You ask me, Brother Luke, what I remember about Jesus of Nazareth.
I’m an old woman, Luke, as you see plainly, and my eyes and ears are failing now. But I’m strong of heart – don’t ever question that! – and bursting with the memory of it. I have wanted to tell you for such a long time.
I hated the smell of roses for almost as long as I could remember. When my mother died giving birth to my younger brother – I was only four years old – she was holding yellow roses, her favorite. She was in so much pain that she had crushed them under her fingertips. And when she pressed them into my hand, their soft petals melted into my palm as thorns pierced it so deeply that I cried, inhaling the scent of those awful roses the whole time. And my dear mother cried with me, knowing that we would never see each other again.
How I loathed roses from then on! I know it makes little sense to you, a grown man. Understand, I was just a little girl, and to me, roses meant – no hope.
But I remember it was different when Jesus came to Jerusalem, right from the start. It was his eyes, maybe – those eyes that seemed to see everything about you, even your thoughts, and yet love you still. Or maybe it was the shouting that echoed all around him: “Hail!” “Hosanna!” “Blessed is He, the Son of David!” Or maybe it was walking on the palm branches they had placed before him. I remember, still, feeling their cool smooth strands under my feet, knowing that this healer, this teacher, had been there before me, knowing that I was unworthy of walking that path, but wanting to walk it anyway.
And maybe … well, most of all, it was the smell. Oh, it sounds silly now, but it was the scent of donkey and dung and perspiration from all those people milling about in the heat. It was real. You look startled, Luke – don’t you see? This was not a king in a far-away palace, or a perfumed princess who knew nothing of our lives, or the High Priest hidden in the Holy of Holies. This was a man – one of us – and just as dusty and smelly as all the rest. To this day, I wonder if he ever thought about it, or if it just came to him, as natural as breath.
I remember, too, what he said in the marketplace. The Pharisees, he said – imagine, the most righteous people I knew! – tithed on dill, and mint, and cumin, but neglected mercy and justice. And as he said it, he tossed small handfuls of the herbs into the wind, as carelessly as if they were grains of sand, and their scent covered us like rain and filled us with the richness of it all. And I remember thinking, this man understands what these beautiful herbs are to us, yet cares so little about them. And I realized … yes, he was one of us, but different somehow, too.
And, of course, when he died – well, many others have told you of that, but there is something more. You see, two mornings later, I followed them – Mary Magdalene and his poor mother and the other women – to the tomb. Oh, I knew it was wrong. To this day I don’t really know why I did it.
But I remember that as I hunched down on that cold ground, carefully hidden by a few bushes, I saw the first flickers of morning sunlight shine on Mary, spreading to a glow that covered her whole face. The tomb was empty. He was alive! “Rabbi!” Mary cried out, and I wanted to cry out, too.
And just then, I smelled them. Roses. White roses, planted, watered carefully, and thriving in a small fragrant patch of earth near my feet. And then – this will sound strange, I suppose – He turned, and looked into my eyes, and smiled.
It was easy to smile back. You see, I was happy for the first time since my mother died. Because I knew what that empty tomb meant. It meant that I would see my mother again. He knew it, and he wanted me to know it, too. And what better way for our savior to tell me the good news?
He brought me roses, Luke. He brought me white roses.
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