I’ve known this before. A familiar taste in the back of one’s mouth. The feeling of emptiness in my stomach, but no desire for food. When I do eat, I chew slowly and each bite is full of flavor as if I had never eaten before. I feel cold, warm only in my bed. I laugh with my friends like always, but there’s still a return of the sense once I am alone. Why does it feel so familiar?
Because I’ve felt it before. Fairly recently. Andrew Huckle; Michael; the “Judge”. Now I realize why it feels familiar, this old acquaintance: pain, grief—but no, it’s not grief, but more a loneliness, a forlornness, an aching, the aura evoked by the title of the book, “The Well at the World’s End”…
This time the sensation is less intense, less strong. But it is reminiscent of other times of grieving, and I recognize it as such. Does that mean I now know how grieving feels? That I can now anticipate it; get used to it? Or will it strike again like a twisted dagger, hitting a different nerve each time?
Mary Gardner was a 59-year old woman from Scotland, but she was not from this world. She left friends, family, and home to become a missionary for her Savior. Eventually ending up in Togo (I wish I could ask her how), Mary worked to translate the New Testament into a tribal dialect, one that did not yet even have a written form. Having completed that task, Mary came to Jerusalem with several other members of Wycliffe Bible Translators to study Hebrew, planning now translate the Old Testament.
Mary was in my intensive Hebrew class the first five weeks I was here. It was impressive to see someone who cared and worked hard outside of class (as all the Wycliffe workers did). But unfortunately some of us college students (myself included) thought Mary just a bit odd for being the only older person in our class and for looking somewhat unkempt. Shame on us for judging the appearance when God looks at the heart (1st Samuel 16:7). She has a gentle spirit and is quick to laughter.
My friend Brittany writes: Last time we were in class the teacher was asking (in Hebrew of course) about things that we can do: we were learning the verb "can". Jokingly, she asked Mary if she could stand on her hands, and Mary didn't quite understand and said yes...now keep in mind Mary was a fragile tiny older woman. So we all kind of looked at each other confused and giggled until someone asked her in English if she really could stand on her hands... she laughed when she understood what she had said! It was probably one of the cutest moments in Hebrew class.
This past Wednesday was a dark day in Jerusalem as the first terrorist bomb in years exploded outside of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station (http://www.jpost.com/VideoArticles/Video/Article.aspx?id=213442 ). Over two dozen people were injured, and one person died from their injuries soon after. That evening I invited everyone I knew over for a multi-faith prayer session with both Christians and Jews present. It was highly emotional as nearly twenty of us lifted up the victims in prayer and longed for the peace of Jerusalem. Each person prayed according to their own tradition, whether it was Catholic, Protestant, Anabaptist, Conservative Judaism, Reformed Judaism. Now, I don’t believe all religions are essentially the same or equally true, but in these circumstances I truly believe that praying together is what God wanted. It was the most loving thing that could have been done and the Holy Spirit was very much present among us.
I held back tears and swallowed the lump in my throat; sniffles could be heard around the circle. “But God will redeem my soul from the grave;” I read from Psalms 49. “He will surely take me to himself.” Very few verses in the Old Testament even hint at the resurrection, but I had discovered this one merely days ago. Right on time.
The next day, Thursday, I learned that the person who had died in the bombing was Mary. The bomb had pieces of metal packed around it, designed to increase the deadliness. Medics fought bravely to save Mary’s life, but after an hour they were forced to admit she had passed.
She lay on the stretcher, twisted screws and nails embedded into her skin. Red blood streamed and poured out onto the ground.
Not far away in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, a man was stretched out upon two planks of wood. Nails pierced his hands and blood flowed down his body from his open wounds…
Two children of God, linked in life by their solitary adventures through this world, united in death by violence.
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendents? For his life was taken from the earth.” Isaiah 53:7-8.
Within an hour of the bombing, hundreds of furious Orthodox Jews flooded the street where the bombing occurred, blocking traffic and refusing to leave. “Death to Arabs! Death to Arabs!” they chanted. I doubt this is the response that Mary would have wanted.
“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Mary herself had at one point spoken these words—translated from Greek to a tribal dialect. Perhaps in the closing pages of her chapter on Earth she whispered these words again, echoing the ones spoken by her Best Friend so long ago…
And had she seen the angry Orthodox protest, perhaps she would have reminded them: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute, so that you may be sons and daughters of your Father in heaven…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the ungodly do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48).
I believe Mary lived her faith out to the fullest. In obedience, she followed God’s call away from Scotland to Africa, and ultimately to Jerusalem. Her whole life was a sacrifice on God’s altar. She gave up home, family, comfort, and ultimately her life. Mary was perhaps one of the few in all Jerusalem who was right with God and who He could call upon to pay the ultimate cost. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” wrote Dietrich Bonheoffer. He should know: he was to die in a Nazi concentration camp for refusing to compromise his Christianity.
A long time ago, another Mary gave birth to God. She was His earthly mother. Mary Gardner has proved herself to be His spiritual daughter.
Today, Friday, was the Jerusalem Marathon (I ran in the 10K race). The Mayor of Jerusalem promised to hold it despite the terror attacks, knowing that life must go on without fear. Registration for the race was held in the convention center—right in front of where the bomb went off. I walked past it, seeing no evidence at all: the cleanup crews had done their job. “He is not here…” (Luke 24:6).
Interestingly enough, there is a connection between running and resurrection. “Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first” (John 20:3). They go running and find an empty tomb. Christ is not there…he has risen! Death has no sting! It has been defeated!
Like the disciples, I saw no evidence of Mary’s death when I went for my run. Having lived in God’s forgiveness as his servant, she died in his grace. She now rejoices with the infinite multitudes on God’s Holy Mountain, Mount Zion, crying “Holy, holy, holy!” Our eyes could scarce look at her now in her glorified state; indeed if she should appear among us now she would be hard-pressed to keep us from falling at her feet and worshipping her. She died to herself in the world, but the second death shall not touch her, and she will serve God forever.
Mary sang softly to herself as she waited at the bus stop. A small British smile crossed her lips. She was ready to head back to her apartment.
Only God knew that this time she was coming Home.