2nd April 1945.
The women, in the meanwhile, after leaving the house are walking close to the wall, shadows in the shade. They are silent for some time, all muffled up and frightened in so much silence and solitude. Then, recovering confidence seeing that the town is completely calm, they group and dare to speak.
« Will the Gates be already open? » asks Susanna.
« Certainly. Look over there at the first market-gardener who is going in with vegetables. He is going to the market » replies Salome.
« Will they say anything to us? » asks Susanna again.
« Who? » inquires the Magdalene.
« The soldiers, at the Judicial Gate. There... only few people are going in and even fewer are coming out... We shall rouse suspicion.... »
« So? They will look at us. They will see five women going towards the country. We could be also people who, after celebrating Passover, are going back to their villages. »
« But... In order not to attract the attention of any malicious person, why do we not go out by another Gate and then we can go round along the walls?... »
« We would go the long way round. »
« But we shall be safer. Let us take the Gate of the Water... »
« Oh! Salome! If I were you, I should choose the Eastern Gate! You would have to go a longer way round! We must make haste and go back soon. » It is the Magdalene who is so resolute.
« Then another one, but not the Judicial Gate. Be good... » they all beg her.
« All right. Well, since that is what you want, let us call on Johanna. She begged me to let her know. If we had gone straight there, we could have done without seeing her. But since you want to go a longer way round, let us call on her... »
« Oh! yes. Also because of the guards placed there... She is well known and respected... »
« I think we should call also on Joseph of Arimathea. He is the owner of the place. »
« Why not! To avoid attracting people's attention, we will form a procession! What a timid sister I have! Rather, do you know what, Martha? Let us do this. I will go ahead and have a look. You will follow me with Johanna. I will stand in the middle of the road, should there be any danger, and you will see me. And we will come back. But I can assure you that the guards, seeing this, I thought of it (and she shows a purse full of money) will let us do everything. »
« We will tell Johanna as well. You are right. »
« Go then, and let me go. »
« Are you going all alone, Mary? I will come with you » says Martha, who is afraid for her sister.
« No. You will go with Mary of Alphaeus to Johanna's. Salome and Susanna will wait for you near the Gate, outside the walls. And then you will all come together along the main road. Goodbye. » And Mary Magdalene cuts other possible comments short, as she goes away quickly with her bag full of balms and her money in her breast.
She flies, so fast she goes along the road, which is becoming more delightful in the first pink shade of dawn. She goes in by the Judicial Gate, to be quicker. And no one stops her...
The others watch her go, then they turn their backs to the crossroads where they were, and they take another one, narrow and dark, which near the Sixtus opens out into a wider road, where there are some beautiful houses. They part again, Salome and Susanna proceed along the road, while Martha and Mary of Alphaeus knock at the iron door and show themselves at the little window (judas-hole) half opened by the porter.
They enter and go to Johanna, who already up and all dressed in a very dark violet garment that makes her look even paler, is preparing some oils with her nurse and a maidservant.
« Have you come? May God reward you. But, if you had not come, I should have gone by myself... To find comfort... Because many things have remained upset after that dreadful day. And, in order not to feel alone, I must go against that Stone and knock and say: “Master, I am poor Johanna... Do not leave me alone, You, too...” » Johanna weeps silently but with deep desolation, while Esther, her nurse, makes large indecipherable gestures behind the back of her mistress, while putting a mantle on her.
« I am going, Esther. »
« May God comfort you! »
They leave the mansion house to join their companions. It is at this moment that the short but strong earthquake takes place, creating a panic again in the people of Jerusalem, still terrorised by the events of Friday. The three women retrace their steps precipitately, and they remain in the large hall, among maidservants and servants who are howling and imploring the Lord, fearing new shocks...
...The Magdalene, instead, is just on the border of the path that takes one to the kitchen garden of Joseph of Arimathea, when she is caught in the powerful and also harmonious roar of this heavenly sign, while, in the faint rosy light of dawn, that is advancing in the sky, where to the west a persistent star still resists, and that makes fair the so far greenish light, a very bright light appears and descends like and incandescent wonderful globe, cutting the calm air in a zigzag course.
Mary of Magdala is almost grazed and thrown on the ground by it. She bends for a moment whispering: « My Lord! » and then she straightens up like a stalk after the wind has passed by, and she runs towards the kitchen garden even faster.
She enters it quickly, and goes towards the sepulchre in the rock as fast as a bird that is chased and is looking for its nest. But, no matter how fast she runs, she cannot be there when the heavenly meteor acts as a lever and as a flame on the seal of lime, placed as a reinforcement for the heavy stone, or when with the final crash the stone door collapses, causing such a shake that joins the one of the earthquake, which, although of a short duration, is so violent that it knocks the guards down as if they were dead.
When Mary arrives, she sees the useless jailors of the Triumpher thrown on the ground like a sheaf of mown corn. Mary Magdalene does not associate the earthquake with Resurrection. But looking at the spectacle, she thinks it is a punishment of God for the desecrators of Jesus' Sepulchre, and she falls on her knees saying: « Alas! They have stolen Him! » She is really disconsolate and weeps like a girl who has come, being sure that she would find her father whom she was looking for, and instead finds the house empty.
She then stands up and runs away to go to Peter and John. And as she thinks of nothing but of informing the two, she forgets to go and meet her companions and remain on the road, but as fast as a gazelle she goes back the road she came, she passes through the Judicial Gate, and flies through the streets, which are a little more crowded, and she rushes against the door of the hospitable house and knocks at it furiously. The mistress opens the door to her.
« Where are John and Peter? » asks Mary Magdalene panting.
« There » says the woman pointing at the Supper-room.
Mary of Magdala enters and as soon as she is in, standing before the two astonished men, and in her voice, kept low out of pity for the Mother, there is more anguish than if she had shouted, she says: « They have taken the Lord away from the Sepulchre! I wonder where they have put Him! » and for the first time she staggers and is unsteady, and in order not to fall, she holds on whatever she can.
« What? What are you saying? » ask the two.
And panting she replies: « I went ahead... to buy the guards... so that they would let us go. They are there like dead bodies... The Sepulchre is open, the stone is on the ground... Who? Who did it? Oh! come! Let us run... »
Peter and John set out at once. Mary follows them for a few steps. Then she goes back. She seizes the mistress of the house, she shakes her, violent in her far-sighted love, and she shouts in her face: « Mind you do not let anybody go to Her (and she points at the door of Mary's room). Remember that I am your mistress. Obey and be silent. » Then she leaves her aghast and joins the apostles, who are striding towards the Sepulchre...
...In the meantime Susanna and Salome, after leaving their companions and reaching the walls, are caught in the earthquake. Frightened, they take shelter under a tree and remain there, torn between their desire to go to the Sepulchre or to run to Johanna's. But love overcomes fear and they go towards the Sepulchre.
They are still frightened when they enter the garden and see the senseless guards... they see a bright light come out of the open Sepulchre. Their fright increases and reaches its climax when, holding each other's hand to pluck up courage, they peep in from the threshold and in the dark sepulchral cave, they see a bright most beautiful creature, that smiling kindly greets them from the place where it is standing: leaning on the right hand side of the anointment stone, which, grey as it is, disappears behind so much incandescent brightness. They fall on their knees, utterly astonished.
But the angel speaks to them gently: « Be not afraid of me. I am the angel of the divine Sorrow. I have come to rejoice at its end. The sorrow of the Christ, His humiliation in death is over. Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified Whom you are looking for, has risen from the dead. He is no longer here! The place where He was laid is empty. Rejoice with me. Go. Tell Peter and the disciples that He has risen and will precede you in Galilee. You will see Him there for a short time, as He said. »
The women fall with their faces on the ground, and when they raise them, they run as if they were chased by a punishment. They are terrorised and they whisper: « We shall die now! We have seen the angel of the Lord! »
They calm down a little in the open country and they consult with each other. What are they to do? If they relate what they have seen, they will not be believed. If they say where they come from, they may be charged by the Judaeans with the murder of the guards. No. They cannot say anything to friends or to enemies...
Fearful, dumbfounded, they go back home along a different road. They go in and take shelter in the Supper room. They do not even ask to see Mary... And in there they think that what they have seen is nothing but a deception of the Demon. Humble as they are, they conclude that « it is not possible that they have been granted to see the messenger of God. It is Satan who wanted to frighten them to send them away from there. »
They weep and pray like two little girls frightened by a nightmare...
...The third group, that of Johanna, Mary of Alphaeus and Martha, when they see that nothing new is happening, decides to go where their companions are certainly waiting for them. They go out into the streets, whereby now there are frightened people, who comment on the new earthquake connecting it with the event of Friday, and see also things which do not exist.
« It is better if they are all frightened! The guards may be so as well and will raise no objection » says Mary of Alphaeus. And they walk fast towards the walls.
But while they are going there, Peter and John, followed by the Magdalene, have arrived at the garden. And John, who runs faster, is the first to arrive at the Sepulchre. The guards are no longer there. Neither is the angel there any more.
John, timid and sorrowful, kneels down at the open entrance to venerate and get some indication from the things he sees. But he only sees, heaped on the floor, the linen cloths placed on the Shroud. « There is really nothing, Simon! Mary has seen accurately. Come, come in, look. »
Peter, who is breathless after so much running, goes into the Sepulchre. On the way he had said: « I will never dare to approach that place. » But now he thinks only of finding out where the Master may be. And he calls Him also, as if He might be concealed in some dark corner.
At this early hour in the morning it is still very dark in the deep Sepulchre, which receives light only from the opening of the entrance, where John and the Magdalene now cast a shadow... And Peter finds it hard to see, and has to help himself with his hands to ascertain what the situation is... He touches, trembling, the table of the anointment, and feels that it is empty...
« He is not here, John! He is not here!... Oh! come here! I have wept so much that I can hardly see in this poor light. »
John stands up and goes in. And while he does so, Peter discovers the sudarium in a corner, folded diligently and within it the Shroud rolled up carefully.
« They have really abducted Him. The guards were not here for us, but to do that... And we have let them do it. By going away, we have allowed that... »
« Oh! where will they have put Him? »
« Peter, Peter! This... is really the end! »
The two disciples come out looking annihilated.
« Let us go, woman. You will tell the Mother... »
« I am not going away. I am staying here... Somebody will come... Oh! I am not coming... There is still something of Him here. The Mother was right... To breathe the air where He was is the only relief left to us. »
« The only relief... Now you also can see that it was nonsense to hope... » says Peter.
Mary does not even reply to him. She crouches on the ground, close to the entrance, and weeps, while the others go away slowly.
She then raises her head and looks inside, and through her tears she sees two angels, sitting at the head and at the foot of the anointment stone. Poor Mary is so stupified in her fiercest struggle between hope that is dying and faith that does not want to die, that she looks at them like one whose mind is completely blank, without even being surprised. The strong woman, who has resisted everything like a heroine, has nothing left but tears.
« Why are you weeping, woman? » asks one of the two shining young boys, because they look like very beautiful adolescents.
« Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have put Him. »
Mary is not afraid to speak to them. She does not ask:. « Who are you? » Nothing. Nothing amazes her any more. She has already suffered everything that can astonish a human being. Now she is only a broken thing that weeps without strength or reserve.
The angelical youth looks at his companion and smiles. And so does the other. And in a flash of angelical joy they both look outside, towards the garden all in bloom with millions of corollas that have opened at the first sunshine on the closely planted apple-trees of the orchard.
Mary turns round to see whom they are looking at. And she sees a Man, most handsome, and I do not know how she does not recognise Him at once. A Man Who looks at her pitifully and asks her: « Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for? » It is true that Jesus is dimmed out of pity for the woman, whom emotions have exhausted and who might die from sudden joy, but I really wonder why she does not recognise Him.
And Mary sobbing says: « They have taken my Lord Jesus! I had come to embalm Him while awaiting His resurrection... I gathered all my courage, my hope and my faith around my love... and now I cannot find Him any more... Or rather, I put my love around faith, hope and courage to defend them from men... but all in vain! Men have abducted my Love and with it they have deprived me of everything... O my lord, if you have taken Him away, tell me where you have put Him. And I will get Him... I will not tell anybody... It will be a secret between you and me. Look: I am the daughter of Theophilus, Lazarus' sister, but I am on my knees before you to implore you, like a slave. Do you want me to pay you for His Body? I will do so. How much do you want? I am rich. I can give you as much gold and as many gems as it weighs. But give it back to me. I will not denounce you. Do you want to strike me? Do so. Until I bleed, if you wish so. If you bear Him a grudge, let me expiate it. But give Him back to me. Oh! don't make me wretched with this misery, my lord! Have mercy on a poor woman!... Do you not want to do it on my behalf? Then, do it for His Mother. Tell me! Tell me where is my Lord Jesus. I am strong. I will take Him in my arms and I will carry Him like a child to safety. Lord... lord... you can see it... for three days we have been struck by the wrath of God for what was done to the Son of God... Do not add Desecration to Crime... »
« Mary! » Jesus shines in calling her. He reveals Himself in His triumphant brightness.
« Rabboni! » Mary's cry is really the « great cry » that closes the cycle of death. With the first one, the darkness of hatred enveloped the Victim with funereal bandages; with the second, the lights of love increased His brightness. And Mary stands up as her cry fills the garden, she rushes to Jesus' feet and would like to kiss them.
Jesus moves her away, hardly touching her forehead with the tips of His fingers: « Do not touch Me! I have not yet ascended to My Father in this appearance. Go to My brothers and friends, and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and yours, to My God and yours. And then I will come to them. » And Jesus disappears, absorbed by an unsustainable light.
Mary kisses the ground where Jesus was and she runs towards the house. She goes in like a rocket, because the main door is half open, to let the master pass, who is going to the fountain; she opens the door of Mary's room and drops on Her breast shouting: « He has risen! He has risen! » and she weeps happily.
And while Peter and John rush there, and Salome and Susanna, still frightened, come from the Supper room and listen to her narration, Mary of Alphaeus with Martha and Johanna come in, from the street, and out of breath they say « that they have been there as well, and they saw two angels, who said that they were the Guardian of the Man God and the angel of His Sorrow, and ordered them to tell the apostles that He had risen from the dead. » And as Peter shakes his head, they insist saying: « Yes. They said: “Why are you looking for the Living One among the dead? He is not here. He has risen from the dead, as He said when He was still in Galilee. Do you not remember? He said: 'The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of sinners to be crucified. But on the third day he will rise from the dead.'” »
Peter shakes his head saying: « Too many things during these days! They have been upset. »
The Magdalene raises her head from Mary's breast and says: « I have seen Him! I have spoken to Him. He told me that He is ascending to the Father and then He will come. How handsome He was! » and she weeps as she had never wept, now that she no longer has to torture herself to oppose the doubt rising from every side.
But Peter and John are very doubtful. They look at each other and their eyes say: « Women's fancy! »
Then also Susanna and Salome dare to speak. But the very inevitable difference in the details of the guards that first are there like dead bodies and then are not there, of the angels that sometimes are one and sometimes are two and did not show themselves to the apostles, of the two versions concerning Jesus' coming here or His preceding His disciples in Galilee, makes the doubt, and more than that, the persuasion of the apostles grow stronger and stronger.
Mary, the blessed Mother, is silent, supporting the Magdalene… I do not understand the mystery of this maternal silence.
Mary of Alphaeus says to Salome: « Let the two of us go back there, Let us see whether we are all intoxicated... » And they run out.
The other women remain there, quietly derided by the two apostles, near Mary Who is silent, engrossed in a thought that each interprets in a personal manner, and no one realises that it is ecstasy. The two elderly women come back: « It is true! It is true! We have seen Him. He said to us, near Barnabas' kitchen garden: “Peace to you. Be not afraid. Go and tell My brothers that I have risen from the dead, and that they should go within a few days to Galilee. We shall be together again there.” That is what He said. Mary is right, We must inform those who are at Bethany, Joseph, Nicodemus, the most faithful disciples, the shepherds, we must go and do, and do... Oh! He has risen!... » and they all weep happily.
« You are mad, women. Grief has upset you. The light has seemed an angel to you. The wind, a voice. The sun, the Christ. I do not criticise you. I understand you, but I can only believe what I have seen: the open empty Sepulchre, and the guards who have run away with the stolen Corpse. »
« But if the very guards say that He has risen! If the whole town is in a turmoil and the Princes of the Priests are mad with rage, because the guards have spoken while running away terrified! Now they want them to say something different and they are paying them for that. But it is already known. And if the Judaeans do not believe in the Resurrection, they do not want to believe, many other people do believe... »
« H'm! Women!... » Peter shrugs his shoulders and is about to go away.
Then the Mother, Who still has on Her heart the Magdalene, who is weeping like a willow-tree in a downpour, for her too great joy, and who kisses Her fair hair, raises Her transfigured face and says a short sentence: « He has really risen. I have had Him in My arms and I kissed His Wounds. » She then bends over the head of the passionate woman and says: « Yes, joy is even stronger than sorrow. But it is only a grain of sand compared to what will be your ocean of eternal joy. You are blessed because you made your spirit speak above reason. »
Peter dare not deny any longer... and with one of those sudden changes of the old Peter, who is coming back to light again, he says and shouts, as if the delay depended on the others and not on him: « Then, if it is so, we must let the others know. Those spread out in the country... look for them... take action... Come on, get a move on. If He really should come... let Him at least find us », and he does not realise that again he confesses that he does not believe blindly in His Resurrection.