Gospel (Cycle B): Mark 16:1-7
An Amazing Event
Have you ever seen or heard of an event so disconcerting, it "stopped you in your tracks?" So amazing, you just had to talk about it to others?
Events to amaze!!!
We live in a culture that yearns for the next "big thing," the next event that will "wow" us. It can be new media, new technology, or new faces. Our culture demands not only progress, but "freshness," something that will deliver us from the routine. Of course, those that remain constant become stale and disposable.
The Resurrection should stand as the eternal "Big Thing." But, after 2000 years, it receives the lip service of the routine, the stale, and the disposable. "Yes, yes," the non-participating Christian will say, "Jesus rose from the dead. (What does that have to do with me?)" Only if we could place the non-participating, apathetic Christian among the women that Sunday morning, how their world would change!
1 After the Sabbath, Mary from Magdalena, Salome, and Mary, mother of John, brought spices so they could finish preparing the body of Jesus for burial. 2 Just after the sun rose on Sunday morning, they arrived at the tomb of Jesus. 3 "Who will roll the large stone away from the doorway of tomb for us?" they said to each other. 4 When they looked up, they saw the large stone was already rolled back. 5 When they went into the tomb, they saw a young man who sat to the right of the place where the body of Jesus was laid. The young man was dressed in a long white robe. The women were surprised by what they saw.
6 "Don't be surprised!" the young man told them. "You were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was crucified. He is risen and is not here. Look! This is the place where his body was laid. 7 Now, leave! Tell Peter and the other followers, 'Jesus goes ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you!'"
Mark's Easter narrative can be divided into two parts: what the women saw (their witness) and the commands of the young man (the mission of the women). Like many other narratives in the gospel, the witness of the miraculous caused not only faith. It required evangelization.
1 When the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of John, and Salome brought spices so they might prepare HIM. 2 Very early morning on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb, the sun having risen. 3 They were saying to each other, "Who will roll the stone from the entry to the tomb for us?" 4 Having looked up, they noticed that the stone was rolled back. For it was exceedingly large. 5 Having gone into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right, clothed in a long white robe. And they were very astonished.
16:1 "When the Sabbath had passed" is literally "the Sabbath having happened through." Since Jew make the end of the day at sunset, Mark might have implied any time from Saturday night onward. (If Mark meant a Greek sense of time, the verse implied any time after midnight).
"they might prepare him" is literally "they might smear him." The women would use the spices to prepare the body for burial. Since the burial of Jesus was hurried to observe the Sabbath, they could not finish the burial preparations. They went to the tomb after the Sabbath to complete the funeral ritual.
16:2 "of the week" is literally "of the sabbaths." Mark used a Semitic saying to indicate the week.
16:4 "For it was exceedingly large." This verse seems out of place, but it helps explain the women's need for help in 16:3 and their sudden observation of the stone's removal in 16:4.
16:5 "clothed in a long white robe" is literally "having thrown around a white robe." One piece clothing was wrapped around the body.
The scene opened with unfinished business. The women came to finish the burial rites for the condemned Master. While personal devotion might have been the primary motivation, general Jewish spirituality considered burial of the poor and the criminal a matter of social justice on the same level as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Without institutions dedicated to deceased and their families, care of the deceased fell upon families, friends, and the good will of others.
Why did the women wait so long to anoint the body? The religious duty of the Sabbath. Officials and followers quickly removed the body from the cross and buried it, so they could observe the Sabbath. Sabbath duty superseded the duty of burial. If the "work" of burial could wait, it did. (Resurrection, too, was a work after the Sabbath rest. God and his Son would rest, but would start the work of the new creation on the first day of the week.)
The gospel presented two time frames, one vague, one specific. 16:1 presented a vague time, travel after the Sabbath (all of Saturday night and Sunday morning?) 16:2 presented a specific time frame, arrival at the tomb just after sun rise. Taken together, the women started out sometime in the dark of night, and arrived in the light of the new day.
The tomb itself would present problems, but would also be the first sign of the great miracle. The stone that covered the entrance to the tomb was too large for combined strength of the three women. Yet the stone was rolled away.
Entering the tomb, they saw the next sign of the resurrection. Instead of finding the body of the Lord, they found a young man in a long, flowing robe, sitting to the right of body's resting place. Mark's only other description of a young man in a wrapped garment can be found at 14:51-52
(During the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethemane,) "...a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked." RSV
Mark used the image of the young man with wrapped clothing to represent the fallen follower (stripped naked in the garden) who found faith in the Risen One (pointing to the world of the living, not the dead).
The women reacted to these signs with paralyzing amazement.
6 (That) one said to them, "Do not be very astonished. You look for Jesus the Nazarene, the one having been crucified. He was raised up. He is not here. Look! (This is) the place where they placed him. 7 But, leave! Say to his disciples and also to Peter, 'He goes before you into Galilee. There you shall see him, just as he said to you.'"
16:5-6 "they were very astonished. (That) one said to them, "Do not be very astonished." The verb that conveyed the extreme fear and awe of the women is the same as the verb used in the admonition of the young man. With the stark discovery of the empty grave, the women would have been paralyzed by their feelings. The young man wanted to relieve these feeling so they could witness to the other disciples.
16:7 "Say to his disciples and also to Peter." Why Peter was singled out still puzzles scholars. Perhaps his denial of Jesus required special attention.
The message of the young man pointed to Mark's third sign of the resurrection, the empty tomb. His message was also the divine command to evangelize.
Contemporaries of Jesus believed the tomb was the ante-chamber to the realm of the dead. The body in the tomb would have been evidence the deceased took the journey into that realm. But the lack of a body pointed to the living. The empty tomb proved (to the women) the Lord was truly alive!
These three signs challenged the women to respond. They had witnessed the greatest of God's signs. They would now be charged to deliver the greatest of God's Good News. His slain Son was risen! Jesus' followers would see the him in Galilee, just as he prophesied.
Catechism Theme: The Resurrection CCC 638-644
Is the Resurrection a historical event or a symbolic image of change? The answer is clear. The Resurrection is both.
No one ever witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus first hand. But, the Catechism points to historical evidence that supports a conclusion that faith in the Resurrection is reasonable. The first sign was the empty tomb. Obviously many other reasons could be given for the absence of Jesus' body. But, if we place this with others pieces of evidence a pattern emerges that points to faith.
The appearance of the Lord caused strong mixed feelings among his first followers. The women's testimony would cause skepticism, even cynicism, among the disciples. The thought of Resurrection was so counter-intuitive it seemed impossible.
Why then did faith in the Risen One flourish? This question points to the second piece of historical evidence for the reasonable nature of faith. The appearance of the Risen Christ caused a chain reaction, resulting in a strength of character, a radical change in fearful people. In the face of this change, to propose the opposite thesis, that the faith of the followers produced the "myth" of the Resurrection, seemed impossible.
How has the Resurrection changed your outlook? Or, if you find it difficult to answer that question, how would the lack of the Resurrection change your view of life? What does the Resurrection add to the quality of life?
Easter celebrates THE event in history. An event so great it changed the shape of humanity forever. Yet we know it only from the conclusions of a few who followed an obscure Jewish master for a relatively short time. But the news of the Resurrection is so good, so explosive, we cannot ignore its implications for life now and after death. We reach back to the witness of those few and hold tightly to their Good News. What they saw, even indirectly, changed them. It changes us now.
Easter continues to celebrate the amazing. For it's power did not stop with the empty tomb.
You have just concluded the celebration of Lent. How will you celebrate Easter for the next ten weeks?