All was lost. I thought my life was over and my joy extinguished when my husband died, but I had still had my son to live for, my only child, and he was both the reason to keep going and the means to be able to. The years had not been kind to me. I had married with such hope. My husband, hardly known to me, was well-respected in the community as a good worker. His wife would not go hungry. I would be mistress of my own home, albeit a small one, (but what did that matter? I had lived just above poverty all my life), I would have children, many children, a woman’s glory, and maybe, just possibly, I would be the mother of the Messiah. That was of course the secret tender hope, the one no one dared put into words for fear of being laughed at. But just because every other daughter of Abraham had dreamed that dream for hundreds of years didn’t make it impossible. It had to happen some day! I had no idea, as I prepared for my wedding, that the Messiah had already been born, that was something I would only learn in the darkest hour.
We settled in Nain, and the years passed. After several years of barrenness and much desperate prayer, remembering the story of Hannah, I had one child, a fine, handsome boy. I never had another that made it to birth. My marriage was not the wonderful dream I had imagined as a naive young bride, but it was better than many. He was kind, e was fair-minded, and he never reproached me for our lack of children. I sometimes wondered if he was secretly relieved not to have too many mouths to feed, for while he worked hard the returns were poor and the Roman taxes were ruinous. We had enough, but never the abundance I had dreamt of. But this was the real world, and what more could anyone expect?
Then, just as our son was approaching manhood and learning his father’s trade, my husband started to weaken. At first he grumbled about pains, and even found fault with my cooking (which he never had before), but over the course of months it became clear that this was no mere indigestion. Before my eyes he shrank away, the little pains grew to big ones, and he could no longer work at all. I remember the day that I realised that he was dying, and how, in the midst of that tight, cold misery, I gave thanks to the God of our fathers that He had given me a fine son to take care of me and I would not be left alone and destitute. For I was a woman withered before my time, with no prospect of bearing more sons, so no other man would ever want me.
He was a fine son, who never shirked in his duty, and between us there was tenderness and laughter. I knew that I was blessed – here was no Messiah, but a good boy nonetheless, and I loved him dearly. He had brought joy into the bleakness of my life, and if still, in the silence of my heart I asked God that I might one day see the Messiah face to face, well, isn’t that the heart-longing of all our people?
Then the fever came. In the morning my son struggled to rise from his bed, in the following night he died. And when he died, I died with him, though my feet still walked above the ground. There was nothing left for me in this world, and I knew God had forgotten me. I was never more wrong.
I am not sure why there were so many people coming with us as we carried his body out of the town, but the sudden death of someone young, healthy and strong is bound to attract attention. But with so many people around, it is not surprising that I did not notice the arrival of the strangers. Besides, I felt as if it was my own heart being led out to the coldness of the tomb, and, blurred with the tears that were the most alive part of me, my eyes were downcast and saw no reason to ever be raised again. “Don’t cry,” he said.
There were no cheap emotions in those words. Many times I have heard people say ‘don’t cry’ when what they really meant was ‘don’t disturb me with feelings that make me feel uncomfortable’. This was different; this was a compassion that knew not only the death of my only son, but all the other deaths that were happening inside me. This was the heart of God meeting with my broken heart right where I was and changing the great No to a Yes. I raised my eyes in wonder, and watched as the stranger walked over to the coffin. Everyone was standing still. Everyone was barely breathing.
He touched the coffin, he spoke to my son and told him to arise. There was such authority in those quiet words that it felt as if the very universe itself could not deny him. And my son lived. My. Son. Lived. Just like that; with no effort, no spectacle, no struggle, death itself was overturned. There was clamour around us, people were declaring the presence of a great prophet, were marvelling at the mercy of God. But, in the still centre, I heard none of those things. I looked at him and knew that I had met the Messiah, and he knew and loved me. I gathered my bewildered son in my arms, and gazed into the eyes of the stranger who had met with death on my behalf. God himself was walking on the earth and he had come here just for me.