Gasps echoed through the assembly of the Roman believers and whispers roared.
Nava smiled and eased her quaky bones onto one of the stools reserved for the elderly women at meeting, not the least bit surprised at the news her son Rufus shared. He’d given in to her pleadings and read it to her the night before, having just received it from Phoebe, a devout woman Paul sent to help the church here.
What a blessing it was to hear from dear Paul, her son in the Lord!
Knowing the contents of the letter, she watched the faces of others as they heard his admonitions for the first time. That the power of God could bring a group of this number together, unified in the service of Christ, filled her with fresh wonder. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost..." Paul wrote. Her mind journeyed back to the time she’d first witnessed that love...
She'd told Simon they'd wait on him. And they would. But sunset wouldn't. He'd said he had an errand to run, that he'd be back soon.
That was three hours ago.
They traveled all the way from Cyrene to Jerusalem, three days early no less, for the most important event of the year--Passover week. And now he was late.
Indecision only lasted a moment. She was going to find him.
As soon as she stepped onto the main street, swarming people rushed her from all sides. Important people. High priests along with Roman soldiers. No wonder Simon wasn't home. The unyielding crowd dragged her into its flow to the edge of town. She searched each face. Then she saw him.
He turned, but not toward her. Soldiers confined him from all sides. Fear rose up to strangle her. No. Surely he wasn’t the cause of this uproar. What could they want with him?
She pressed her way forward, but lost sight of them. Without notice, the capricious sea of people thrust her into the open. She scrambled backward from the scene that met her. The bloody form of a pain-snagged body stumbled toward her and up the hill against a silver sky. A splintered cross rode the man's shoulders, rubbing raw flesh against his seamless, blood-soaked tunic.
Nausea writhed in Nava’s throat.
What had this man done to be both scourged and crucified?
The name "Jesus" floated through the murmurings of the crowd.
Jesus of Nazareth? She’d heard the name many times since coming to Jerusalem. He claimed to be the Messiah. Had done many miracles in the name of God.
He stopped with a sudden gasping groan. For one aching, breathless moment, he looked at her.
She couldn’t blink. Couldn’t move.
Couldn’t rip her focus from those eyes.
The most powerful love she’d ever seen beamed steadily from their depths.
A lamb’s bleating sounded in her memory. The fuzzy, white Passover lamb, still at the house, a captive of her sons'.
All she’d ever done against the will of God pressed in on her in that moment. And in that moment, none of the deeds of the law--deeds she'd done to escape judgement, seemed sufficient. She wanted to run. Run from the forgiveness in his eyes. From the kindness there. She didn't understand it. She didn’t deserve it.
Her heart twisted in impossible pain. Had she imagined it? She believed she had, but saw it again briefly before the solders shouted and pushed him on. A tiny pressing together of the lips.
Something broke inside her and she heaved a sob. Tears pushed free and trickled down to her jaw.
It was Him. The Messiah.
Her soul strings hummed Alleluias and also wept for His grief. Then doubt whispered. How could a dying man save the Jews and overthrow the Romans? What was Jehovah doing?
Why did these royally bedecked leaders crucify the Lord of Glory? Could they not see? The voice of dying justice screamed within her.
Jesus, feet crusted with the black paste of dust and blood, resumed his journey up the steep grade. Nava turned to go, but stopped.
Someone followed Him, carrying the cross’ centerpiece. Cool trails of disbelief drained her face.
Shock painted his expression ashen, fear for her his silent outcry.
Her mouth responded before thought and the smile Jesus had given her she gave to her husband. He looked confused and concerned, almost about to speak, but the soldiers gave him no time. He hoisted the cross higher.
She watched the proceedings to their denouement. Heaviness settled in her bosom as Jesus pushed against the foot spikes for His last drag of air, then died.
“Mother, are you all right?”her son whispered.
Nava blinked at Alexander. They were still at meeting. She looked down to where his hand clasped hers and a tear fell from her eye to land on his.
She breathed deeply and patted his hand with a smile. “Yes. I’m fine.”
She was more than fine.
Three days after His burial, Jesus “was raised again for our justification” as dear Paul wrote in his letter. He’d come back to life by His own power. Roman authorities had paid to silence the truth. But twenty years later, the evidence of His resurrection still affected the world. She, her husband, and her sons all served Him openly now and Alexander and Rufus were leading many to the Way.
She closed her eyes and let His blessed peace wash over her. He lives. He's alive forever. And someday very soon she would be with Him.
Many times over the years she’d wondered what He meant by the smile He’d given her that day in the street.
Now...she thought she knew.
*Nava is a pseudonym, as there is no mention of her name in the Bible. She is mentioned in Romans 16:13 and her husband and sons are referenced in Mark 15:21. Not much is known about her except that she loved Paul as one of her own sons and her husband carried the cross of Jesus. I thought it might be interesting to view the precedent of Easter through her eyes.
I saw One hanging on a tree
In agony and blood;
He fixed His pain-filled eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.
Sure, never, till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.
My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins His blood had spilt
And helped to nail Him there.
A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid,
I die that thou mayest live.”
(“I Saw One Hanging on a Tree,” by John Newton, 1725-1807;
to the tune of “O Set Ye Open Unto Me”).
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