Holy Week Witnesses
By Adrian Plass
(1) The child who threw her cloak in front of Jesus
How are you? How is Grandfather? Please give him my love. Mother and father send their love as well. Mother says I am to write to you with my news. My biggest news is that I have decided I do not want to be a girl. It is not fair for girls. We have to grow up to be women, and women have no fun. Men are not that nice, but if I had been a boy who became a man I would have turned into a man who was more like a woman who is allowed to be a man but still be like a woman. No-one even asked me what I wanted to be. Too late now.
My second biggest news is something that happened to me that I have made a riddle out of. Grandfather told me about riddles. Here is mine. What is naughty and good as well? The answer is something I did yesterday when I went with mother to see the teacher called Jesus. Mother likes Jesus. She says he is the most important person in the world, but as father says she does get a bit carried away.
Anyway, she took me to see him coming into Jerusalem, and when he came riding towards us on a sweet little colt with a white patch on the side of its nose, a funny thing happened to me. It was a whooshing and a rushing like a whooshing, rushing river of warm water trying to burst out of my chest and my head. I wanted to cheer and shout and throw my cloak on the ground in front of Jesus. I didn’t because mother always says it is naughty to tear my clothes and make them dirty. But then, when I told her about the warm water and wanting to throw my cloak down and everything, she said I must do it, and we both ended up cheering and shouting until our throats were sore. Lots of people did. It was great!
When can something you do be naughty and good as well? When it is for Jesus.
(2) The man who supplied the rope
I do rope. That’s all I do. I make rope, cut rope, sell rope, deliver rope and go after people who owe me money for rope. I shall probably marry a rope by mistake in my sleep one day. I work just outside the temple in a sort of tent that’s held up by ropes, with a big sign over the top that’s got a picture of some rope and great big letters made out of thin rope saying: I MAKE AND SUPPLY SANDALS. Only joking - it doesn’t. It says ROPE.
Anyway, you are not going to credit what happened this morning. You really are not. This bloke, right? Walks past my tent into the temple courtyard. Looks like someone who runs something somewhere, know what I mean. Then, a few minutes later, out he comes again. His face! You should have seen his face. Tell you what. I’ve met some hard cases in my time. You do when you’re in rope. But this bloke - ooh, dear!
Marches up, mouth all grim, eyes all blazing, and he says, “Got any rope?”
Well, I’m surrounded by mountains of rope, aren’t I? ‘Rope World’, that’s me. However, I decide sarcasm might not be the most favoured option right now, so I just say, “Er, yeah, lots. What variety do you require?”
“Knotted,” he says, teeth all clenched. “Heavy knots. Easy to swing with one hand.”
So off he strides with a length of my best in his strong hands, and after a bit there’s a shouting and a crashing and a bleating and a commotion like I never heard before. And feathers! Feathers drifting up into the sky, closely followed by the very cross pigeons they must have come off. It was chaos!
Out he comes again after a couple of minutes and slaps that rope down on the table in front of me.
“Nice bit of rope that,” he says, “thanks.”
Sounds like an expert.
“You in rope yourself, then?” I ask.
“No,” he says, still grim, but with a little flicker of a smile, “I’m a carpenter by trade, but I do a bit of house clearance on the side. Cheers, mate.”
And away he goes.
(3) The woman who looked after the towels
I once asked my wise father, “Will I see change in my life?”
“Daughter,” he replied, “one day you may live in a different village. Perhaps your task in life will alter so that the things you see and hear and touch are new and unfamiliar. That is one kind of change.
There is also a change of mind and spirit. When that happens even the most ordinary, familiar and unvarying things of life can be transfigured.”
My father’s answer stayed in my heart, but I did not understand it. Until today.
I provide clean dry towels for the guests at my master’s house. Today the travelling teacher named Jesus arrived with his followers to celebrate the Passover in our upper room. Imagine my amazement when, after they had eaten, the man called Jesus filled a bowl with water, knelt on the floor, and began to wash the feet of his own followers. A rabbi washing feet! Can a thing be impossible and also possible? I did not believe so until now.
Almost immediately a disagreement broke out, the largest of the disciples beating the air with his finger and declaring something in a loud voice. There was a quiet reply from the rabbi, and then the big man seemed to be begging Jesus in equally passionate tones to perform a service for him.
After that the washing continued, and finding that the cloth he had placed around his waist was very quickly sodden, the master turned and beckoned for me to bring dry towels.
I helped him. I helped Jesus. Side by side, on our knees, we made our way from man to man. After washing the feet of each one with great thoroughness and care, he would turn to me for a towel to be placed across his outstretched hands. When the task was completed he smiled at me and said, “Thank you. You and I work well together, do we not?”
I could have stayed there on my knees beside Jesus for ever. And father was right. My work is different. Those I serve are different. Even the simple towel that hangs over my arm is different. I helped Jesus. We worked well together. Everything has changed.
(4) The man who served wine at the last supper
I was at that Last Supper.
I don’t get mixed up with stuff at work. Never have. It’s not my way. It’s hard enough living in one world, let alone two or three, like some idiots. Home is my world. There are enough problems there without getting tangled up with my pompous master or his greedy guests or any of those peasants who earn a crust in the same house as me. Mind you, I’m not saying I don’t do my job properly. I do. I work hard for my wages. Move furniture, wait at tables, clear things away, anything I’m asked to do within reason. Just don’t ask me to get involved. Blank face, cold heart. That’s me.
I might leave. Last night was weird, and I don’t do weird.
Here’s the picture. Yet another religious nutcase impresses my gullible master enough to get the use of his best room for a night. There he sits like a little king surrounded by as motley a crew of dippy disciples as you’ve ever seen in your life, and my job is to keep the wine flowing. No problem. Done it a hundred times.
All right. I’ll tell you. Only ever going to say it once, but I’ll tell you. Rabbi holds the cup out after the meal. I start to fill it. Wine pours like wine has always poured. Everything goes dark in my head. Blackness turns to rich red. Whole building shudders. World tearing itself apart. Creaking, grinding, roaring, groaning. Millions of tons of rock splitting, cracking, shattering. Me spinning through chaos looking for somewhere to land. Explosion of light. Peace. Back to normal. The rabbi’s cup is filled.
End of. Weird. I might leave.
(5) Mary at the cross
Today I do not want to be a branch of the vine
Or a part of the body
Or a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd
Or the bride of Christ
Or a disciple
Or a servant
Or an inheritor of the kingdom
Or a citizen of heaven
Or visited by angels
Or greatly blessed,
Or deeply troubled
Or someone else’s mother
I just want to get my son down from this wooden thing
And take him home
And make him better
And give him something to eat
And hear him laugh
And persuade him to give up being the Messiah
And go back to carpentry
(6) The disciple who was dreading Sunday
I do not understand.
Lord Jesus, if my words rise before you on this dark and pain-filled Saturday evening, please hear my heart crying out to you that I do not understand. I do not believe that a single one of us understands. We, your disciples, wait behind these locked doors like dead things, like dumb pieces of lumber that have been leaned carelessly against the wall or discarded upon the floor because they no longer have a function. Our minds burn with a thousand questions, and they are all the same question. Why has the flower failed to bloom? Why has the wine turned to water? Why have our wounds opened? Why has hope turned to despair? Where is light and leadership? Where are you? Master, where are you? You are not here with us.
You forbade swords at Gethsemane, Lord Jesus. Swords away, you commanded. No defence. If you wished you could call on your father and he would put more than twelve legions of angels at your disposal. That’s what you said. Twelve legions? Well, then, why not? Why not? How are we simple people to understand that in your strange, upside down view of heaven and earth it is more fruitful to fail and die and abandon your friends, than to succeed and live and triumph over the very present forces of evil? I recall some words you once spoke:
“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.”
A good picture. A truth to be stored and considered. Kernels of wheat do indeed produce many seeds. But, Lord, you were not a kernel of wheat. You were a man. Now you are dead. And one dead man does not produce a harvest of living men. Does he?
You are in a tomb, and we, your living servants, are entombed in grief. We long to see your face. We yearn for your voice. Lacking your wisdom and power, how can we continue? The future is a desert. As night draws in we shall try to sleep, but the mockery of morning will surely come. Lord Jesus, my eyes fill with tears. How am I to face tomorrow without you?