Jerry Francis had hoped to arrive at Jesus’ tomb before sunrise. But it took two full hours of begging and pleading to convince Benjamin to join him, which in Jerry’s mind wasn’t so bad compared to the eight hours he had to plead with Benjamin on the previous day, Saturday, to remain in Jerusalem.
After witnessing Jesus’ death by crucifixion on Friday, and then stumbling into Judas Iscariot’s dead body, hanging from a tree limb on a hill just outside the walls of the city, Benjamin was convinced the Romans were rounding up all the Zealots, the Jewish patriots who wished to drive the hated Roman occupation forces out of Israel. Benjamin insisted that leaving Jerusalem right away and hiding in a rural village would be the best way to avoid being arrested.
Being unfamiliar with the cultural and political dynamics, not to mention being very rusty on his knowledge of biblical events, Jerry had struggled to keep Benjamin in their squalid room in the run-down boarding house. Multiple times Benjamin had declared, “That’s it! I’m leaving. You can come if you want, or stay here. I don’t care!”
Jerry pleaded each time for Benjamin to stay. It’s not that Jerry had firm plans about what they should do. He still had no idea about how or why he had been transported twenty centuries into the past. If he was destined to spend the rest of his life trapped in ancient Israel, he figured his best bet would be to stick close to the one man who treated him as a comrade. But he really had no clue about what they ought to do in the coming days and weeks. There was only one specific plan he felt very strongly about: he desperately wanted to see Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning.
Jerry wasn’t sure any more about what he believed regarding Jesus. The agnostic, secular mindset that Jerry held his entire adult life was being tested. He always figured if Jesus actually existed, he must have been a nice, caring guy who was tragically murdered at a young age, and then long after he was dead and gone other people had added miraculous fairy tale stories to his legend. But now Jerry wasn’t too sure what to believe. He had seen for himself that Jesus truly was an historical person. He had heard Judas claim to be a witness to genuine miracles, which didn’t necessarily make them true, but it did mean those stories were not invented decades later. Most of all, Jerry had looked directly into the eyes of Jesus as he dragged his heavy cross, and heard Jesus speak to him, “Jeremiah, believe in me.”
So Roman soldiers or not, Benjamin’s paranoia or not, Jerry was determined to re-visit the tomb on Sunday morning to see for himself if the central claim of Christianity for 2,000 years did indeed occur.
Jerry was able to detain Benjamin for a while on Saturday by reminding him that it was the Sabbath, and very few people would be out on the streets. If the Roman were looking to arrest Zealots—something Jerry emphasized was probably not the case—it would be hard for Benjamin to blend in with the crowds, as there would be no crowds.
Still, by mid-afternoon on Saturday, Benjamin insisted he really was going to leave this time. Just as he finished bundling up his few possessions, someone knocked on the door. “It’s me, Simon,” a voice said.
They opened the door and Simon the Zealot rushed in. Benjamin embraced the man and at the same time unleashed a barrage of questions. “What’s going on?” “Where are the other Zealots?” “Where should we go?” “What are our plans now?”
Simon waved his hand in Benjamin’s face, trying to get him to be quiet. “We’re not sure exactly what’s going on,” Simon said. “So far, no one else has been arrested. We’re all just laying low for now. I’ve been hiding in the house where we had the Passover meal the other night. But I decided to go out for a while to gather information and to get away from the big fisherman.”
“Fisherman?” Benjamin said. “You mean Peter?”
“Yes, he’s hysterical,” Simon said shaking his head. “He’s been wailing and moaning non-stop, saying that he’s a worthless worm for denying the Lord. I think he might go and do to himself what the Iscariot did.”
Benjamin unbundled his belongings and flopped onto the floor with his back against the wall. “So we just sit here and wait,” he said with a frustrated voice. Then he turned his head and spit across the room for emphasis. Simon waved good-bye and slipped out the door. Jerry said a silent prayer of relief, thanking Simon for coming and convincing Benjamin to stay.
* * *
Now it was Sunday morning. Jerry and Benjamin went out the city gate and scrambled down the rocky hills toward the cemetery. As they traveled Benjamin grumbled that he couldn’t believe he was doing something so stupid—and dangerous. “You are as annoying as my brother!” Benjamin said to Jerry.
“What? What did you say?” Jerry asked.
“Never mind,” Benjamin muttered, as the two men continued their journey.
When they reached the massive rock where they had discovered Judas’ hanging body, the corpse was no longer there. The low hanging branch had broken away from its tree trunk. The two men carefully stepped toward a nearby ledge and peered down. About a hundred feet below they saw a body dashed against rocks, its neck still connected by a rope to a tree branch. Scavenger birds feasted on the bloody remains splattered on the rocks.
The men winced and then moved on. When they finally reached the cemetery, Jerry scanned the landmarks to make sure it was the correct gravesite. It was definitely the same place, but things were much different than the last time they had been there. The huge stone had been rolled back up the incline. “Ten men would be needed to move it uphill,” Benjamin said, his annoyance about being dragged to a graveyard now replaced by curiosity.
Scattered on the ground in front of the tomb were various articles of equipment abandoned by the Roman soldiers. “They must’ve left in a big hurry,” Benjamin noted as he picked up and admired the finest sword he had ever held.
Suddenly, they heard the sound of hurried footsteps behind them. “Someone’s coming,” they said in unison and quickly hid behind a row of thick shrubs. They saw a man run up to the open tomb and peer inside. A minute later, another man staggered along, barely able to catch his breath. This man moved past the first man and ducked inside the tomb. After hesitating a moment, the first man also went inside. They both emerged finally, with looks of sheer astonishment on their faces.
“I bet the big guy is the fisherman,” Jerry whispered. He stepped out from behind the shrubs before Benjamin could stop him.
“Excuse me, are you Peter?” Jerry called out. The two men were startled by his voice. Then they stepped backward in fear when Benjamin appeared clutching the Roman sword.
“No, don’t be afraid,” Jerry said quickly, waving his hands. “We’re not soldiers. We’re friends, really! We’re just trying to find out what happened to Jesus.” Jerry paused then added, to his own surprise, “Our Lord.”
The tall man who had struggled to catch his breath tentatively stepped forward and said, “I’m Peter.”
“Where’s Jesus?” Jerry asked excitedly. “What have you heard?”
Peter glanced at his companion, then said to Jerry, “Well, some of the women came to us a little while ago with an incredible story. They said—”
“That Jesus is alive!” Jerry interrupted.
“Yes,” Peter said. “How did you know?”
“Just a hunch,” Jerry replied, as a feeling of excitement and amazement welled up in his chest. “Have you seen him yet?” he asked.
Peter shook his head. “That’s why we came here. But his body is gone.”
Jerry walked toward the men and stuck out his hand. “I’m Jerry, uh, Jeremiah. And that’s my friend, Benjamin.” The men cautiously shook hands. Jerry learned the other man was named John.
“You’ve never met me,” Jerry said, “but I’ve recently become interested in finding out about Jesus. Do you mind if we hang out with you for a while?”
“Hang out?” John asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just an expression,” Jerry said. “What I mean is, can we spend some time with you? Can we talk for a while? Can we talk about Jesus?”
Peter and John hesitated, but then agreed. The four men left the cemetery and headed for the house where the other followers of Jesus waited anxiously.
As they walked, Jerry turned to John and said, “John, huh? So I bet you’re planning to write about all of this someday?”
“Um, I never thought about that,” John answered.
“Well, trust me, you will,” Jerry said matter-of-factly. “And when you do,” he continued, “please do me a favor: don’t mention that I was here, OK? I’d hate for Sister Mary Margaret to have to redo her lesson plans.”