The Women of Easter

by Brooke Thomas

I wrote these monologues for Easter 2009, exploring the stories of women present at the events of Easter. If you would like to use them in your church’s Easter services, please contact Kippax for further information on how to stage them for a powerful series of Easter services.
Thursday
Mark 14
The woman with the jar of nard
(prop – ornate jar)

Woman preparing the Passover meal
(prop – basket of lettuce/ herbs)

The servant girl in the courtyard of the high priests
(prop – cup)

Friday
Mark 15
The mother watching her son be tortured and killed
(prop – “blood stained” shred of cloth)

The women staying to watch the crucifixion when the male disciples were nowhere to be seen
(prop – stones)

Sunday
Mark 16: 1-8
Women preparing to bury Jesus
(prop – large piece of folded linen)

Women given the resurrection message
(bunch of lilies)

Thursday

Reading:
Mark 14: 1-11

The woman with the alabaster jar of nard
Of course people ask me, why did I do it? And why did I have a jar of nard to begin with? I’m not going to tell you it’s not expensive stuff…but then I’m also not going to tell you that my family isn’t fairly well off. We buy nard, or spikenard as it’s really known, from merchants who import it from India. The oil has been distilled from a plant and sealed up in alabaster jars for transport.

It’s a funny thing, spikenard, as soon as you break open the jar it begins to lose its scent so you have to make the most of it while it lasts.

It smells a bit like valerian and a bit like coconut oil. It’s a warm, earthy scent – fragrant and musky. We use it to relieve headaches and to rejuvenate the skin. The scent makes you feel calm and helps you sleep and the oil helps to heal wounds.

It’s also said to inspire devotion.

So why did I do it? It’s hard to put into words. My family has been offering hospitality and support to Jesus and his disciples for a few years now. It’s a simple thing but it’s an honour really to open our home to them, to provide food and a place to stay and a place for others to come and meet with them.

I have seen him up close, heard him speak, seen what he does for people’s lives…known what he’s done for my life. How can you possibly repay someone who has given you so much? Words aren’t enough, money isn’t enough. But I wanted to do something.

That’s when I saw the new jar of nard. It’s not that it costs the same as a year’s wages for labouring in the fields. It’s beautiful. It’s rare. It’s sort of intangible and yet its effect is to calm and heal you. It can be gone too soon. And you know how fortunate you are to have been able to experience it.

All these thoughts were filling my mind as I rushed to the house where he was staying. Without really being able to express the intensity of the feelings in my heart, I just knelt before him and broke the jar open. That incredible warm, rich, comforting fragrance filled the air between us and without thinking about what I was doing, I anointed Jesus‘ head with the oil.

Most of the people who were there didn’t think it was a great idea. They said I should have given them the jar unbroken and they could have sold it and used the money to feed the poor. Some people tell the story differently. Some say I also anointed his feet: if I did, that’s what you do for your most honoured guests although you’re supposed to let the servants do the foot washing. Some people even say I dried his feet with my long hair: if I did then I was behaving in a radical way for a woman  – you don’t let your hair down when you’re out and in company.

So everybody said the things I did that evening weren’t appropriate…but I believed in my heart that it was the right gesture. And Jesus recognised what I my heart was trying to say in that act and he didn’t condemn me. He said it was a beautiful thing to have done. I didn’t know that it would represent to him the beginning of preparations for burial. We didn’t understand what was ahead.

Reading: Mark 14: 12-26


Woman preparing the Passover meal
It’s been a strange few days. I’ve been preparing for Passover for several weeks – you have to get started early to get the house spotlessly clean. That way when we have the traditional hunt for leaven with the children, we can know for sure that there is no yeast of any kind in the house.

I’d been expecting to cater the Passover meal for the people of my household but then we were asked to host another thirteen people. It’s more than double the number of people I was expecting but these guests are important – it’s Jesus and his companions. I wonder why they chose us to share the feast with?

I must keep working. I’ve made the bread, unleavened of course, to commemorate our ancestors’ escape from Egypt. It is said they had to leave so suddenly that they didn’t have time to let their bread rise.

Usually when I make bread, I keep aside a small ball of dough as a starter for the next day’s loaves. For Passover we must get rid of it all and make unleavened bread instead. Some people believe that our people learned about using yeast when they were in exile in Egypt so for this festival we choose to reject the use of yeast to remember those events when we began to reclaim our independence and our cultural identity, and start anew.

A part of me wonders whether we are on the verge of something else new this week. As I’ve been preparing the food, I’ve been thinking about the things that have been going on lately. I heard that a huge crowd of people went out to greet Jesus as he arrived in Jerusalem for the festival and that they got so excited they laid down cloaks and palm branches for him as if he were royalty. You’d have to wonder whether that kind of thing would attract the wrong attention from our leaders. Everyone knows that our priests don’t want any unrest that might get the attention of the Romans. They don’t want to us to be a troublesome province that needs a heavy hand. If we are good, we can be left alone to run our own lives.

Hmm. On with the food preparation. I need to place a bowl of salt water on the dinner table to remind us of the tears our ancestors shed in slavery as well as to symbolise the parting of the Red Sea. Then I’ll prepare a mixture of bitter herbs – horseradish, chicory, endive and lettuce. This is to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. And there will be a paste made out of crushed apples, dates, pomegranates and nuts which we will dip our bread into during the meal. This also represents slavery in Egypt. It is supposed to remind us of the mud of brick-making. As I prepare the food, I think of what each part of the meal represents – so much sacrifice and bloodshed that has gone before. The deaths of thousands in slavery and wandering in the desert…the years of hope and hopes dashed…the long, long wait for liberation and for independence. Sometimes I grow sad that my people are again not really free. I wonder what must we do to again be free – truly free?

The main part of preparing for Passover is the lamb. My husband goes to the market on Monday to select a lamb and the custom is for it to live with us in our home until the night before Passover. When the lamb is killed, it is hard not to feel it more keenly than with other livestock since it has lived and been cared for under our roof. This is how it supposed to be – so that we remember the price of sin and the meaning of sacrifice. Then we use a bunch of hyssop to spread some of the blood around the doorway just as our ancestors did that night in Egypt.

Finally, I set out the wine cups. Everyone must partake of the four cups which stand for the four parts of the covenant God made with our people.

I feel like something important is afoot. While I am in my kitchen, seeing to the roasting of the meat, thinking about the symbols of sacrifice and the burden of slavery my people still carry today, there is a group of people gathering upstairs who are centred around a man who brings a message of hope and freedom. Is his message compatible with how we live today, oppressed under foreign rule, drowning in the blood of sacrificed animals and looking to the past? How can we be set truly free? What role does Jesus have to in all this? I suspect this will be a night to remember…


Reading: Mark 14: 27-72 

The servant girl in the courtyard of the high priest
I don’t quite know what to think. It’s been a night of strange, rather disturbing moments. I think something bad has happened but it’s hard to tell from where I stand. I’ve been so busy with my usual chores – a  high priest’s residence has to be cleaner than clean and every possible purity rite observed to keep him in ritual cleanliness for his duties at the temple.

I suppose I’m fortunate to work in such a privileged household. When I can pause to think about my surroundings, it occurs to me what a beautiful great mansion this is, and the guests, if I dare to sneak a look at their faces when I am serving them, are some of the most wealthy and influential people between here and Caesarea.

Tonight, just as I thought the worst of the day’s work was over and I could allow myself to start thinking about the blissfulness of sleep, the entire household was disrupted as a meeting of the Sanhedrin was called. A big group of people descended on us and as they came though the gates I could see in the midst of the soldiers and shouting people, a man of remarkable calm and dignity, despite the rabble around him. I thought he must be Jesus of Galilee because I’d heard of him before – gossip travels quickly between the workers in the houses of the elite and around the market.

He seems to stir up emotional reactions wherever he goes – he must have upset the priests. I can’t imagine that’s a good thing. As far as I can tell, in the Holy City, we are all about conformity to a rigid set of rules – I know I seem to spend my life assisting my master in keeping to them.

On the edge of the crowd, hanging back a bit, another man, looking very anxious, caught my eye and I wondered briefly what his story was. But by then the house was filled with agitated priests and the formidable soldiers of the Temple guard and a hoard of other shouting people. While the priests assembled in one of the big rooms off the central courtyard, I ran to and fro with the other servants, providing drinks and seeing to the guests’ needs. The guards and other men made a fire in the brazier in the courtyard so it was clear they were going to be waiting to find out what would happen next.

As I dashed past the wide, open doorway of the room, I could hear the priests questioning Jesus and they didn’t sound very happy. On my way back, I saw the man who had been hanging back from the crowd and I asked him whether he was one of Jesus’ friends. Maybe he didn’t hear me properly because he said he didn’t know what I was talking about. But I was sure he must be and it might have been important to my master – or important to the accused man being questioned – to know that he had a friend there. So I asked him again and he furiously denied it.

I had begun to think this man was both a bad liar (his Galilean accent was unmistakable) and a bad friend – why wouldn’t he stand up to defend his friend? By then someone else had heard his accent and asked him too and suddenly he broke down and cried. I felt bad for him but I felt worse for the man being questioned by the priests. I know that my master and his powerful friends are not men to be crossed. What has he done and where are all the followers who I hear welcomed him to the city with such enthusiasm just a few days ago?

As I go off about my work, it occurs to me that the rooster in the hen house down the back has been unusually noisy this evening.


Friday

Reading: Mark 15: 1-20

The mother watching her son be tortured and killed
How can I begin to describe what I have seen and what I feel? No mother can see her child in pain and not feel it like a knife but how can I even imagine what he has been through and what is to come?

Powerless to stop it, my heart pounds, I can hardly breathe, I want to scream, I want to die. Can I die in his place? Would I be brave enough to take his place? He is meant for so much more. He is part of a great plan. How can they not see this, these men who watch but do not see as my son is beaten and bloodied in the name of laws which are not just or compassionate? His message has been of peace and justice and healing and he is met with such bitter condemnation, such terrible punishment.

I can hardly bear to look and yet I must, for how else can I even try to share his torment? Oh that I could deliver him from it, to be the mother who can scoop up her child when he has fallen down and hurt himself and tell him it will be alright. But it’s not going to be alright. I feel such panic, such terror. I can only cry and cry until it feels like there are no more tears that can be shed. And when I run out of tears, there is still this terrible, terrible pain in my heart that feels too much to bear. And yet he must bear worse so I will stay here and stay strong. If the glimpse of a loved one is all he can ask in these horrific hours, then I will be that for him.

I want to hate the men who deliver the blows, bear the whip, shout insults, but what I hate is their inhumanity, their blind adherence to an unjust system, the unquestioning obedience to immoral orders. How impossible it seems to hold to my beautiful son’s message of love and compassion when faced with such cruelty and injustice? And yet I see this love in the faces of those who have stayed here at my side, those who love Jesus and believe in his message. We will remain here and we will follow where he goes, even in these last hours until death. No matter the anguish, we will be here for him, and when he is gone, we must be here for each other.

Reading: Mark 15: 21-47

The women staying to watch the crucifixion when the male disciples were nowhere to be seen

This day has been an eternity – of impossible sadness and unimaginable pain. I have watched a friend die horribly and sat beside his mother while it happened, seen her unfathomable grief close up and felt my heart break that a man we all so desperately loved has been taken from us. Keeping our vigil in sight of the place of crucifixion, we have held each other tightly while our emotions ran from disbelief, to anger, to despair and now, in the stillness of twilight, the silence of what seems like the end of the world, to deepest sadness.

As I see him still upon the cross in the silhouette of night falling, it is impossible to imagine the sun ever shining again. Impossible to imagine even getting up from this place, pulling ourselves back together and taking steps back down the hillside without him.

It seems there should be more of us here. Where are the masses who cried Hosanna less than a week ago? Where are their declarations of devotion now? Where are the twelve who previously followed him through the region, through the good times? How can they run so quickly? There is danger but there is still reason. Even Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, has been bold enough to stand forward and say he will be responsible for Jesus’ burial, despite the risks of being associated with such a radical. We wait here numbly while he seeks permission from the governor. What value has discipleship if the followers can not also stand by him in the bad times? – and this is the worst of the bad times.

As we cling to each other against the growing cold, the gnawing fear and the crippling sadness, I wonder, where will we go from here? Can we follow a man who is no longer among us? I’m not sure but I feel that we must so that his death will have meaning and his message stay alive for future generations.

We must leave soon. It is almost dark. How long until daybreak?


SUNDAY

The women preparing to bury Jesus
I am almost paralysed by my emotions. There is a part of me that does not want to confront the reality of his death. To see him lying there, wrapped in simple linen on the carved out shelf of the tomb. To think that he is no longer in the world, will no longer travel through our villages, call at our homes, sit and talk with us of love and hope and justice for all.

But another part of me knows it is a sacred and honourable duty to tend to the dead in preparation for burial. Our law teaches us that performing the rites of burial makes us unclean but Jesus never placed much importance on such laws. A pure and clean soul is what matters, not restricting rules that get in the way of connecting with each other or being emotionally and spiritually whole.

I have seen how he cared so completely and compassionately for the people he encountered. How he ached for the poor and downtrodden. How he felt the pain and anguish of the sick and injured. How he celebrated with the joyful. How he cried with the grieving. How he railed against injustice of every kind.

I can’t believe he is gone.

At least I will be able to mourn privately in the tomb while we do our duty. Then he will be moved to his family tomb. We didn’t have much time two nights ago to look after his body as the Sabbath was beginning but we had to make sure he wasn’t buried in a common grave with the criminals. I’m so angry that the Sanhedrin let him die that way and would have had him remembered that way, had Joseph not stepped in and used his influence to let us bring him here.

We were in such a rush on Friday night to get hold of the linen and some dry spices and to get permission to take his body that I don’t think we had time to stop and let our feelings catch up with us. But the Sabbath was an achingly long bleak day. The world is grey. Something incredibly good and beautiful has gone out of it and I don’t know how we can go on.

I tried to distract myself by planning ahead for what needed to be done to properly prepare Jesus to be buried. As soon as the Sabbath was over we would need to buy the perfumes and ointments we needed to properly anoint the body. I could at least think that far despite my dread at having to face that fact that he is dead. To see and tend to his bruised and battered body. To acknowledge once and for all that he has been taken from us.

But now, as we draw near the tomb, something is different. Where are the guards who were sent here to make sure we would make no trouble? How has stone been drawn back from the entrance? And who is this strange young man here to greet us? My heart leaps in trepidation and expectation. What can possibly be going on?

Reading: Mark 16: 1-6


The women given the resurrection message
I may not have the words to explain what has just happened. There are moments in life when words fail in the face of complete amazement. My heart is so full! My mind is reeling! He is not here!

I have seen the tomb stone rolled away and a young man of strange radiance sitting by it. He told us not to be afraid and invited us to step in to the tomb with him. It was all so strange that none of us had time to think twice.

Once inside, when my eyes had adjusted to the dark, I gasped at the sight before me. Jesus was gone! And there is nothing left inside the tomb but the linen we wrapped him in two nights ago.

A thousand questions suddenly raced through my mind but the calm assurance of the young man who had led us inside left me with only one conclusion – Jesus is not dead. He has risen and walked out of here, away from the darkness of these past days. Death could not hold him nor silence his message.

Before I could even think what to do with this information, the man, who I have no doubt was an angel of the Lord, told us to go and find the disciples and give them the message that Jesus has risen and will meet up with them soon.

Now we stand on the roadside, looking at each other in bewilderment. We have set down our bundles of cloth and jars of oil – they are not needed now. None of us has the words to really describe how we are feeling. My mind is so full of excited thoughts about what might come next for us, for Jesus and his ministry, for all his followers, and for the people who are yet to meet him, no single coherent idea will form to sum it all up! People walking past us look at us strangely in our silent awe but I don’t care. Jesus is alive! He walks among us again and we have been given a precious message to pass on. We must go. We must find Peter and the others and tell them what we have seen and been told. I can’t wait for what comes next!

Reading: Mark 16: 7 – 8

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