She’s been at the market all day Tuesday and much of Wednesday morning, too. So many things were needed for the meal. And she wanted everything to be just right. No wrong steps. Nothing forgotten. Everything put right.
There were other women, too, of course. She didn’t have to do everything herself. Which was all to the good. Cooking any meal in a rented kitchen can be tricky, and this was to be a feast. She needed Martha’s eye for detail, and her sister Mary’s enthusiasm to keep the mood sweet. The other older Mary was among them, too. She didn’t want to help with the feast, but instead took on herself the task of buying bread each day and many times in each day. So many hungry people came to the room to see him. Again and again, she pulled her scarf over her hair, climbed down the stairs with a basket in her hands and went out looking for a bread seller. His mother’s work in the crowded streets.
But the work of the passover feast was left in the Magdalene’s hands. It seemed right somehow. All the women said that preparing this meal was as rich an offering as any lamb sacrifice. And this offering was to be hers. The others would offer their hands, but it was her heart that held this meal together.
She counted out the ingredients on her fingers. Bitter herbs that they might taste slavery. Sweet spices and apples that they might remember the sweetness in work. Salt to conjure tears. Eggs for new life. Wine to bless the Lord. And, of course, the lamb.
Everything would be perfect. She was sure of that. Every dish just as it should be. And then, on Thursday evening, they would sit together in that rented room remembering the amazing Exodus story, God’s love story of freedom. No. Not just remembering. It would be more than that. They would hold it in their hands like bread to be shared and taste it in their mouths like spices and fine wine. They would experience it in every taste, every mouthful. In every home, in every year.
Yet this year was different. They were all together and that was one thing. All these people who gathered around him and with him had glimpsed a better way of living out this story every day. Not just at Passover, but in every moment. God near as light, as breath. As fire and cloud and clean clear water. And now all his rules written in their human hearts. Understanding. Beauty. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Love.
There was something else, too, because this year, they were in Jerusalem. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but Mary was sure that being in the holy city made their passover better. It was easier to remember when the very stones under your feet could bear witness to the centuries of faith and celebration.
But it was dangerous, too. All these people. And the Romans, too. Soldiers everywhere, even near the Temple. There had been rumours of spies among them. Mary thought that she’d seen one in the marketplace, a tall, angled woman watching her too closely as she made her purchases, counting the eggs she put in her basket, the apples and the wine. That had been Tuesday, and she’d hurried back to the room as quickly as she could. He’d told her not to be afraid. Worry didn’t help one bit and wouldn’t set the table. Then he’d gone out with her on Wednesday morning when she needed to buy honeycomb and almonds. He’d walked beside her and she hadn’t felt afraid.
Her heart was so full on that Thursday night. Of course it was. The feast was perfect, but no one would remember that until much later. Then the men had gone out to the garden after the final song and there had been things to clear away and another glass of wine among the women. It wasn’t until hours later that the news of his arrest reached the women.
On Saturday, Mary returned to the market alone. The street were quiet now. People were staying away. Whether they were observing the Sabbath or hiding away, Mary didn’t know. There were only a few stalls open now, gentiles selling to gentiles. But the spice sellers were there and that was what Mary needed now.
Sandalwood, myrrh and pine.
Frankincense, fir balsam, myrtle and spruce.
Burial spices to take to the garden on the first day of the week.
Each carefully wrapped for her basket and too much silver given. Far too much.
Mary returned to the room, imagining the trees. Trees on a hillside, near a river or the sea. Orchards and groves. Gardens of trees with glossy green leaves and evergreen needles, berries and closed cones heavy with seeds. Trees rooted and growing with strong trunks to weather the centuries. She held the thought in a breath as she stood for a moment on the stair outside the room and imagined the wind in those branches and a bright fragrance overhead.
This post and last week’s post were written for and around the Palm Sunday Stooshie – a travelling play with the Spark Festival of Worship and the Arts in Edinburgh. With thanks to Sarah Lane for the idea of the shopping Magdalene.