Cornerstone

Lent Week 6: A Resurrection Foretold

“...Caiaphas understood with a jolt that this man was no man at all, but the corpse who had been buried in the tomb before him, somehow no longer dead but alive.”

The following piece is a fictional retelling of the raising of Lazarus, seen through the eyes of the high priest Caiaphas in a dream.

The vision that wrenched Caiaphas awake was different than any he had seen before. Unlike his other dreams, all of which had taken place within the temple itself or on the temple grounds, this one found him standing on rocky terrain, an uneven dirt path curving before him that led up a slope and out of sight. Although the grass and shrubbery that grew in scattered pockets across the landscape was lush and green, the general appearance of the place was dusty and remote, and Caiaphas could tell immediately that he was no longer in Jerusalem.

As he looked around, he noticed a small gathering of people up ahead of him, just past the bend in the path, and he walked briskly to catch up with them. As in all of his dreams, the participants took no notice of his presence, and he was able to move past them without incident. As he overtook them and had a full view of the scene before him, he stopped short. Ahead of him was the rock face of a cave in which a rectangular-shaped hole the size of a large man had been cut. Caiaphas knew immediately that this was a grave site, and that inside there would be a section of rock hollowed out, large enough to lay several dead bodies out on stone benches. These type of rock-cut tombs were used by those who could afford to house multiple members of their family who had died, while individuals with fewer resources would bury their dead directly in the ground, one by one. His father’s body lay in a tomb very much like this one. He remembered as a boy watching as Abel was gently placed inside and the men who had carried him slowly pushed a large stone across the entrance, to protect the body from the elements and from predatory animals and others who might seek to molest it. This tomb was still open, and Caiaphas thought that perhaps they had not yet laid the body to rest.

He realized that the people behind him must be mourners, come to honor the dead. Turning to examine them, Caiaphas saw indeed that many of their faces were lined with sorrow. Near the front of the group, two women in particular, who looked alike enough to be sisters, were weeping openly, their eyes red and swollen. They leaned on one another for support, and Caiaphas could see that they were deeply grieved.

But as he watched them, he saw their expressions suddenly change. The woman in front stared wide-eyed, her intake of breath rapid and audible, and the other woman grabbed onto the arm of her sister’s garment, her hand clenched tightly. All around them, the mourners’ faces were shifting. Some looked afraid, while others appeared to be astonished. The weeping had ceased, and all were staring at the same spot behind Caiaphas, near the tomb’s opening.

Whipping around, Caiaphas saw two men before him. The first, whom he had not noticed before, was the man Jesus, whom he and Gamaliel had just been discussing that evening. Jesus looked slightly older than when Caiaphas had last seen him, his beard longer and a bit more tangled, his robes dusty and ragged at the edges. Caiaphas could see the streaks on his face where tears must have recently fallen, leaving sharp lines down both of his cheeks. But now he was smiling, his shoulders back and his head high, as he held out a hand in front of him.

As Caiaphas looked at the one to whom Jesus was extending his hand, he immediately understood the reaction of the mourners. This man stood no more than two paces in front of the opening in the rock, from which it appeared he had just emerged. Unlike all of the other people there, who were dressed either in mourning clothes or in their everyday garments, this man was wrapped in thin pieces of linen that covered his entire body. The fabric had been wrapped around each of his limbs separately, so that his arms and legs resembled infants bound in swaddling clothes, and his torso too was draped in linen. Across his face another section of fabric was wound, but this section was looser than the rest, and the top half of his face was visible over the cloth. The skin around his eyes was dark and heavy, as if he had been asleep for many days, but his eyes were alert and bright. He was gazing at Jesus with an expression of rapturous joy, and as he reached out and they clasped hands, Caiaphas understood with a jolt that this man was no man at all, but the corpse who had been buried in the tomb before him, somehow no longer dead but alive.

Caiaphas sat up in bed, panting, his entire chest drenched in sweat. His breathing, which was rough and ragged, took several minutes to return to normal, and he struggled to calm himself, his mind reeling. As his breath slowed and he was able to collect his thoughts, he thought back to his debate with Gamaliel over the resurrection of the dead. Was it possible that the Pharisees were correct, that there was a way for one who was no longer living to return? Or was this just his imagination run wild, fueled by their conversation and perhaps provoked by the abundance of wine and rich lamb he had consumed that evening?

Bowing his head, Caiaphas took another deep breath, and his mind drifted back to the psalms which he had known since he was a child and which he had heard so many times the day before, recited during each wave of the slaughter of the lambs and again sung at the Passover table with family and friends after the meal. Forcing himself to focus on the reassuring words of the psalmist rather than on his wild thoughts, he recited them to himself, over and over again, bowing slightly back and forth as he did so. “The faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Calmed by these assurances and becoming more and more certain that this dream, unlike his other visions, must be without greater meaning, he fell into an uneasy sleep, and did not wake again until morning.

Nicole Austin

Nicole is a member of Cornerstone and serves as a Community Group leader.

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