Life Again: an Easter reading

The garden was wet that morning, the rich man's garden around his tomb cut into the rock. I remember that. You could still hear the earth drinking the rain.

It had been a dry spring that year. Very dry. Everyone was afraid. The young crops in the fields were beginning to shrink and wither, to hang their heads like weary slaves. Everyone spoke of it, guessing at how soon a rainfall would need to come, to save enough of the crop. Everyone spoke of it, when they weren't speaking of the things that were happening in Jerusalem.

You know, I am sure, what happened in Jerusalem that year. Maybe you have heard that a great prophet came to Jerusalem, and was acclaimed with hosannas and palm branches, and that the Sanhedrin and the Romans conspired against him and killed him. Maybe you have heard that a rabble-rouser came, and all the poor and landless flocked to him and hailed him as king, and something had to be done. Though maybe it should have been done more quietly. I have heard heard that some of them thought that, afterwards.

We had followed him there, from Galilee. We were the poor and landless. I had farmed another man's land ever since I was old enough to put my hand to my plow; it was my father who got into debt and had to sell our farm. No fault of his. Three bad harvests, in a row. Three years just like this one was promising to be: thirsty, dusty, empty of the new life we were hoping for so hard.

And so we lost our land, although we lived on it and farmed it still. I married; my father died; I farmed. Every year struggling hard to meet the rent; every year hoping, trying, working from dawn to sundown with hardly a pause, hoping to keep enough back so that in three years, five years, ten years we could buy it back. Every year the hopes withering a little more, even as our hopes for a child withered also. After the last harvest was all gathered in and the storms began, I would calculate how much we could keep back. And then I would calculate whether we could make the rent at all. And then I would walk out into the field, in the rain, so that my wife would not have to see me crying. I didn't go there to cry; I went to pray; but I couldn't. I could only hear in my mind a line from the prophet Jeremiah, over and over again till I wept: “The harvest is over, the summer is gone, and we are not saved.”

So when I heard of this man Jesus, I had very little to lose. Very little. That year my wife fell ill, terribly ill, till it seemed certain she would die. When Jesus came to our town I came out to him and pushed through the crowds that were around him, the people begging him to heal their sick, and when I finally reached him I begged too. He came into my house. I couldn't carry her―she was hot with fever and gasping for breath―and so he walked with me and actually came into my little house, and he put his hand on her head, and for a moment he closed his eyes, and in his face I saw such weariness. It was as if all our hopeless, grinding struggle, all the years we had worked and worked and not been saved, were on his shoulders and in his face, and I felt a stab of fear, and thought: he cannot save her.

He seemed so much like us. Who could save nothing.

And then his eyes opened and his face lit up, like the sun for joy and power. And I heard my wife's breathing slow down, and deepen.

I was so grateful to him I could not speak.

And so we followed him. She stood up from her bed and offered him bread and milk, and he ate with us, till a man came to the door begging him to come heal his son, and he went. And I spoke with my wife, and we were of one mind. So that when he came back to our door, staff in hand, on his way down the road again, and looked at us and said Follow me, we were packed and ready. He walked away from the fields I had worked all my life and we walked away with him. We were done with the struggle. With working till we were stumbling with weariness, and not being saved. God knew what would happen to us, how we would live. But God had sent this man. This Messiah. And he had come into our house, and he had said follow. So let the land go, let the withered hopes go, let God decide what would come. We were done.

We followed him, from town to town, walking in the train of disciples. We lacked nothing. Among the disciples, everyone shared what they had. We listened to his words, wherever he stopped to teach. We loved him. We followed him to Jerusalem, and cried hosanna with all the people, and I threw my threadbare cloak in the road for his donkey to walk on. And yes, I hoped he would be king. I could imagine nothing better.

And less than a week later, he was killed.

I remember that night, the night after he died, as if it were yesterday. We were staying at Lazarus of Bethany's house, a finer house than I had ever slept in, a dozen of us on the floor in each big room. My wife was in the next room with the women; I couldn't bear to be with her. She had seen him die. She tried to tell me what it was like, and I walked away. I couldn't. I was already broken, just from hearing he was dead. I was barely breathing now.

I sat on the floor in silence, with the other men, and the thoughts in my head were like jackals, tearing. He was dead. Hope was dead. My wife had trusted me and I had led her into a trap. Followed after a false messiah. Or a doomed prophet. What difference, in the end? We had nothing, no money; no home. We could not ask Lazarus and his sisters to continue helping us forever, for the sake of a dead man we all had loved. We would have to set out on the road, and somehow make our way back to our village, not knowing if we would be allowed to begin our hopeless farm again. I thought, we will starve, and it's my fault. I thought, this is how people become slaves. And their children after them. I thought of the wheat in the fields, the dusty shoots hanging limp, and I thought of the weary eyes of slaves, which held the truth: work without hope is, in the end, all we have.

And then I heard a sound, from outside; a sweet, soft sound spread wide across the sky and the land, that began very quietly, and grew. It was raining.

I sat on the floor in the dark―we had lit no lamps―and I listened. Put my head back, and listened to the rain. Falling soft on the thirsty earth, laying to rest the dust; I pictured the crops, in the fields, the dust washed off them now, small and green against the dark earth. And I could not help it. Hope came up. Small and green against the darkness in my heart.

A farmer cannot listen without hope to the rain.

Because a farmer knows, though he forget it again and again. He knows where hope comes from, and salvation. He can plant. He can even water, to the best of his strength, and for a time. But it will all come to nothing, unless God sends the rain.

I lay down on my mat, and remembered that day he had healed my wife. I remembered the freedom, the surrender, of walking away behind him. I lay there, and I listened to the rain.

It rained for two days.

On the third day, the women woke early. They had bought spices, they wanted to embalm him. No one thought the rich man would lend his tomb forever; and so he must be fit to be moved. My wife went with them. She was not with them, when they came back.

They came back wild-eyed, shouting that the tomb was empty, that he was alive. We stared at them. Peter and John began to try to talk them out of their fit. I said nothing, and counted them. All of them were there except her. I slipped out the door.

She was in the street outside, waiting. Too shy to come in with the others. She was waiting for us all to come out, to go back to the tomb. Her eyes were shining like a sunrise in spring. The joy in her face almost made me look away, it was so bright.

“It's true?” I whispered.

She nodded. “I saw angels.” She was whispering too. “Two of them. So bright.” There were tears in her eyes. “They say he's alive. That God―God gave him life again.”

“Where is he, Salome?”

“I don't know,” she said. “I don't know.”

I do not remember all that happened. I remember Peter and John rushing past us, and me without the strength to run; still barely breathing, still weak with joy. Alive. I had not led her into a trap. The true Messiah―only the true Messiah could do such a thing. And he had stepped inside my door; he had looked into my eyes, and said Follow. He had not abandoned me. The freedom, the day I walked away from all I had known—that was his gift to me, and his gifts he does not take back. He gives them again and again. This I thought, as I walked. This I knew. God does not take back the rain.

It was true. Since the day we walked away and followed him we have lacked nothing. We are not slaves; nor are our children.

We walked to the tomb. The sun was still rising; the doves were calling, they were flying down and drinking from the puddles in the road. When we got there the place was empty; no one walked in the wet garden, and the cave of the tomb was dark and silent. We stepped into it, my wife and I, and our steps echoed; in the darkness my eyes began to see the head-cloth, neatly folded, and laid aside; the graveclothes, empty, still holding the shape of a man who had no need of them now. It was so quiet. Even from inside the tomb, you could hear the earth drinking the rain.

That is what I remember.


Jason Winton said...


Thanks for sharing this. I just finished reading it. A few tears and some renewed hope later.

Jason (Paul's friend)