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“Jesus sat on the back of a young donkey, which slowly ambled along the road to Jerusalem. The oil Mary had used to anoint him still lingered in the tendrils of his hair, and his face shone.”
As we enter into the Lenten season, we prepare our minds and hearts to observe Jesus’s painful sacrifice on Good Friday and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. In an effort to more deeply interact with scriptural truths, we are presenting some written historical fiction pieces that correspond to verses traditionally read during these weeks of Lent. These presentations have been created by Cornerstone members with the blessing and consultation of Cornerstone elders.
Our hope is that these written pieces will help you to meditate on the life of Christ as told in scripture, and that leading up to Easter we may all find something beautifully new to appreciate about our Living God, who gave up his very life for us.
Scripture: John 12:12-16
The crowd pressed in thick around her, and Mary struggled to see above the heads of those in front of her. She had left Bethany early that morning and had travelled to Jerusalem on foot. Lazarus was with her too, and as she glanced over at him, she was struck again at how well he looked, upright and strong. The night before, he had reclined at the table with Jesus, as her sister Martha served them and the other men who were Jesus’s constant companions. It had been such a pleasure to hear their brother engaged in conversation and to watch him eagerly eating his food, and it was hard to believe that just months before they had said goodbye to him and had wept at his tomb.
But that was before Jesus had come and changed everything. Before Lazarus, who had been dead, had returned to them, whole and healed. It was this miracle that Mary had been thinking of the night before, when she brought the alabaster box of ointment to the room where Jesus was eating. As she broke it open and the smell permeated the chamber, she was brought back to the last time she had opened a box like this, as they prepared her brother’s body for burial. She felt the pain she had felt then, knowing that death was upon them. Without knowing quite what she did, she poured the amber-colored oil onto Jesus’s head, and looked straight into his eyes. She was overcome with the kindness and sorrow she saw there. Taking more of the ointment, she rubbed his feet with it and used her hair to wipe the excess away. Then she sat, silent, unsure of herself, with the now-empty alabaster box in her glistening hands. When the other men chastised her for her behavior, Jesus calmed them. “Leave her alone. She is preparing me for my burial. It is a beautiful thing.”
She could still smell the lingering scent of the perfume in her hair as they stood at the side of the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jesus. She was glad that Lazarus was close by, and grateful for his travelling cloak, which largely obscured his face. The story of his resurrection had spread rapidly over the last few months, and for many of the people in the crowd, the story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead had been the catalyst for their gathering here to welcome this holy man into Jerusalem, to see him for themselves. But Mary knew that there were others who were threatened by Jesus and his miracles, and she feared that those who sought to dishonor Jesus would not hesitate to try to discredit her brother’s testimony, or worse. She shuddered, holding her own cloak more tightly against her body, and cast her gaze downward.
In those first days after the resurrection of her brother, Mary had been unable to keep from weeping for joy. She might be in the middle of some mundane task, grinding flour or weaving at the loom, when she would find herself overcome with the realization that the impossible had become possible, that her brother was alive again. At night when she lay in bed, listening to his soft snores reverberating across the open courtyard of their home, she wept quietly into her blanket so that Martha would not chide her for her sentimentality. During the day she found herself making excuses to be near him, to hear again the story of how he had heard Jesus calling to him, as if from a distance, and how he had emerged from the tomb, disoriented by the light and confused by the strips of linen that bound his limbs. Even now, she could hardly believe that he was here with her, and she quickly wiped away a few rogue tears, looking up again just in time to see the head of Jesus emerge above the crowds.
Jesus sat on the back of a young donkey, which slowly ambled along the road to Jerusalem. The oil Mary had used to anoint him still lingered in the tendrils of his hair, and his face shone. Mary and Lazarus had chosen not to enter Jerusalem itself, but had stayed outside the East Gate, waiting for Jesus as he made his way along the same road they had traveled, into Bethphage, past the Mount of Olives, and then into the city. As Jesus passed, the crowd pressed in even further around him. Some in the crowd had brought palm branches with them, and they waved these in the air as they shouted jubilantly. The feathery fronds of the palms danced in the wind, and Mary was reminded of the Festival of Booths when her people would build shelters out of these same branches. During that festival, they were commanded to rejoice and commemorate God’s deliverance of their ancestors out of the land of Egypt. Now those around her were celebrating in anticipation of a new deliverance. It was a triumphant moment, and Mary could feel the excitement of those around her, exclaiming and praising, shouting and even crying as they rejoiced at the sight of this man entering the city like a king.
Mary watched in silence as Jesus and the donkey made their way on towards Jerusalem. She felt herself holding her breath, and she caught the eye of Lazarus, who had taken a step back, allowing the crowds to continue without them. Taking her brother’s hand, Mary lingered for a moment more, and then she spoke softly to him. “There is nothing more to see here, brother. Let us go home. Martha will be anxious to hear the news.” They intended to return to Jerusalem for the Passover in less than a week, but for now there were preparations to be made and animals to ready for the sacrificial offerings. Mary knew that Martha would be waiting to put them to work as soon as they returned home.
Lazarus shook his head. “Wait just a moment longer, Mary.” Releasing her grasp, he held his hand to his eyes and gazed into the distance as the procession continued towards the city. “I am not ready to leave this place.”
Mary nodded. She watched him as he stood, still as a statue, peering down the road. This brother whom she had known since he was no more than an infant was now a full grown man, and yet sometimes she still wished she could cradle him in her arms and stroke his head. He was different since he had come back to them, changed somehow. He had always been quiet and thoughtful, and she and Martha often chided him for being distracted when they spoke to him. But now when he was pensive it seemed as if he were somewhere else, just out of reach. “Brother.” She spoke as gently as she could. “We must go.”
This broke his reverie, and he looked at her with a soft smile. “I know.” He reached out and tugged at her hair playfully, and again the smell of perfume wafted over her as they turned to begin their journey back to Bethany. “I was just thinking of the words Jesus said to our party last night.” Mary looked at him quizzically. “He said we would not always have him.” Mary nodded. “I am wary of this journey to Jerusalem, sister. I fear that others will not understand the Jesus we know and love so well.”
“But see how they celebrate him, brother,” she reassured him even as his sentiments echoed her own doubts. “They call him blessed. They shout his praises.”
“Yes.” Her brother smiled again, though his eyes were solemn. “They do indeed. I pray I am mistaken.” And with that, he took her hand, and together they set their sights on the road ahead.
Nicole is a member of Cornerstone and serves as a Community Group leader.
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