He was an old man, but full of energy, and his brown eyes merrily peered out of the tangled web of laugh lines and stress marks that covered his face. His wispy white hair framed that aged face like a halo and he had a smile, even with the few teeth he had left, that shone like dawn over the sea.
We hadn’t much time, the Pilot told me we would sail in a few hours, and there were many things to be done as we loaded up another shipment of ore to line my families coffers; certainly things an entrusted son should have been about, but I had to see him. I had to talk to him. He was the last one alive who had walked and talked with my, as yet, secret Savior. Living in exile there on the island these many years had not stolen his joy anymore than the failed execution attempt years before that, and he laughed when I asked him to tell me the Story and offered my servant and I what hospitality he could afford.
As he neared the end of the story, joyously told, and began to recount the last days of darkness before the dawning of new life, I interrupted him.
“Brother John, is it true that you were the only one who stayed with him all the way to the end? What of Simon Peter, and Andrew and your brother?” His face became somber for a moment, as if a cloud of distant pain moved across the sun. Then he gave me a small smile.
“I ran away as well, little brother, in the garden, late on Thursday night. We had fallen asleep when He asked us to stay up and wait with Him, and broke His heart. When the soldiers took Him, courage failed all of us, I ran so fast I left my cloak and tunic behind, and one sandal! I had to retrieve them to follow later. At least Peter tried to stand up to them, but that was not the Teacher’s way.”
“But you, you returned,” I exclaimed, “The only one with enough tenacity to see Him through His darkness.” John frowned again, briefly.
“Be careful, little brother, how you judge the others. All of our hopes seemed to be falling apart around us and we had not yet been granted the gift of the Holy Spirit to sustain us,” he scolded me gently, smiling again,”Even the most stalwart heart might quail in that instant. Peter even denied knowing Him before dawn on Friday, and he is not a man to be taken lightly, especially when speaking of courage. I followed at a distance but I knew many people in the court and was never in any real danger.” I heard the love and forgiveness that our Savior had taught in John’s voice like falling rain.
“It was a terrible day, but necessary. I wanted to hate the Romans and the Sanhedrin for doing those things to Him. He was beaten and slapped and whipped,” John’s voice dropped to a whisper, ” When they pushed that crown onto His head, blood poured out like spilled wine. He was barely recognizable, yet He kept standing up and presenting Himself to be beaten again.” Tears ran down the old man’s face freely. “And they nailed Him down; His feet that we had followed faithfully on so many dusty roads were stilled by the spike; His hands, so calloused from His work in the shop and so sought after for their healing touch, were stretched out and spiked to the cruel wood. And they lifted Him up.”
John stood up and walked slowly to the window, staring out at the beach beyond, a breeze caught his hair and he sighed.
“He hung there in agony and He forgave. He could have screamed or cried or prophesied doom, but he forgave. Every time He took a breath He had to stand up on the spike through His feet, but even then He found the breath to teach the thieves on each side of Him. He was everything He taught, perfect love revealed through pain.” He was quiet for a moment, the sound of the breakers on the shore and the cries of the gulls punctuated the peace. “He looked down,” John continued,”and asked me to take care of His mother. Of course I accepted the charge and pulled her to my side. He prayed in anguish and pain to God, King David’s ancient question, ‘Why have you given me up?’ I was feeling the same thing. He cried out again, He said, ‘It is done,’ He prayed once more and He died. Mary buried her face in my shoulder, sobbing, the other women in His life gathered around us, wailing. It took all of my strength to not fall apart right then.
Sure little brother, I didn’t run away, I stayed to the very end, me and the women. But courage? How could anyone call themselves brave after watching how He let Himself be sacrificed? I have no courage little brother, only grace that He bought for me that day.
Of course, today is different! After that first Lord’s Day, everything was different! Now I can understand what He did and why. Now I understand the Prophet Isaiah’s words,
‘But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.’
He did heal us by His pain. And He granted us everything; full lives, new hearts, new beginnings. His courage, little brother, has given us all that we have.
And now, everything has changed, He has ascended to the Father and He speaks with a voice of many waters! He is glorified and shining bright and the long hourglass has begun to run out……but how I go on, time is precious.” He grinned at me.
“What were you saying? What do you mean?” A bell rang from the docks, my time was up. My servant gathered our things and we headed for the door.
“Nothing, nothing youngling! I wonder, could you do an old man a favor and take these seven letters for delivery? Thank you, little brother. The Peace of Christ be on you and yours, and I love you, be strong and courageous. I’ll see you again, very soon.”
He embraced me.
I could smell the sea on his cloak.