Elizabeth stood at the edge of the village, her ageing eyes searching the road from Jerusalem. The surge of homeward bound pilgrims had dwindled, and while her Zechariah always tarried in the courts of his beloved temple, even for him, he was late. She knew their lives were shortening, she had even guessed, before he had, that this might very well be his last journey beyond the curtain. It saddened her because she knew what it meant for him. But they were old, and younger hands were needed to serve Almighty God, it was ever so.
She smiled as she remembered Zechariah’s strength as a young man, it was one of the things that had attracted her to him; that and his quiet firm faith. The first time they were alone together he had prayed with her, a beautiful heartfelt prayer that God would bless their marriage, their home, their family.. Even after all these years a single tear trickled down her cheek. It was her one sadness and regret; that she had not been able to carry a child to term. She remembered so clearly her husband’s strong arms around her as they both wept heavy tears; his of sadness, her tears were mixed with shame. She tried to ignore the whispers, the knowing looks, the shaking heads, but it was hard. All the more so as all her friends and neighbours were gifted with so many children. She remembered well the day that she dried her eyes, washed her face, and went out to the village square, calling the chattering children to her, and beginning to teach them the ways of God. After all, she was the wife of a priest, what better cure for her sorrow than to share the stories of God and His chosen people with eager young minds.
It was almost enough for her aching heart, especially as those first children in time brought their own children to her school. Even now, her class was filled with their grandchildren! She sighed at the mystery of God, and then set her eyes on the road that led from Jerusalem. Maybe he was sick; What if they’d had to use the rope after all, that chord that snaked under the curtain into the hands of the steward. What if her beloved Zechariah was gone. A spasm of fear shook her, but then her mind reasoned, at least he would have died in the sacred place. Zechariah loved the Holy of Holies, he described it often to her, as they lay beside each other at night time. He explained that its simplicity was its strength, it wasn’t bright and shiny, it was still. There was a calm there, a whisper of the Heavenly presence. She began to hope he had died there, if this was to be his last visit beyond the curtain, what better way for it to end than with the hope of heaven. Elizabeth steeled herself as she noticed a man striding with great purpose along the road, still some distance off. ‘It will be the messenger’, she thought, ‘coming to tell me he has gone’. She wondered vaguely what would happen to her, this was a priestly village, the tribe of Levi always served as Priests to God. She could stay, teaching children, but no, that would be too hard, too many memories, she would go, maybe to her cousins, Nazareth wasn’t too far for her aching bones to travel, besides she hadn’t seen young Mary in such a long time, and word had reached her that Mary was engaged. Yes, she would go to Nazareth once her time of grieving had passed.
There was something oddly familiar about the man who strode with purpose towards her. As he drew closer she saw he was older than his strong step suggested. It was a shock when he came into focus. Her husband, her Zechariah, standing like a man of half his age, a look of intent and joy shining from his weathered face. She called to him but he didn’t answer. He stood quietly before her, trembling with words he could not yet utter, but as Elizabeth looked questioningly into her husband’s eyes she recognised a look she had not seen for many years, a look that spoke of love, of hope. As he took her hand, and led her back to their home, a single word formed in her mind ‘ Oh!’.