Three Women and an Empty Tomb

A Reflection For Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday (April 15/16 2006)

by Lola Wells

The full text of the readings can be found here.

Mark 14:1-8
When the Sabbath was over,
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome
bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.
Very early when the sun had risen,
on the first day of the week, they come to the tomb.
They were saying to one another,
"Who will roll back the stone for us
from the entrance to the tomb?"
When they looked up.
they saw that the stone had been rolled back;
it was very large.
On entering the tomb they saw a young man
sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe,
and they were utterly amazed!
He said to them, "Don't be amazed!
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Behold the place where they laid him.
But go and tell his disciples and Peter,
'He is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him, as he told you.'"
New American Bible

Our story begins with the most human of activities - visiting the site where our loved one lies buried. Here three women are going together. One imagines the depth of their friendship. Together they had traveled with Jesus, listened and learned, questioned, laughed, prayed. These journeys had not been easy. Travel accommodations for women were indeed sparse, but there was a sense of urgency about the man, a feeling that you wanted to be with him as much as you could becauseā€¦. They had heard Jesus talk of his death. It was sort of an open secret among his followers, but no one understood. They so loved him that it was unbearable to think of him dead. If it had been unbearable to think of him gone when he was with them, how much greater, more desperate the pain now. They walked in silence.

They had heard that Joseph of Arimathaea, Nicodemus and others had buried Jesus in accordance with Hebrew custom, but they wanted to take additional spices. They were not thinking it would make any real difference. Nothing could delay the body's putrefaction. It's just that it was all so abrupt. They had come into Jerusalem with him. All the people seemed to love him. The crowds had shouted his name, waved palm branches as they called him their King. They had celebrated the Passover with him and Peter, James, Judas, Jesus' mother, all the others. Then, it was all over. None of the three women remembered much of what happened next except for the crowd crying out to crucify him! The very same crowd that had claimed him as their king now wanted him crucified! It could not be understood. There was so much anger and hatred in those cries that they were afraid. They were afraid not so much for themselves as they were concerned for the people so filled with hatred. And then came the crucifixion, and the endless hours of his dying. Mary Magdalene had best expressed the turmoil of their feelings: "Sometimes I wanted him to die quickly. I prayed for his suffering to end immediately! Other times it was like I didn't want it to end. I did not want him to leave me, leave us. I feel so alone and lost now."

The previous day, after sunset, they had gone out together to purchase the spices. They had remembered the enormous rock then, but they couldn't figure out what to do about it. The disciples were afraid that they were going to be hunted down and murdered like Jesus had been. They were in hiding. Indeed, most of their friends were in hiding. If their friends knew what they intended to do, they would scold them, remind them that Jesus is dead, the dream is dead, it's all over with, forget it! They didn't ask anyone for help. They made their purchases and returned home. As soon as they could the next morning they set out for the tomb. They had forgotten about the stone. Why fuss about it? There was nothing they could do about it anyway.

As they arrived at the tomb the problem of the stone returned. Now that they are at the tomb they wonder who will roll back the stone, but there cause for concern is short-lived because the stone is rolled back, the tomb is opened. Another moment of fear encircles their hearts. . Were the centurions here, the High Priests' guards, thieves? As quickly as the fear came it was replaces by anger tinged with fire. What new outrage was being done to the body of Jesus? What more could they do? Enough! Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome enter the tomb.

Now the amazement begins! A young man, dressed in white robes to indicate his divine status, appears to have been sitting there waiting for them. He greets and comforts the women. He assures the women that they did not get lost in the cemetery and accidentally come upon an empty tomb. This was the tomb of Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. This Jesus, he tells the women, "He has been raised; he is not here." Look for yourselves at the place where they laid him; he isn't there. The woman look at the obvious, and their next question is one of our favorites, "Where is he?" He told you that he would go before all of you into Galilee. You are to go and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus has gone before them to Galilee and "There you will see him as he told you."

Mark ends his resurrection story with the women going home and being too frightened to tell anyone what they had seen and heard. For me, this is a bit of a let down. Here are three strong, faithful, fearless women who suddenly say, "Gee, this is too scary for me. I Think I am going to go home and hide." Mark's abrupt ending may reflect a belief that the resurrection story doesn't hinge on the empty tomb. Far more important for him than the empty tomb are the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus as proof of the Resurrection. I can agree with Mark's position, but I am hard pressed to believe that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome kept the news of the Resurrection to themselves. Instead when they leave to go to Galilee they move the proof of the Resurrection from the tomb to the place where Jesus will make his first post-resurrection appearance in Galilee.

This is a great story, but does it have any thing to do with us? You are the only one who can answer the question for yourself. I have a sense that we are the ones who are to confirm the Resurrection by moving the proof from the tomb to those places in our individual and communal lives where justice is so desperately needed. The power of the Resurrection is that we do not have to hide in fear in the face of injustice; we have the courage and the hope to believe the world can be a better place because we believe "He has been raised; he is not here."

Alleluia! Happy Easter!