Easter Vigil, Saturday Evening
April 3, 2021
Easter Sunday, Alternate Reading B
April 4, 2021
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 16:1-8, The Message or Mark 16:1-8, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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After a week that began with a bit of non-violent civil disobedience - Jesus' mock "triumphant" entry into Jerusalem while Pilate was parading in on the other side of town - we have a completely different "entrance" from a completely different side of town.
Having, for the first time in a long time, done a careful reading of Jesus' last week (thanks to Borg and Crossan), I have arrived at this day: exhausted by the courage Jesus showed; stupefied by the faithlessness of the Twelve; and thankful for the faithfulness of the named and unnamed women.
It is women who witness the abject humiliation, degradation and torture of Jesus on the cross. It is women who hear him cry, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" It is women who witness his death. It is women who follow and witness where his body is placed. And so, fittingly, it is women who are the first witnesses of the empty tomb, and the first to receive the good news: He is risen!
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome ought to have a galaxy of churches named after them as the first of the post-resurrection era of Jesus' disciples.
Recall that on Wednesday, Mark 14:1-11, an unnamed women had anointed Jesus' head in the custom of preparing a body for burial. She had done this because the normal practice for crucifixion was that the body was left on the cross for birds and animals to eat; with any remains being cast into an unmarked mass grave. Since the whole purpose of crucifixion was to obliterate a person's honour - to kill not only their body, but also what they had stood for - even the dead body had to be desecrated, would not be allowed the honour of a proper burial. The fact that Pilate allows Jesus' body to be removed for burial is remarkable.
However, as it was late in the day when he died - just before the start of the Sabbath which begins at sunset - the women had no opportunity to properly anoint the body before burial.
However, at the first opportunity to do so - just after sunrise - we meet these three women on their way to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus' body.
Now others might have considered doing this and thought better. The body would already be decaying. Surely the smell would not be pleasant. And it was already long after the proper time to do these things - that moment had passed. And besides, as the women themselves wonder, how will they overcome the rather practical dilemma of the stone - the original: "hard rock" that IS an "unmovable object?"
Mark gives no explanation, but simply states that the stone has been rolled aside.
The women look into the tomb and then receive two high honours:
- They are given a vision in the form of a messenger from the spiritual realm. The young man gives them the explanation of why the tomb is empty, "He is risen;" and,
- They are commissioned to be agents - to be messengers themselves - on behalf of Jesus - to go and give instruction to the disciples - and Peter - that is also a reminder to them.
Depending on which translation you use, Mark describes a range of reactions by the women to these events:
- Alarmed / startled / taken aback / astonished / amazed / struck with amazement at seeing the young man.
- They fled / got out as fast as they could / ran away, from the tomb.
- Their heads were swimming / they were stunned / terror and amazement seized them / they trembled and astonishment gripped them / they were confused and shaking all over / they were frightened out of their wits / they were trembling and bewildered as they left the tomb.
- They said nothing to anyone.
The oldest surviving manuscripts end at Verse 8, with the women running away from the empty tomb, too frightened to tell anyone.
Let's not get side-tracked into speculating about whether or not this was indeed the original ending of the text.
Instead, let's ask ourselves the question the ending leaves hanging, and unanswered:
Who, and how, did the good news, "He is risen," get passed on?
THAT is precisely the question we must ask of ourselves this Easter day:
Who, and how, will we today pass on the good news, "He is risen!"
Have a blessed Easter everyone.
(Click here if you'd like to read my annual rant about why it is important to assert that the resurrection is really real.)
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 219-220; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV)
1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 16:1-8 (The Message)
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. 2 Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb. 3 They worried out loud to each other, "Who will roll back the stone from the tomb for us?"
4 Then they looked up, saw that it had been rolled back—it was a huge stone—and walked right in. 5 They saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed all in white. They were completely taken aback, astonished.
6 He said, "Don't be afraid. I know you're looking for Jesus the Nazarene, the One they nailed on the cross. He's been raised up; he's here no longer. You can see for yourselves that the place is empty. 7 Now—on your way. Tell his disciples and Peter that he is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You'll see him there, exactly as he said."
8 They got out as fast as they could, beside themselves, their heads swimming. Stunned, they said nothing to anyone.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.