, sick ... John! Aughhh...." Simon stumbled out of the bushes bordering the cemetery; doubled over and vomited on the ground.
"Simon, the Master — did you find—"
"I found...." Another violent retch.
"Judas! Augh; Judas is...."
"That double-crossing son of a.... Where is he?" John's hands curled into tight fists.
"On a tree ... hanged himself," Simon gasped.
John looked a bit nauseous himself. "Oh...."
Simon gulped clean air; wiped vomit from the corners of his mouth.
"Should we cut him down?" John asked hesitantly.
"Not me." He paused. "Okay, call the cops. On a payphone. Don't say anything about the Master, just ... him." Simon gestured vaguely back towards the trees, then stood gingerly to his feet.
In the dawning light, John looked again at the Master's grave: the open hole where they'd seen his body lowered on Friday. Beside it, a casket lay open — not carelessly thrown aside, but gently lifted from the ground. The Master's suit, smelling vaguely of embalming chemicals, was draped over the side.
Simon took a deep breath. "We better tell the other guys ... about the Master. Get 'em to help look for the body—"
"But Simon, remember when he said...."
"The Master talked about.... Do you think—"
Simon stared at him blankly. "What?"
"Nothing ... I mean — nothing."
"Then let's go. There's a phone at the gas station." Simon turned and strode towards the parking lot.
John followed, but only after one more glance at the gravesite. The suit; just lying there — that's what made him think about the Master's prediction....
* * *
Tom slowly raised his stiff body from the floor and stumbled towards the shower. Let Simon, the impetuous one, go on a wild goose chase for a missing body. Let the women mourn and the others stay in hiding while they slept the day away. Clearly, sleep was useless for him, and he had a job to keep. He'd already wasted all his vacation days on those "ministry trips" the Master sent them on.
But he'd been so sure this was the real thing.
Should he have seen it coming? The Master had talked about dying, but they'd all assumed that was far in the future. Personally, Tom had been expecting the Master to announce his candidacy any day for Governor, or at least Senator. Then in a week full of backroom maneuvering and betrayal, he was brought low on trumped-up charges; arrested and beaten; hauled outside the city and executed as a traitor. Who could have foreseen it?
These three years had been the best of Tom's life. He had a group of other men to call friends. He felt for the first time that his life was worth the oxygen he breathed; he had purpose and passion. He dared to think he was a servant of God. But then....
Well, it was better not to think about it.
He toweled off and tiptoed back into the living room, where the early sun was peeking through the blinds. As he was pulling work clothes out of his duffle bag, he heard a key turn softly in the lock. Simon and John quietly slipped back in through the door.
"Did you find him?" Tom whispered.
Simon whirled; startled at the sound of a voice. "Tommy ... didn't know anybody was up."
"Did you find — his body?"
"Umm ... not the Master. We're thinking we should look—"
"I gotta get to work. Call my cell, OK?" Tom threw his duffle bag over his shoulder and headed for the door.
"You're going to work?" Simon looked personally offended.
"Already used my vacation days—"
"After what happened? We have to find the Master; figure out what they did—"
"Simon, he's not — here anymore—"
"Dignity for the dead, Tommy! You want flies and dogs to — John, can you believe this?"
Tom wasn't sure why he was having this conversation; the Master was gone. "Obviously, he'll turn up—"
"He'll 'turn up'? That's what you're saying, three days after.... John, can you believe this guy?"
"He's dead, Simon. We gotta move on with life—" said Tom.
John finally spoke quietly. "Well, the Master did talk about it, Simon."
"What; everybody deserting him? Yeah, I remember that—"
"No — going away; where we couldn't find him." John abruptly walked from the room.
"John, what're you talking about?" Simon looked frustrated.
"Seeya later," said Tom, unbolting the lock.
"I can't believe you," Simon snarled. "Don't bother coming back, huh? If you can desert the Master at a time like this—"
Tom was pretty hot now. "Hide as long as you want, Simon. I'm getting my life back—"
"If he knew — if the Master knew what you were doing—"
"At least I didn't deny him three times," Tom threw back, and walked out the door.
He half-expected hotheaded Simon to run up behind and throw him against the wall. Instead, he heard the door slam viciously. And he didn't really care.
* * *
Peering through tearful bleary eyes, she passed down street after street without a destination. She wound her way from Simon's apartment to the river; finally found herself at the end of the Third Street Bridge, stopped at a green light without seeing. Honking traffic piled up behind her. A driver hollered out the window and flipped her off; she hastily turned right.
After years of futile confinements in psychiatric wards; years of useless medications that only sapped her life of everything good; years of crying for relief from the relentless delusional voices — one day she met the Master. He instantly diagnosed her and cast the seven tormenting demons into the Abyss. She was no longer "Crazy Mary Magdalene." Maggie — as she preferred to be called — had devoted herself to serving the man who gave her life back.
And now ... he was gone, without a grave to remember him.
She climbed out of her car. Somehow (she couldn't say how) she'd ended up at the cemetery again. She stared blankly towards the open coffin; had a vague idea of closing it and leaving her flowers on top. Maggie stumbled across the grass, carrying the bouquet.
When she reached the gravesite, she broke down; simply cried with soul-wracking sobs on the edge of the vacant pit. Then finally spent, she rested her cheek against the cool wood of the coffin, lacking desire to ever move again.
She saw a movement with the corner of her eye. With effort, she raised her head. A man dressed in flannel and jeans was walking over by the trees. She realized vaguely he must be a cemetery employee — certainly if anyone knew where the body had gone, it would be him.
She called out in a surprisingly strong voice: "Sir? Sir, what did you do with the body?"
The man turned towards her. "Maggie," he said, with an unmistakable smile.
Maggie felt suddenly dizzy ... she felt herself pitching sideways onto the ground, and couldn't stop herself.
Even as she lost consciousness, however, a broad grin spread across her face.
* * *
Part of Tom didn't want to go back. The other part of him said these were the only friends he had left. Everyone else had decided he was crazy long ago. Some of the guys at work wouldn't even acknowledge his presence — except behind his back.
So after he punched out at 3:30, he drove reluctantly to Simon's. But he drew the line at apologizing. He hadn't done anything wrong. If Simon wanted him to grovel, he'd walk back out the door.
Tom raised his hand to knock ... then realized the door was partly open. His heart pounded; his hands grew clammy. This was not a good sign. Was he walking into a trap? Were the police waiting inside? He turned to leave when the door abruptly opened.
It was Simon. And he had clearly gone insane.
"Tommy! Tommy, you came back — I'm sorry about this morning—"
"You gotta sit down. No, there's no time — he's alive!"
"He's alive! The Master; he's back!"
Tom looked around the apartment in a daze. John — John, who usually kept Simon's feet at least partly on the ground, was shouting that he'd known it all along; that the Master said he was coming back. Jim was shouting into his cell phone; Matthew was motionless on the couch with a huge smile on his face. Maggie — poor Maggie; maybe it was a relapse, she was schizo before she met the Master — she was locked in a giant hug with Andrew.
Tom didn't know what to say. He finally gasped—"Simon, have you guys been drinking?"
"Tommy, he's alive!"
An irrational anger rose in Tom. Was this a twisted gallows-humor practical joke they were playing on him? Was this Simon's revenge because he'd actually gone to work? He pushed his way past Simon into the apartment.
"So where is he? Where's the Master?"
Matthew finally looked up from his daze. "Tommy ... where were you?"
"At work. Matthew, what happened?"
"The Master was here!"
"So where is he?" snapped Tom. "Let me see him, too."
"He left a couple minutes ago. Actually, he sorta faded out, if you know what I mean—"
Tom strode over to Simon. "If this is your concept of funny—"
"What?" Simon looked genuinely puzzled.
"I am so sorry I got on with my life today. But why don't you call it off, huh? I never thought you'd go so low—"
"Tommy, what are you—"
"This isn't funny. He's gone; we all know it—"
"No he's not, Tommy! Just wait till you see him, too...." Simon actually slapped him on the back.
Tom took a deep breath. Everyone really seemed to believe this. Maybe he could talk them down; maybe this was carbon monoxide poisoning or something....
"Simon ... did you have a dream?" he said slowly "Sometimes when we really want to believe something—"
"Tommy, he was here! He ate leftover salmon out of the fridge—"
This was too much. He couldn't handle this; couldn't stay in this room another minute. He shouted, "I'm not buying it till I put my fingers in the nail holes on his hands!"
Simon didn't need to slam the door. Tom did it himself on his way out.
* * *
After that experience at Simon's apartment, Tom swore he would never go back. But he realized his duffel bag and most of his uniforms were on the kitchen floor. So after work the next day, he reluctantly turned down the familiar street with gritted teeth. In and out; nice and easy; that was all he needed.
He knocked on the door. Simon answered it in stony silence. The party was clearly over.
"Don't worry; I just came for my bag," Tom snapped.
Simon held the door; gestured wordlessly to the kitchen.
Matthew, who was sitting at the dining room table reading, actually stood up and stalked to the bedroom. John seemed embarrassed; didn't say anything.
Tom picked up his bag; turned to leave. "Don't worry; I won't be back," he said, to no one in particular.
He reached out for the doorknob; swung open the door. And suddenly in the hallway, directly in front of his eyes, wearing the sweater he wore to preach on cold days....
It was the Master.
"Go ahead, Tom," he said. "Feel the nails."
The Master held out his hands.
Tom didn't dare touch the scarred outstretched palms; didn't even look into his eyes. He collapsed to his knees in shame. "My Master and God!" he cried.
As tears streamed down his face, he felt the Master lifting him to his feet in an embrace.
* * *
Sometimes in dark moments, Tom still wondered. He wondered if it had been a dream; some weird group hallucination. Sometimes discouragement overwhelmed him, and he thought it must have been an illusion.
But then he recalled putting his fingers into the nail holes. He remembered the Master lifting his shamed head from the floor, and saying, "Blessed are the ones who haven't seen, but still believe."
Tom had always understood that as a kind of commission. Not everyone got to feel the nails. His job was to tell those who hadn't.
So Tom headed to India and started churches among the people. He testified to his amazing encounter with the Risen Master that transformed doubt into belief. Eventually, he followed in the Master's footsteps. Tom was condemned to died for his faith at the end of a spear.
But he didn't die as a doubter — after all, he'd felt the nails. No, Tom believed. And right after the spear pierced his body, he felt the arms of the Master again.
Copyright 2008 George Halitzka. All rights reserved.