Easter Series

Almost Midnight: A Story for Maundy Thursday

 

Passover

Do you know what my favorite part of Passover is, brother? The bitter herbs.

Don’t look at me like that. I saw you slip some under the table last year, coward, even though Mother didn’t catch you. You shouldn’t do that, you know. We’re meant to remember: nothing sweet comes without something bitter.

Every year, parents are supposed to tell their children of why we celebrate the Passover meal. Now that Father is gone, I suppose it falls to me, then, being the oldest.

Mother doesn’t tell it right. She tells only the sweet—God’s mercy in leading us to freedom. Just like a woman, I suppose. The God they serve is weak and beautiful, the psalms they sing are the ones with happy endings, the ones without curses or darkness or unanswered questions.

I’ll show you the bitter, Simon. You’re old enough now. You listen, and you tell me if it doesn’t feel more real.

Do you ever wonder what the angel of death looked like? I do. I’ve drawn sketches of him, hundreds of times. He’s no pure and golden archangel like the ones in the temple, that’s for sure. I see a figure with a bared sword the size of a city wall, towering with thundering steps, crushing all who stand in his path and try to resist. Red eyes, the smoke of wrath curling about him. And blood. His robe is dripping with blood.

It’s almost midnight in Egypt. The cruel oppressors are in their beds, but they don’t sleep well, none of them, for their dreams are haunted by the ravaging disease, the crawling pestilence, and unfathomable darkness of the plagues. More than that, some have heard whispers of worse to come.

Among our people, no one sleeps. Everyone is preparing for the great Exodus, following God’s instructions, holding their breath under blood-drenched doorposts. Counting down till midnight.

Yes, the women could bake the unleavened bread and whisper prayers and lullabies over their children that night. But someone had to slit the lamb’s throat. There is the bitter in the sweet, Simon. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” God himself said that.

Then…midnight comes, and the angel of death unsheathes his sword. The story started with rivers of blood, and that is where it ends. The blood of the lambs…and the blood of every firstborn son of Egypt. I’d have died, if I’d been born among them.

What would you do, waking up, to find the angel of death had slaughtered all the heirs in your land, great to small?

You’d cry out, just like they did. Listen, Simon. Can you hear what it must have sounded like? I hear it sometimes, in my dreams. It sounds like every tax collector dying in agony, every Roman mother wailing for a lost son, every oppressor cowering in fear, suddenly realizing that the weak people they belittled and bullied for so long decided it was time to fight back.

We don’t know how the angel struck them down. I like to think, sometimes, that they were hacked to pieces.

Don’t look at me like that. They threw our babies into the Nile to be drowned or eaten by beasts. It’s no more than they deserved. And besides, they had fair warning.

Sometimes I wonder about Pharaoh—how could someone who had seen all the miracles of God that he had, who had heard God’s messenger predict exactly what would happen still make the choice he did?

And then I realize I already know: power. Control. The desire for more, always more, never satisfied. I understand him. Sometimes, when I tell the story to myself at Passover, I am Pharaoh, proud and determined. Sometimes I am the angel of death, bringing justice by the sword. Sometimes I am Moses. Sometimes I am God himself.

They say our God is a merciful deliverer. Don’t believe them, Simon. They tell you that to keep you docile, in hope that someday, if we pray enough, if we follow enough commandments, God will lead us out from the Roman empire.

They forget that our God is a warrior with legions of angelic armies at his command. Any Passover, at his command, and plagues and pestilence could sweep down again on our oppressors. Maybe not this Passover. Maybe not the next. But someday.

They call me a Zealot. Well, David himself said, “Zeal for your house has consumed me.” That’s in one of those Psalms Mother doesn’t sing. Do you know what it’s like to be consumed by something? By anger, by desire, by a need to rise up to a glorious destiny?

No? I suppose that would be too much to ask. I’ve always felt…very alone.

There’s something about the Passover, though. It’s special to me, somehow. If I could rise up on that day with the sword of the Lord and do something—anything—to stir our people out of their apathy, I could make them all free. I, Judas Iscariot, could be the second Moses.

So eat those bitter herbs, Simon. Let them linger on your tongue. Savor them. Remember that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, and if we wait too long, that blood might be ours instead of our enemies.

The day of death is coming, and soon. And I, for one, intend to be there when it happens.

 

(Every year, around Good Friday, I write about Judas. Here are the archives: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.)

Holy Week with the Pharisees, Act Three, Scene Three

(The last script in a series leading up to Easter. To start at the beginning, go here.)

holyweek

Act Three, Scene Three

 

(MICHELLE is sweeping her porch, staring out at the street, when PETE runs on, clearly distracted by something. He nearly runs into her.)

PETE: Sorry about that. Gotta go!

MICHELLE: You again. Shouldn’t you be hiding with the rest of your friends until you can sneak out of Jerusalem?

PETE: Oh, we won’t be hiding now. Not after he showed up.

MICHELLE: He?

PETE: Guess you wouldn’t have heard. Of course not. How would you have?

MICHELLE: Trying to draw out the suspense. Well, it won’t work. Not on me. (Long pause, sighs.) All right, fine. What haven’t I heard?

PETE: I found a better ending. (more…)

Holy Week with the Pharisees, Act Three, Scene Two

(The eighth script in a series leading up to Easter. To start at the beginning, go here.)

holyweek

Act Three, Scene Two

(NICHOLAS, JOSEPHINE, and MICHELLE are sitting in a room together. NICHOLAS is halfheartedly looking through a large book, JOSEPHINE is pacing, MICHELLE is just staring.)

NICHOLAS: Well.

MICHELLE: Well.

JOSEPHINE: You can just say it, Michelle. You were right after all.

MICHELLE: Right about what?

JOSEPHINE: Not becoming a follower of Jesus. He was a fraud, like all the others.

MICHELLE: I wish I’d been wrong.

JOSEPHINE: And I wish I had listened to you. The body I buried—bloodied and torn…he was human, Michelle, just like any of us.

NICHOLAS: He was, after all, a good teacher, Josephine. The way he talked about God. God who loved us…

JOSEPHINE: I don’t appreciate being lied to, Nicholas. I don’t appreciate being…died on. Abandoned. Left clinging to a few stories about a banquet and a Father…

NICHOLAS: They were such beautiful stories, though.

JOSEPHINE: Stories are just lies, Nicholas. Let’s not kid ourselves. Not anymore.

NICHOLAS: I just can’t understand it. I was so sure he was the one.

JOSEPHINE: You carried his dead body, Nicholas. Saviors don’t die. Haven’t you read the Scriptures?

NICHOLAS: Of course I’ve read the Scriptures! I’ve memorized most of them! (more…)

Holy Week with the Pharisees, Act Three, Scene One

(The seventh script in a series leading up to Easter. To start at the beginning, go here.)

holyweek

Act Three, Scene One

 

(JOSEPHINE and NICHOLAS are seated facing the audience. NICHOLAS has his head in his hands. JOSEPHINE is staring blankly. A table with books is nearby.)

NICHOLAS: We have broken the Law. We, the Pharisees, have betrayed what we loved most.

JOSEPHINE (Wearily): What else could we do? They were all watching.

NICHOLAS: An illegal trial, late at night. False witnesses. Destroying the temple…refusing to pay taxes to Caesar…revolt and rebellion…he never said any of those things!

JOSEPHINE: But why, Nicholas? Why didn’t he defend himself? I would have said something, would have spoken up—if he had. But he never did.

NICHOLAS: We have broken the Law. No, no, it’s worse than that.

JOSEPHINE: I never knew there was something worse for Pharisee than breaking the Law.

NICHOLAS: We have broken him. I…have betrayed what I loved most. He was my teacher, Josephine. He was my friend. (They sit in silence, until ANNA and JEREMIAH enter.) (more…)

Holy Week with the Pharisees, Act Two, Scene Three

(The sixth script in a series leading up to Easter. To start at the beginning, go here.)

holyweek

Act Two, Scene Three

(SIMONE, ANNA, LEVI, MICHELLE, NICHOLAS, and JEREMIAH are having a little conference, when JOSEPHINE enters, whistling to herself.)

SIMONE: It’s risky, that’s the problem. We can’t just— (Stops when he sees JOSEPHINE.) Well, if it isn’t Josephine, the little heiress from Arimathea. Come down from your manor to join us?

JOSEPHINE: Surprisingly, I don’t sit around checking my bank account all day. Now, what do we have here? Some private sub-committee of the Sanhedrin I wasn’t appointed to?

JEREMIAH: We’re discussing a certain important matter of great…importance.

JOSEPHINE: What a coincidence. I happen to love discussing important matters of great importance. (Sit down, makes herself comfortable.) Anyone want to explain?

SIMONE: Lazarus from Bethany—you’ve heard of him, haven’t you?—has been parading around, telling the tale of how he (Air quotes) “rose from the dead.” Lots of people are believing in Jesus because of him. So…we’ve decided to kill him.

JOSEPHINE: Sorry, let me rephrase. Does anyone want to explain in a way that doesn’t sound like complete and utter stupidity?

JEREMIAH (Raises his hand): Oh, oh, I’ve got it. How many Pharisees does it take to kill a guy who already died?

MICHELLE: Seventy-nine. One to suggest the idea, seven to argue about it, and an entire Sanhedrin to figure how it should be done and what words to use to make it seem less like murder.

LEVI: How about these words: “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death.” That’s in the Scriptures, if you’ve forgotten.

JOSEPHINE: There you go. Maybe we don’t need the Sanhedrin after all. Maybe we just need you. (more…)

Holy Week with the Pharisees, Act Two, Scene Two

(The fifth script in a series leading up to Easter. To start at the beginning, go here.)

holyweek

Act Two, Scene Two

(At rise, Pharisees and Sadducees are clumped together at right, in the midst of an intense conversation.)

LEVI: All right, here’s one thing we can all agree on: this Jesus character needs to go. He’s nothing but trouble.

ANNA: Absolutely. The man’s a raving lunatic!

JEREMIAH: A firebrand heretic!

SIMONE: And about to be voted Mr. Galilee by the entire Jewish nation. (All glare at him.) Just pointing out that you’re taking a shot at the most popular figure in the country. That’s all.

MICHELLE: She’s right, you know. The people would hate us if we spoke out against Jesus.

LEVI: We’ll just have to trap him! Get him to say something that will make his so-called followers turn against him. (Suddenly grins.) And I have just the thing. (more…)

Holy Week with the Pharisees, Act Two, Scene One

(The fourth script in a series leading up to Easter. To start at the beginning, go here.)

holyweek

Act Two, Scene One

(JOSEPHINE is standing onstage, going through a stack of mail, when MICHELLE rushes on.)

MICHELLE: Josephine! We need to talk.

JOSEPHINE: Well, good morning to you too, Michelle. How are you? Is your family well? Did you have a relaxing Sabbath?

MICHELLE: Good morning, well, yes, and yes. Satisfied?

JOSEPHINE: Barely. I take it that you didn’t come to me for fashion advice, which, as usual, you desperately need.

MICHELLE: I’m a religious scholar, Josephine. What I look like on the outside doesn’t matter.

JOSEPHINE: You Pharisees and your complete lack of vanity. This is why I only serve on the Sanhedrin. God blessed me with a bank account and a sense of style, and I intend to use it.

MICHELLE: I need your advice. It’s serious.

JOSEPHINE: I can be serious, I suppose. Just this once.

MICHELLE: Did you hear the new teacher at Levi’s party last week?

JOSEPHINE: You mean Jesus? Yes, I did. He certainly knows how to tell a story. That one about the banquet and the guests…I was laughing along with everyone else when he told the ridiculous excuses they gave for not going. I came up with better ones for losing my homework in elementary school!

MICHELLE: Didn’t you realize the teacher was talking about us? The people of Israel, rejecting God’s invitation, causing him to look elsewhere.

JOSEPHINE: Of course I did. Everyone there could have guessed that. But it’s just a story, Michelle.

MICHELLE: Is it? You don’t think he’s the slightest bit dangerous? (more…)