Now almost thirty years had passed
Since Mary stood like stone, aghast
At suffering so great there were
No words, no tears, no screams for her
To use but what would seem so faint,
As if an infinite complaint
Should fall from Mary's lips, but be
Then nothing more than agony.
How many times she heard him say
That powers of darkness have their day,
The Son of Man must suffer at
The hands of scribes and priests; and that
He would be put to death. But Oh,
The breach between the words we know
And what they signify! What she
Had seen that dreadful day would be
Forever on the other side
Of speech, however poets tried
To speak the pain, in vain. But now,
Three thousand miles away, the vow
That Mary Magdalene had made
To Christ that day was being paid
To one Boadicèa, queen
Of Iceni, a tribe between
Eboracum and Isca on
The isle, Britannia. The dawn
Had brought the news that all her tents
Were burned, the Roman recompense
For all the Celtic queen's bloodshed,
When sixty thousand Romans bled
Along the Thames and made it red
Beside Londinium. The dread
Of Roman vengeance now was felt
In full, and every fighting Celt,
Boadicèa's great defense,
Was dead by Roman sword. And hence
The queen prepared the poison, drank
The cup, and lay down on the bank
Beside the River Severn there
To die. But in her swoon a pair
Of servants, fearing for her soul,
In secret swiftly came and stole
Away their weak and dying queen,
And took her up to Deva, scene
Of all the ministry that one
Called Mary Magdalene had done
For twenty years. The servants had
Believed on Jesus Christ, and clad
With simple woolen clothes, they bore
Their wealthy queen in silk before
The woman with the message of
Eternal life, in hope that love
Would triumph in the final hour,
And Christ would show his gracious pow'r,
And save their honored queen. They laid
Her on a cot while Mary made
A potion on the fire and prayed.
"O Lord, the mercy you displayed
In saving me, pour out on this
Great queen, and let her know the bliss
Beyond the silk and eminence
Of rank and wealth. O Lord, dispense
Your healing might and grant a space
Of life 'til she has tasted grace."
Then Mary gave the queen a sip.
She used a sponge and touched her lip,
As tenderly as if she were
Her child. And then the slightest stir
Gave Mary hope. "Your Highness, do
You hear me?" Mary asked, "Your two
Good servants brought you here. My name
Is Mary Magdalene. I came
To your great island twenty years
Ago, and I have seen your tears,
When Romans waited 'til your man
Was dead, then, ere your grief could span
A week, attacked the grieving court,
And tortured you and made a sport
Of all your little girls. I saw
You mount an army out of raw
And raging Iceni, and slay
Ten Roman legions in a day
Beside the River Thames. And now,
Boadicèa, there's a vow
That I must pay, and God has sent
Me here to tell you what He meant
When thirty years ago the Lord
And Maker of creation poured
His life in blood out on the beams
Designed by Romans for the screams
Of criminals, and turned a tree
Of death, for all eternity,
Into a tree of life." She paused.
The queen opened her eyes. "You've caused
My suicide to fail. And now
The Romans will arrive and plow
Your back and mine with furrows for
Their pleasure. Better had the door
Of this small hut been shut and sealed.
The futile grace that wants me healed
Is not so merciful as my
Assistants think. To let me die
At once, and keep my simple plan
Had been a better kindness than
To make me live, and drink the grief
And torture of a Roman chief."
"Your Highness, listen, you shall get
Your death before the dew is wet
Upon tomorrow's grass. This brew
That you have drunk cannot renew
Your life, but only add a breath,
Perhaps a day, before your death.
And O, I pray that you will see
'Tis not a futile grace to be
Kept back from death and hell one day
To find your way to heaven. May
The servants who have loved you well
Be granted their desire, to dwell
With you forever in the place
Where Jesus Christ displays his grace
With never-ending joy for those
Who come and cease to be his foes."
Boadicèa let the words
Sink in, and listened as the birds
Of her beloved homeland sang
Their final song and fed the pang
Of Mary's words. "One breath, you say,
Is added now, perhaps a day?"
She asked. And Mary nodded, "Yes."
"And you, a common serf, profess
To know the way to heaven?" "I do,
Boadicèa, and do you?"
"I think whatever God there is
Has made it clear to me that his
Design for life is misery,
And there is little ground for me
To think it will be different in
Eternity. My life has been
A chain with links made out of fraud
And pain. So deeply am I flawed
That I will take more secrets to
The grave than there is time for you
To hear." "There are no mysteries
To God," said Mary. "Jesus sees
The field, the chamber and the soul.
What's more, your Highness, there's a goal
For misery that's more than wrath
Or even pain. It is a path,
If you will have it so, that wakes
The sleeping soul from death, and breaks
The bondage of a thousand charms.
And as for flaws, these are alarms
That we must have a ransom paid.
Boadicèa, God has laid
His Son out on a Roman cross
So that, if you believe, His loss
Will be your everlasting gain."
"You speak so easily of pain
And loss," the dying queen replied.
"My husband and my daughters died
At Roman hands. The honors of
My queenship were denied, and love
Withheld, because I was a slave
Before king Prasutgus gave
Me liberty, and risked his crown
To marry, and to put the gown
Of queens on me. And now the frown
Of God, if gods there be, goes down
With me to hell, because by my
Own sin and cowardice I die.
So, Mary, is there hope for me?"
Boadicèa looked to see
If there was censure in her face,
And wondered at the tears and trace
Of joy in Mary's eyes. "O Queen,
Boadicèa, come and lean
On merits not your own, and hear
The story I will tell to cheer
Your final hours. I will collapse
My fifty years in little scraps
Of memory to show you why
There's hope for you - and me. When I
Was almost ten in Galilee
My cultic Mother traded me
To Herod Antipas. He gave
Her seven sheep to gain a slave.
For eight years I was locked inside
A palace room and used to guide
The king with sorcery. And then,
One night, he threw me out, and when
I was about to die alone,
Deserted on the killing stone,
A man named Jesus took my hand,
And seven fiends at his command
Took leave, and never came again.
For two years in his service then,
I watched his every deed and heard
With my own ears the mighty word
Of God. He made a dumb man talk,
The blind to see, the lame to walk,
The deaf to hear, the leper clean,
The harlot treated like a queen.
I served him every way I could,
But in the end I found the good
I thought I did for him, to be
A gift. For he was serving me.
For this, he told us, he would die.
And die he did, before my eye."
"You saw a man get crucified?"
The queen inquired. "I stood beside
His mother close enough to hear
The very words he spoke. And clear
As thunder, in a whisper he
Declared a word of hope for me
And for a thief who hung beside
Him there, the hour before he died."
She smiled, "But now, it was designed,
I see, also with you in mind.
O queen of Iceni, give heed
To what the robber said in need:
'Dear Jesus, is there hope for me?'
To which the Lord replied, 'You'll be
Today, because of this great price,
With me, my son, in paradise.'
And there I made a vow: 'If I
Could ever help a person die,
I promise I will speak this word.'
Boadicèa, have you heard
What Jesus said? And now that he
Is risen from the dead, you see,
It will be true." "How do you know
He's risen from the dead?" "The glow
Of dawn was bright above the grave.
And there the Lord of glory gave
The highest honor of my life:
A slave, as though I were his wife,
Was granted first to see the Lord."
Boadicèa's eyes stared toward
The sky, and she was silent for
An hour. Mary thought the door
Of life had closed. But suddenly
She whispered softly, "Say to me . . .
I mean . . . did you . . . once have a man,
A husband?" Mary didn't plan
For this, and simply said, "I did.
His name was Joseph." "And a kid?"
She asked again. And Mary drew
Her breath. Then slowly: "Three." "So you
Have tasted loss. And still believe,
With all the loss there is to grieve?"
"I don't think much about the loss.
When you have stood before the cross
And know that all is lost, and then
See Jesus Christ alive again,
It alters everything. And so
I ask, and plead, before you go,
Boadicèa, do you see
Your only hope for life is he?"
Again the pause made Mary fear,
But then God let his servant hear
The final words of this great queen:
"Thank God for Mary Magdalene."
And now as we light candle four,
And slowly close another door
Of time, remember, when we come
Next year, to read of Joseph, some
Of us will not be here. Come, light
And flame of candle four, burn bright
With truth: that all our grief and woe
Are given us to help us know
How we can take our wings and fly,
Or help another person die.
The lesson of her life is plain:
That every loss is meant for gain.
For God's beloved naught is vain,
God does not waste the gift of pain.