As John walked back to the city with Jesus’ mother, his thoughts were in a turmoil. He had seen the Master, whom he had accepted as the Messiah, hanging as a criminal on a Roman cross; yet everything seemed unreal, like a scene conjured up by his own imagination. He knew that in a few hours his hero would be dead, yet his mind found it impossible to grasp the idea. With his own eyes he had seen his Master insulted, wounded, nailed to the cross; yet never before had he admired and loved him so deeply. For Jesus of Nazareth had been the same in humiliation as in the happy times when John had learnt to know and follow him. And in the midst of his grief and bewilderment, the boy was experiencing a great and overmastering joy; the Master had asked him to be as a son to his Mother. Glancing at the little woman who walked so quietly by his side, he knew he could never take the place of the son she had lost. With an intuition beyond his years he knew she would not wish that. But perhaps he could do something to lighten her sorrow by letting her see and hear of the love and admiration which Jesus had inspired in all who knew him.
It was Mary who spoke first. “May I come back with you to your home, as he said?” she asked. “I don’t think I could quite bear the sympathy of my sister and James.”
“I know my mother will be glad,” replied John, conscious that he could find no words to meet the situation. “I’ll run down afterwards and fetch your things from Clopas’ house.”
And Deborah, with a woman’s understanding, made her guest welcome. No useless words of consolation or solicitude were spoken; but Mary knew she was with friends who shared her sense of loss.
Late in the afternoon Mary spoke for the first time of what was in all their minds.
“Do you think it’s all over?”
“I’ll find out and let you know,” said John at once.
Thankful of having something definite to do, John hurried off to Skull Hill. He was just in time to see the Roman soldiers examining the crosses; he noticed that another centurion had relieved the one who had spoken to him earlier. The two robbers were not yet dead; the legionaries broke their legs to put them out of their pain. The centurion spoke to one of his men. John understood Latin and overheard what he said.
“These Jews are a queer lot. Tomorrow is their holy day; it seems they’ve asked the proconsul to see that the bodies are removed before nightfall. Here, Flaccus! I think this chap’s dead already; but you’d better make sure. Just push your spear upwards through his heart, there’s a good fellow.”
The man did as he was bidden. The still form on the middle cross remained as still as ever. But from the wound in the side came a dark stream.
“Just look here a minute, sir,” exclaimed the legionary. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. Looks to me as if there’s water mixed with this blood.”
The centurion did not take much interest; he was eager to get on with the unpleasant job and go back to barracks.
“So long as he’s dead, Flaccus,” he returned, “that’s all that matters.”
A hand was laid on John’s shoulder; he turned quickly. It was Dr. Joseph of Arimathaea; with him were Dr. Nicodemus and Lazarus of Bethany.
“Will you give us a hand, John?” asked Dr. Joseph; “I have the proconsul’s permission to see to the burial. There’s a new tomb in my garden yonder.”
“Of course I’ll do anything I can,” replied the boy.
By this time the soldiers had lowered the three bodies and had laid them side by side on the ground. Dr. Joseph advanced to the centurion.
“I have an order here from the proconsul,” he said, “to bury the body of one of your prisoners—Jesus of Nazareth.”
“That’s a bit unusual, sir,” answered the officer; “do you mind if I see the paper.”
Joseph handed him the signed order.
“Seems all right, sir,” he said. “All right, boys, leave that one where it is. These gentlemen are going to save us the sweat of disposing of it. Good evening, sir.”
The centurion saluted, and, whistling cheerfully, carried on with his gruesome task.
The body of Jesus was wrapped in a winding sheet of fine linen which Nicodemus had brought with him, and was slowly and reverently carried down the slope to the peaceful garden outside the city wall. A tomb had been hewn in the solid rock; into this the four men laid the friend who had been the inspiration of their lives. They uncovered the body and Nicodemus anointed it all over with a mixture of myrrh and aloes. Then they wound it tightly in the sheet and bound a strip of linen about the head, leaving only the face exposed.
When their task was finished, they stood up and looked down at the calm still features.
A hesitating voice spoke outside the cave. “May we see where you have laid him, sir?”
Dr. Joseph went outside. Close by the mouth of the tomb stood a young girl; with her was an older woman. The girl was well dressed; the woman wore the garb of a tradesman’s wife.
“What do you want, child?” asked Dr. Joseph kindly.
“May we look inside, sir?” said the girl. “We mean to bring some spices and anoint him again when the Sabbath’s over. My name is Mary; I’m the adopted daughter of Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s chamberlain. This is the Master’s aunt, sir, Mary the wife of Clopas. We saw you bring him in here.”
“When did you come down from the city?” inquired Joseph, more sharply than he intended.
“I’ve been there—on Skull Hill—all the time,” replied the girl simply.
“I tried to make her go home, sir,” said the other woman, “but she wouldn’t stir.”
“The Master was my friend,” the girl explained, “he had been—very good to me. It would have seemed like deserting him when he was—in trouble.”
“Come and see him,” said Dr. Joseph—and his voice was husky.
The two women stood at the entrance to the cave.
“How peaceful he looks,” said Clopas’ wife in an awed tone.
“And happy,” added Mary quickly. “He has spent all his life making other people happy. Now he can be happy himself.”
They left the cave and the heavy stone was rolled into its place.
An atmosphere of gloomy fatalism had settled upon the upper room.
At Deborah’s suggestion the Twelve had agreed to make their headquarters there until such time as they could form some plans. The couches round the table served both for seats and for beds; and other mattresses had been laid upon the bare floor for the rest.
They sat about aimlessly in little groups, talking in undertones. The door was kept locked, for none knew if perhaps some or all of them might be arrested as followers of Jesus. Not that they much cared; now that the Master had been put to death, there seemed little purpose in life.
“We may as well get back to Galilee as soon as the Sabbath’s over,” remarked Peter gloomily; “the sooner we start doing our ordinary work again, the better it’ll be for us all. It’ll help to take our mind off what’s happened.”
“Don’t you think,” suggested Thaddaeus with some diffidence, “that the Master would like us to carry on with his work as well as we can? It strikes me that’s what he’s tried to train us for, sending us out to teach and heal and all that. Of course it wouldn’t be the same thing without him, but we could do our best.”
“You’re right, Thaddaeus,” Nathaniel agreed. “We ought to try to continue the work.”
“How can we proclaim the Kingdom of God,” put in Thomas bitterly, “when the King has been crucified? Who’s going to believe in a Messiah who’s suffered a criminal’s death?”
Suddenly Andrew spoke. The rest had noticed already that he had been less overcome than themselves. He seemed to have some inner source of cheerfulness, almost as if he possessed a secret which he was withholding from them all.
“Have you all forgotten what the Master said himself?” he began. “Don’t you remember that he told us over and over again that all this was going to happen?”
“He foresaw it all more clearly than we did,” agreed Matthew. “We all thought nothing of this kind could happen to him, because we believed him to be the Messiah.”
“And are you beginning to doubt that now?” asked Andrew quietly.
Before Matthew could reply, Thomas spoke again.
“How can he have been the Messiah? When the Messiah comes he’s bound to succeed. We’ve made a mistake, that’s all. And I agree with Peter; the sooner we get down to some definite work and forget all about this, the better.”
“What I’m getting at is this,” Andrew persevered; “the Master said he was going to be arrested, handed over to the Romans and put to death—all just at it’s happened. But that was not all that he said; and it’s just because I know he is the Messiah that I believe what he told us. He said, ‘after three days I shall rise again.’”
There was a sudden hush in the room, almost as if Andrew had spoken blasphemy. Thomas got up and walked over to the window; he had felt pretty nearly at the end of his tether before; but this childish vapouring frayed his jangled nerves almost to breaking point.
“You don’t mean to say you believe he really meant that?” said young Simon slowly.
“What else could he have meant?” replied Andrew.
Thomas turned on him almost fiercely. “Wasn’t the Master always talking in parables?” he said loudly. “Haven’t you the sense to see what’s possible and what’s impossible?”
“Before we knew the Master,” answered Andrew quietly, “we should have all said it was impossible for the dead to come to life. But we know it’s happened three times.”
“Yes,” said Thomas with sarcasm; “the Master could revive the dead. But now he’s dead himself, who’s going to restore him? You’d better see what you can do, Andrew!”
“There’s no point in quarrelling about it, Thomas,” said Peter. “There’s something in what Andrew says.”
“I’m sorry, Peter,” Thomas replied in a more reasonable tone; “but don’t you see what Andrew’s suggestion implies? If the Master did rise from the dead as your brother seems to expect, he would have achieved the impossible. In that case, he would not merely be the Messiah; he would be God himself. And I don’t imagine even Andrew believes that.”
Thomas turned away moodily. He said no more, but drummed ceaselessly with his finger-nails on the woodwork of the lattice.
Andrew walked over to the sons of Zebedee.
“It seems to me so obvious,” he said in an undertone; “if the Master could raise the dead while he was in this world, what is to prevent him now from returning to his own body? After all, he said himself it was going to happen. You do agree with me, James, don’t you?” he finished rather anxiously.
“I should like to, Andrew,” James said after a moment’s hesitation; “but frankly, I don’t know what to think. You’ve so often been right when the rest of us have been wrong. What do you say, John?”
“Well,” replied his brother, “it seems to me there’s not much use arguing about it. What we think can’t make any difference one way or the other.”
Though nothing more was said on the subject, Andrew’s confidence seemed to have lightened the gloom of all the rest except Thomas, who was plunged into even more profound despondency than before.
At about five o’clock in the morning there was a tap on the locked door. It was young John.
“There’s a little boy downstairs,” he said, “who says he’s got a letter for Peter. He was told to give it into his own hands.”
“Are you sure he’s alone?” asked Matthew who had opened the door. “It’s not a trap, is it?”
“There’s no one else in sight,” said John.
Matthew roused Peter from a broken sleep and gave him the message. Andrew, who was lying next to his brother, sat up.
“I’ll come down with you, Peter,” said Matthew. “This kid may be only a blind to get you downstairs.”
Without a word Andrew followed the two down the creaking staircase. John went to the door and told the boy to come in. A ragged urchin presented himself.
“Which of you chaps is Simon Peter?” he asked suspiciously.
“I am,” replied Peter, stepping forward. “What’s this message you’ve got for me, kid?”
“It’s not a message,” announced the boy; “it’s a letter.”
“Well, hand it over.”
“Gent as gave it me said I was to be sure and make certain and give it to nobody but Simon Peter. How am I to know that’s you?”
“Here are three others who’ll vouch for me,” said Peter. “Who gave you this?”
“Chap yesterday afternoon,” returned the urchin, “dark chap with a pointed beard. Looked pretty well all in, he did, and that’s a fact. Told me to keep this here letter till this morning and bring it here early, before it was light. And here I am,” he concluded, with an ingratiating grin.
Peter handed the boy a small coin, and he went away delighted.
Peter turned the letter over in his hand, as if he were half afraid of it.
“Here, Matthew,” he said, “I’m not much of a scholar. You read it out to us.”
“You’d better come into my room,” suggested John.
He lit a lamp and left them. Matthew unrolled the letter.
“It’s from Judas,” he announced. There was a moment’s silence.
“Well, what does he say?” asked Peter.
Matthew began to read.
“Peter, you have always shown me friendship and you will understand better than most of the others. You must all know now that it was I who betrayed the Master to the priests. But you mustn’t think too badly of me. We all believed that he meant sooner or later to declare himself King and inaugurate a reign of prosperity and goodness for our nation; and it seemed to me that the time was ripe. Yet Jesus himself was making no move. I hoped that if once he was in the hands of his enemies, he would be compelled to save himself. All through last night I waited in the Temple Courts, expecting I know not what, but feeling confident that by some mighty miracle he would show who and what he was. Even when he was taken to Pilate and to King Herod, I continued to hope. I stood at the foot of Skull Hill and heard the cries of his enemies challenging him to come down from the cross if he was the Messiah. I was still there when the earthquake shook the hill; I wondered with a thrill of joy if that was God’s sign. But when it passed, there hung the Master dead. It was only then that I saw what I had done; I had betrayed the only man who was ever truly my friend, and by my treachery I had brought about his death. A wave of frantic sorrow and remorse swept over me. I ran back to the city, sought out the High Priest, flung down the money he had given me and cried, ‘I have sinned! I have betrayed to his death an innocent man.’ Caiaphas looked at me with a supercilious smile—as if it were a laughing matter! ‘What is that to us?’ he answered; ‘that’s your own responsibility.’ If there had not been others there, I could have seized the hypocrite by the throat and crushed the life out of him.
“Peter, the Master is dead, and by my fault. We thought he was the Messiah; my treachery has proved us wrong. But I have slain the best man who ever trod this earth. I am not like the Sadducees who believe there is no survival after death; the Master has passed into the beyond; and I must hurry after him to ask his forgiveness. I know I shall not ask in vain. Wherever the story of his life is told, my name will be held up to execration as the foulest of all traitors; but the Master will understand, as he always has; and if I have his pardon, what else matters?
“You will find me in the Valley of Hinnom where the refuse of the city is shot. That is all I am fit for. Remember me as a man who was once your friend. Judas of Kerioth.”
Matthew rolled up the letter and handed it back to Peter.
“We must go to the valley of Hinnom,” said Peter. He called for John. “John, can you lend us a couple of lanterns? And we shall need a pickaxe and two spades.”
John looked at him curiously. “It’s the Sabbath,” he reminded them. “Don’t get into trouble for breaking the regulations.”
“You know what the Master said about that,” rejoined Peter. “‘If an ox or an ass fell into a pit on the Sabbath, you’d pull it out, wouldn’t you?’ Well, there’s something we’ve got to do, Sabbath or not—something for a friend.”
It was still bright moonlight when they sallied forth from the house. By the time they reached the rocky valley, the rubbish dump of Jerusalem, the eastern sky was a pearly grey; wisps of mist were rising from the valley.
They began a methodical search, keeping at some distance from one another.
Suddenly Matthew gave a shout. The others closed in to where he stood.
“What’s that hanging from the dead tree?” he said, as they came up.
“Looks like a bit of rope,” replied Andrew.
They went nearer to investigate. An ancient thorn, leafless and misshapen, jutted out from between two boulders. Below it was a sheer drop of some thirty or forty feet. Carefully knotted round a horizontal branch was a piece of old rope, newly frayed at the lower end. Fearfully they looked downward, but the shadows in the ravine prevented them from seeing anything distinctly.
Andrew pointed upwards to the sky. Three vultures were circling high over their heads.
Then the sun rose, gilding the rocks in the valley beneath. Once more they peered over the edge, knowing what they would see.
Judas lay sprawled upon a jagged rock. His face was upwards, as if he were gazing reproachfully at the old rope which had failed to bear his weight.
“Poor old Judas!” Matthew murmured. “He always liked doing things dramatically.”
They found an easy way down to the body. The noose was still tight round the broken neck; the belly had been ripped open on a sharp edge of rock and half the intestines were hanging out.
They covered Judas with his own cloak and set to work to scoop out a hollow among the loose boulders. In this they laid the corpse and shovelled back the earth.
When they had finished, they stood for a moment looking at the improvised grave. It was Andrew who spoke their farewell.
“Our Father, to whom our Master taught us to pray: let Judas have his last wish and be pardoned by the Master he loved but didn’t understand.”
Then they clambered again up the steep slope and returned in silence to the city.
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts