Oh God! I don’t believe it! They’re back again! In the middle hours of the night, when all respectable, God-fearing people should be in bed with the door locked and windows closed, and only bandits, graverobbers and Romans are out and about, there’s a mutter of whispering and shuffling on the staircase outside my bedroom window. It takes me a bleary-eared couple of heartbeats to work out that those are Galilean accents, and I recognize one for sure: Big-Lump, the super-spy who’d come with the Galilean Rabbi on Thursday afternoon. My heart sinks. I had hoped to have seen the last of them when they left my furnished dining room on Thursday night, and even though Judas, the only decent one in the whole party, never showed up on Friday to pay the account, I would rather take the financial hit than deal with that lot again.
And anyway, who said that innkeepers have to be insurrectionists as well? I keep rooms in which Passovers may be eaten— hospitality for pilgrims is my business. I didn’t set out to be a base for every bandit in Judea to plot and regroup. I thought, on Thursday night, that they were just a bunch of stuck-up and slightly thick provincials. The usual crowd to make money from. And then, after what happened on Friday I realise that this lot are dangerous. “We’re leaving to continue our worship somewhere else,” said the high-handed Rabbi to me. “We don’t want to be disturbed.” Well he did me a favour according to all accounts. Temple guards and Roman soldiers arrested them in their prayer meeting, and the drippy Galilean was taken off to Caiaphas’s house. Can you imagine the complaints from the neighbours if the soldiers had come here? “Oi! It’s the night before Passover! Can’t you keep the noise down?” “Sorry, sorry,” I’d’ve had to shout back. “Not my fault I rented rooms to revolutionaries” !
Thaddeus told me that the Rabbi had been executed on Friday. Pincer movement between the High Priest and the Governor. Don’t like seeing anyone getting killed by the Romans, even a stuck-up sneak like that Galilean, but I like bodies in the street even less. I remember the last insurrection. Not pleasant, I can tell you, and if the death of one (or two!) Galilean rabbis means we don’t have to live through all that again, well— it’s a price worth paying.
But now they’re back! I stick my head out of the window and look at them milling pathetically around in the courtyard below. “What do you think you’re doing?” I hiss. “Go away!”
“We’ve got nowhere else to go to,” says one, not Big-Lump, who I can see standing to one side, arms wrapped around himself, staring into space.
“Not my problem. Go away!”
“Please! We need somewhere to rest. We’ve been on the move for two days.”
I’m about to swear at them when I see shutters beginning to move on the other side of the squares. Which is worse: neighbours or Galileans? Hard choice, but without really knowing why, I go downstairs and lift the bolt from the door, and let them in.
“Quickly” I hiss. “Before the neighbours hear.”
“Thank you, thank you,” they all mutter. Their gratitude makes me cringe more than the drunken arrogance of two days ago.
“Yes, yes, quickly. Inside.”
I take them upstairs, back into the large dining room I had hired to them for the Passover. Hired, but not been paid for. “You can stay here for the moment,” I say. “But I want to be paid for the dinner. Judas was supposed to pay me on Friday. Where is he?” There’s an embarrassed pause, and the one who spoke to me outside answers.
“Judas is dead. Killed himself. Buried in the potter’s field.” I sigh.
“With or without his money?”
Another pause: “Without. The temple priests took the money back from him.”
“Temple priests? Why did they have his money? My money? No, don’t tell me. I think it’s safer for me to know as little about you lot as possible. Two of you dead in two days. What do you reckon your chances of survival are?” At this Big-Lump shakes himself out of his stupor.
“Survival? Not good. Not good at all. We will not survive. We don’t deserve to survive.” Another pause.
“Well,” says I, business like. “I’m glad to see the party mood continuing. You can stay the day. Then I want you out at night-fall, and I suggest you get out of the city then. You can usually get through the Dung Gate before the curfew sets in. But that’s your problem.” There’s no response from them, but they all just collapse on the cushions on the floor. They look as if they have slept since Thursday night. Well, trouble-making is a tiring business. And if I sound unsympathetic, then that’s because I am.
There’s peace and quiet for a few hours, but I can hear, before the city’s cockerels begin their usual cry, feet running to the foot of the staircase. There’s a thump, thump, thump on the door— not strong or insistent enough to a soldier’s demand to be let in— and then the door opens and there’s a hurried, babbling conversation. I make out a“I don’t believe it!” and I sympathise.
“I know what you mean, legate. I let you back in on the condition you keep your heads down, and before the sun is up you’re drawing the attention of the whole neighbourhood to my inn. I don’t believe it, indeed.”
As I’m getting my robe on, more furious whispering and the door bangs shut, and I hear feet running away from the inn: three or four people this time.
By the time I get to upper room all the provincials are awake and huddled in gossipy debate. I look out the one who took the lead in the night.
“What is it now?!” I don’t mind showing my irritation.
He looks at me, and shakes his head. “It’s the women. They’ve come back with some kind of cock and bull story about Jesus.”
“Jesus?” I ask.
“The rabbi.” Funny. I had never heard his name before then.
“What about him? Still dead, is he?”
“That’s just it,” he says, half-way between smiling and crying. “The women went to his tomb this morning, to finish off the funeral rites. They didn’t have time on Friday, what with Sabbath beginning, and the storm, and the Roman soldiers. They say,”— he put emphasis on ‘say’— “that when they got to the tomb, the stone was rolled away and the body gone.”
“Gone? Gone where?”
“They don’t know. They just came back here to tell us, and Simon Peter and John have gone to check.”
“Very wise, legate. Sounds like a typical woman’s story to me. Wrong tomb, wrong grave yard, wrong body. Wrong everything. Unless… You haven’t already nicked the body have you? I won’t have graverobbers in my inn!”
“Not us! We couldn’t have anyway. The Governor put a guard on the tomb. We’d never have got passed the soldiers.”
“Soldiers! So where are they now then?”
“I have no idea, but I tell you, unless I see it for myself, I’m not going to believe it. Too much has happened this week for me to get my hopes up.”
Just as he is speaking Big-Lump arrives back, with the Handsome one in tow. They’re out of breath. Big-Lump has woken out of his stupor then.
“They’re right,” he says. “No body there. No guards. Just the grave clothes folded neatly in the corner.”
“And…?” says the one I was speaking to.
“And what, Thomas.”
“Didn’t you look for the Master’s body? Where’s it gone?”
“I have no idea, Thomas. All I can say is that it isn’t there.”
“Peter! You are hopeless! That is no answer.”
All I think is that I am glad the revolution isn’t dependent on this lot. They can’t even keep track of their Master’s body. As the argument develops between the group, some following Thomas and not believing a word of it, others following Peter and John thinking that something, anything, has happened, a woman slowly slips into the room, and stands there. I’m the only one to notice her, at first, but gradually the argument quietens down. She is red in the face, and obviously moved in some way, and equally obviously, trying to keep her emotions under control.
Peter finally notices that everyone else has shut up, and turns to the woman. “Mary. You’re back.”
She catches her breath, and then it all come out. “Peter. He’s alive. I have seen him, almost touched him. He spoke my name. He tells me to tell you all that he is ascending to his Father.”
All this in a room of absolute stillness. She finishes and the silence continues for a moment, and then pandemonium.
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“He’s dead, Mary. I saw his body on the tree!”
“There were spears, and nails. Of course, he’s dead!”
“A woman’s witness! What’s that worth!”
In all this, I notice something strange. Mary doesn’t attempt to argue or explain. She doesn’t find more words to describe what happened. She doesn’t join in. She just stands there, as sure as she would’ve been if she had told them that the sun had risen that morning. They could disagree all they liked, but the sun would still have risen, and its light would still be in the sky.
Despite myself, I’m getting involved. I don’t say anything. Rather, I find myself caring. Perhaps this woman is right. Perhaps the Galilean rabbi is alive, risen from the tomb. What would that mean if he has? What would that mean for me? For Jerusalem? What would that mean for the world? As I think these thoughts, such unexpected ideas, I find myself overwhelmed with excitement, no, not excitement, a joy like a meal with good friends and the birth of a child and the wonder of dawn and the songs of a high day in the Temple, all rolled into one. This means everything, I think. If only it were true. If only it wasn’t just a story told by a woman.
And as I think that, the noise of arguing men fades away, and the room grows warm, like the heat of a summer’s morning burning off the dew, and a sweet breeze blows through the stuffy and scruffy upper room, and he stands in the middle of the swirling group, and as I fall to my knees, the light and joy disarms me and all I hear is his voice, saying, promising, bringing: “Peace.”