Run! Run! The words shouted at him from within as the angry faces drew nearer. Run—his fear told him. Run—his anger screamed. Run—his bitter disappointments cried; and he ran, never looking back.
As the voices from without grew dim, the voices within raged on! He ran blindly as tears clouded his vision, stumbling down the steps, into the streets, and away from the circle of light that housed the angry mob.
His anguishing cry filled the air, piercing the darkness—a cry formed by all the voices within as they burst from his heart—and he ran and wept bitterly.
Every street, every corner seemed to shout accusations at him, but he just kept running. He had to get away, for the hounds of hell had joined the mocking voices within, shouting their own words of disgust, jeering and taunting his soul: You are not fit to live! Go to the cliffs and throw yourself down!
His heart was pounding inside his chest, but he pushed himself to the darkest spot of the city: Golgotha. He climbed the rocky trail, his pace slowing as his strength ebbed away. The place smelled of death, and hell hounds nipped his heels. As he neared the edge, his feet were like lead; each step pushed him closer to the precipice. Dizzy from the exertion and weary from the heart-cries, he looked over the city. He could see the lights of Caiaphas’ palace and wondered what was happening to his Lord.
Don’t call Him your Lord, the angry voice of shame shouted. You have no right to call Him that, after what you did! A sob caught in his throat, and his broad shoulders shook once again. He fell to his knees and buried his face into his hands just as a cock crowed once more.
Three times! Three times—just as Jesus had said—and then the cock crowed. The face of the young servant girl flashed across his memory. He was also with Jesus of Nazareth, she had said, but her voice was not mocking. As he replayed the scene, her face became clearer—a face he had seen before. She had been at one of the street meetings when one of the Sadducees had taunted Jesus, tempting Him, trying to trap Him with words. Her face became clearer: a face that searched for the truth! As he recalled the scene on Caiaphas’ porch, he realized that she was not speaking out of accusation, but out of incredulity, out of hope that perhaps he, the big fisherman, would do something to stop this insanity! He had failed not only Jesus, but this girl as well.
* * * * *
Anna watched as the big man’s face showed immeasurable fear. She didn’t mean for her words to sound so accusatory, but they did. When she heard him, he looked around the circle of faces, illuminated by the fire where they stood warming themselves, and denied that he even knew Jesus. His words shocked her. How could he say such a thing? Then the others also accused him, and he began to use words which so completely denied who he was, that a sob caught in Anna’s voice. He looked at her as though startled. At that moment, a procession of religious leaders passed by with Jesus in tow. She watched as their eyes met—Peter and Jesus—and time stood still. She saw a love and pity for the big fisherman exude from Jesus’ swollen face; but when she looked at Peter, she only read anguish. He had denied his Lord. Oh, what an awful night! This couldn’t be happening! Anna tried to go to Peter, to say something that might help, but he had turned and fled.
“Back to your quarters and get ready for your day,” shouted her master.
“You others. Go! Stop your staring and go home!”
Several wanted to argue, to ask questions and gain some answers for all that had happened, but one look into the master’s cold eyes, and they slithered away like serpents, hissing and grumbling as they went.
Anna slowly crossed the porch and looked out upon the city. Where had he gone? She prayed that he would do nothing foolish! She had too many questions yet unanswered, and now they had taken Jesus. Oh, what would become of him? She shuddered as she recalled the sight of his face, swollen and bloodied, patches of his beard missing, his hands bound like a common thief! Now, it was her turn to cry. As she shuffled down the corridor, one desperate thought plagued her: I must find him! I must talk to Peter!
* * * * *
Peter had not seen anyone throughout the whole ordeal. He knew they were looking for him—the big leader! He had seen them in the garden, but he hid himself from their probing eyes. How could he ever face them again? When the earth had quaked and the darkness fell—a darkness so much like the blackness within his soul: complete and condemning—Peter had hoped that the earth would swallow him up. He knew that it was over. Jesus was dead.
He hadn’t had the courage to end his life. How thankful he was that he hadn’t! While buying his breakfast yesterday, he had overheard the news about Judas. Serves him right, he had thought, but just as quickly a voice within rebuked him: Are you any better?
The Sabbath day was now over and night fell as Peter once again entered the garden. He walked past the place where Jesus had met them, asking them to pray, but instead they had slept. His face had been bloodied by sweat, and the torment of His soul was written plainly across his face. Could you not watch with me for one hour? Peter hurried his steps past the spot and found a dark corner next to the garden wall, sinking down, down, down, and once again weeping.
The voice startled him; a man stood so close! He looked up as the form came closer and recognition dawned in his heart.
“Peter. We’ve been looking all over for you,” John said. His voice was gentle, full of concern with not a hint of accusation.
“Go away, John. Leave me,” Peter muttered, his head drooping in despair.
“No, Peter. I’ll not let you do this!” John squatted down before him, his eyes full of pleading.
The silence was deafening before Peter’s voice whispered. “How can I ever face any of them again, after what I did?”
John snorted. “You only did what we all did, Peter. We all ran.”
“Yes, but you didn’t deny Him,” he hissed, sighing and shaking his head.
John sat down beside Peter, pulling his knees up and crossing his arms over them.
“Peter, we all denied Him: maybe not in our words, but in our hearts and actions; and that’s what He sees and knows about all of us.” John shook his head. “We all deserted Him when He needed us the most.” He groaned. “I never thought it would end this way.”
The two men sat in silence, mulling over the nightmare in which they were living. He sees and knows… The thought echoed in Peter’s mind. He sees and knows… “and forgives,” he whispered.
John looked his way questioningly, noticing for the first time, a glimmer of the old Peter in his friend’s eyes.
Peter sat up straighter. “He sees and knows everything, John. How many times did He tell us that?” His voice grew in strength. “He sees us right now, and He knows our hearts.” He voice softened, “and He forgives.”
John shivered in the darkness and stood to his feet. “Let’s go, Peter.”
Peter looked up at John, still not knowing how he would face the others, but he took the offered hand and rose to his feet.
As they neared the house, Peter hesitated.
“They’re all gone, Peter,” John whispered, opening the door. “Everyone is out looking for you.”
Although the comment was meant to comfort him, it only brought more heartache to the broken man. “I don’t deserve that,” he muttered dejectedly.
John made no comment, but led Peter to his bed. Before Peter’s eyes closed, he looked at his friend, and whispered, “Thank you.” He rolled over, and sighed once more before sleep overtook him, wondering if he had slept at all over the past forty-eight hours.
One by one, the others returned, speaking in hushed voices, relieved to have their leader back. Peter heard nothing until rushing feet and excited voices entered the room.
“I tell you, He’s not there.”
“What do you mean?”
“We went to the tomb to anoint His body, but He’s gone.”
Peter came to his feet and rushed forward. “What has happened?”
Once again the women told their unbelievable story. All the men looked on, astonished and full of doubt. Without a word, John rushed from the house, and Peter followed.
* * * * *
It had been the longest Sabbath of Anna’s weary life, but now she was free, if only for a few moments. She had listened to the others as they talked about all that had happened and had gleaned the information she wanted. Now, she hurried towards the garden where Jesus’ disciples had taken Him. Perhaps the disciples would be there. As she approached the path to the tomb, she heard excited voices and someone running her way. Quickly, she left the path and hid behind the bushes.
“What do you think it means?” one woman asked. Anne could hear the mixture of fear and excitement in her voice.
“I don’t know,” the other woman panted as she ran, “but we must tell the others.”
Anna cautiously stepped back on to the path after the women were out of sight. She stared down the way in which they had just run, wondering what had happened. Quickly, she turned and headed to the tomb. As she drew near, her pace slowed as she stared in awe and wonder. The tombstone was rolled away, leaving the entrance gaping wide open! Slowly, she stepped closer, afraid to look inside, yet anxious to see. The natural wall of stone had been carved out, making a place to lay the dead. It bore a huge crack across its face, probably caused by the earthquake which had occurred during the crucifixion. Coming closer, she touched the giant stone and leaned in to look inside, amazed that she had enough courage to do so, and wondering what it would be like to look at a dead body. To her amazement, the tomb was completely empty, except for some cloth. What did it all mean?
As she gazed in wonder, she heard fast-approaching footsteps. Once again, she hid herself, fretting that her time was short before she needed to return to her work. She watched as the disciple, called John, came running to the tomb. He stopped, hesitating at the entrance, when Peter came running towards him. He never stopped, but ran into the tomb, and John followed. Their voices were low, and she couldn’t understand what they were saying. A woman came slowly up the path, and Anna recognized her as one of the women who had left the tomb so quickly. She was weeping as though her heart was broken, when the men hurriedly left the tomb, running past her as though she was not there.
Anna watched the woman stoop down and look into the sepulcher, and decided it was time for her to leave when she heard voices coming from the tomb. She looked on in wonder, as a man seemed to appear out of nowhere. He spoke to the woman.
“Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”
Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
The man said to her, “Mary.”
She turned herself, and said to him, “Master!”
He said to her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”
Anna watched as the woman took one last look and ran. When she turned back to look at Jesus, He was gone! Anna hurried down the path and headed towards Caiaphas’ house as her mind traveled in a hundred different directions. What did it all mean? Was it really Jesus? What had he said? …I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. She stopped as she came to the steps leading to the porch and stared into space, her heart aching to understand.
“Anna! Stop dawdling and get busy. You’re already late.”
She looked up to see the head maidservant shaking her finger at her, and then hurrying back inside. Anna ran up the steps and went straight to work. As she busied herself with the tasks at hand, she listened, and thought, and wondered.
* * * * *
The table was abuzz with conversation when Anna finally finished her morning chores and gathered her bread for the noon meal.
“Have you heard?” one maid whispered as the others leaned closer. She looked out across the room to the doorway, wanting to be certain that no one of any importance heard her words.
“They are saying that this Jesus is not in the tomb.”
Heads shook and tongues wagged at the same time.
“How can that be?”
“What does it mean?”
“I heard that the chief priests paid soldiers to keep watch at the tomb. Surely they wouldn’t let this man’s followers take him!”
Anna held her tongue though she was bursting inside, wanting to shout, “He is risen, just as he said!” But did she really believe that?
* * * * *
Every day more stories flooded the streets of Jerusalem concerning Jesus Christ. Many went to the tomb—finding it empty—until more soldiers were posted to keep people away. Some concluded that his disciples had taken Him as the soldiers were saying; however, much to the Jewish leaders’ consternation, many believed that Jesus was alive. And although the disciples had kept themselves hidden, their news that Jesus had appeared to them in several different places spread like wildfire! The ache in Anna’s heart grew stronger with every story. She wanted to believe, but she needed to talk to Peter. He would know, and she needed to tell him how sorry she was!
As she swept the floor in the main hallway, Rhoda, another servant girl, came to her, and whispered in her ear. “The disciples are meeting Jesus tomorrow near Bethany. Will you go with me?”
Anna’s eyes widened. She could only nod, her voice was lost in her joy.
“Meet me by the giant olive tree at the end of our road tomorrow at the end of our work day.” Rhoda looked anxious. “I hope we will not be too late.”
“It can’t be helped. I’ll be there,” Anna whispered, and once again she began to sweep. Her heart raced at the thought of finally getting her answers.
“Anna, you are raising more dirt than you are sweeping,” chided the head maid as she came from one of the side rooms. “Slow down!”
Anna only nodded, ducking her head to hide her smile.
* * * * *
Rhoda was waiting for Anna just as she had said, and together the girls hurried down the narrow streets of Jerusalem. As they reached the Eastern Gate, the crowd thickened with laborers heading out of the city.
“How do you know that they are meeting?” Anna asked as they hurried down the road.
“I overheard some of the women talking in the marketplace the other day. It’s only rumors, but it is the place where He had met them before, and supposedly, it is where the disciples have been hiding.”
Anna stopped. “You mean this is all hearsay?” she asked doubtfully.
Rhoda was impatient to be on their way. “Do you have anything else pressing on your schedule that you do not want to see the risen Messiah?”
“I…,” Anna began to speak, but changed her mind. “Let’s go.”
As they neared the village of Bethany, many others seemed to be heading in the same direction, and the girls found themselves swallowed up in the crowd. As a whole, they moved beyond the village wall, across the neighboring valley, and up the gradual hillside just east of the village. And then He was there! He spoke, and everyone was silent. His words were just as Anna remembered. She could have listened to Him speak all day, and she knew that the others felt the same way. Hundreds of people stood gazing upon the One who had conquered death! And then He was gone.
Slowly, the crescendo of voices rose and fell, and the crowd broke apart into smaller groups going in different directions. Anna held Rhoda’s hands in hers. “Thank you, dear friend.”
Rhoda smiled sadly, “I long to know more.” As she spoke, they turned to see many of the disciples heading their way, led by Peter.
Anna gasped and watched as he drew closer. He was talking with one of the other men, when he turned and looked her way. His feet stopped, and a look of anguish came over his face.
Anna quickly came forward and fell at his feet. “Please sir, forgive me,” she cried, as tears clogged her throat. She wanted to speak to him, but fear stopped her words from coming.
Peter knelt down and touched her shoulder. “What is your name?” he asked, his voice gentle yet strong.
She looked up into his kind eyes and saw no rejection or anger. “My name is Anna.”
He smiled. “Anna, I am the one who needs your forgiveness. You only spoke the truth.
I’m sorry your heard my words.”
“But when you looked at me, it was as though my words were the final blow.”
Peter looked away, thinking back to that awful night. He remembered her words, remembered the accusing faces, remembered his own words, and remembered the cock crowing. Understanding dawned in his mind. He turned to face her and smiled sadly. “It wasn’t your words, but the words of our Lord. He had told me that I would deny Him three times before the cock crowed in the morning. It was that awful sound piercing the night that also pierced my heart.” He shook his head in wonder. “Jesus knew even before it happened that I would deny Him, even though I vehemently argued that I would be true to the death.”
Anna could wait no longer. She must know. “I heard Him say that He was going to His Father. He told the woman that His Father was her Father too. Was that her promise alone?”
Peter’s smile grew wider. “No, my child. That promise is for anyone who will believe—believe that He truly is God! He forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness…even our doubts and denials.” A shadow passed over Peter’s face, and Anna understood. “Can you believe?”
Anna’s eyes glistened as her heart burst with joy. “Yes,” she whispered, nodding her head. “Yes, I believe!” She looked back up the hill where Jesus had just stood—alive and speaking to them. “How could I not believe?”
Peter nodded. “And yet many will believe who have not seen, and great is their faith.”
He thought back to Thomas’ harsh statements and the Lord’s strong yet gentle rebuke. Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. His heart, so recently crushed and bruised, wanted to doubt, but he knew he would never doubt again!