by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised, he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.” Mark 16: 1-7

We can only guess at what motivated the women to head for Jesus’ tomb at sunrise on the morning after the Sabbath. We can’t argue that they were acting on some kind of intuition that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Their puzzling over who would roll the huge stone from the tomb entrance put paid to that idea. Moreover, they could hardly have expected gardeners, grave-diggers or cemetery workers to be on duty at that hour of the morning. But providentially, they arrived at their destination only to be shocked and terrified, first at what they discovered and then by what they were told by “a young man in a white robe” when they dared to venture into the tomb, The young man’s appearance and astounding message require some explanation as does the way in which Mark recorded the women’s action and experience.
To delve into this, we require the insight of scripture scholars who have demonstrated that Mark finished his Gospel only one verse later in the stark style typical of him: “And the women came out and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to a soul, for they were afraid…” (Mark 16: 8). The style of the verses that follow this are so atypical of Mark that scholars have concluded that they were added subsequently by editors who wanted some mention of Jesus’ appearances following his resurrection, and of his Ascension.
In explaining their rationale, these scholars refer to Mark’s choice of words at the very start of his Gospel: “The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.(Mark 1 :1) The fact that Mark did not complete his final sentence ”and they said nothing to a soul, for they were afraid … “ is meant as an invitation to all his readers (us included) to continue telling the Good News of Jesus Christ by the way we live. And isn’t that the intention of Matthew, Luke and John, too? A modern-day Portuguese, Jesuit Scripture Scholar, Silvano Fausti (1940-2015; regrettably he has only been translated into Italian) emphasised Mark’s invitation and challenge in a truly remarkable book entitled Remember and Tell the Good News. Fausti put his teaching into practice by living with a small community of Jesuits on the periphery of Milan, among the poor and marginalised.
He elaborated on the symbolism of Mark’s account of the women venturing into the tomb which had seemingly been opened from the inside. He began by asserting that the day after the Sabbath, when the women went to the tomb, was the very first day of the new creation heralded by Jesus’ resurrection. These women who represented the womb of earthly life dared to enter a cave in the rock that had housed death. The stone that they knew would block them from anointing the body of their dear friend represented the permanence of death; the rising sun of the new creation was a marked contrast to the darkness that covered the earth at the hour of Jesus’ death. These women confronted death in the place where all their hopes had been buried and learned that death had not subdued the Jesus whose body they expected to find. And the news that he was not there was given to them by one who was clothed in the white gown donned by those who were newly baptised. In baptism, we all enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus. That does not mean that we won’t die but that we will be brought into new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The women, who represented all those close to Jesus who thought that their hopes had been totally shattered, were thrown into total bewilderment simply because they had experienced something nobody before or after them could ever dream of – a man, tortured, executed and drained of every drop of blood, raised to life. They reacted as every one of us would in the face of resurrection – they were petrified by fear. Confronted by unbelievably good news, these first of apostles were directed to go back to Galilee where the Good News of Jesus Christ first came to light, and set about helping the disciples to comprehend and make sense of what it meant to be followers of Jesus.
The white-robe young man in the tomb directed the women to go back to Galilee where Jesus had told them he would meet them, and to start again on the road of discipleship in the light of all that had happened in the short period since his final meal with them. And that’s where we come in. We, too, have to learn again and again to pick ourselves up and begin again on the road of discipleship. In today’s second reading from Colossians, we are reminded by Paul that through our baptism we died and rose with Christ to a new kind of life. To grow into appreciating that, we have to take all the time we need to appreciate who Jesus Christ is and to see in his death and resurrection the extent of God’s love for us. As Mark indicated at the start of his Gospel, what he set out to write was only the beginning of the Good News about Jesus. Our challenge is to keep adding to the story through the authenticity of our discipleship. As Silvano Fausti reminded us, our role is to remember and tell the Good news by the way in which we live.
Let us take for our prayer today the words of the entrance antiphon for our Holy Thursday liturgy:
Let us ever glory in the Cross of Christ, our salvation and our hope.
Let us bow in homage to the Lord of life who was broken to make us whole.
There is no greater love as blessed as this, to lay down one’s life for a friend.
Let us ever glory in the cross of Christ and the triumph of God’s great love.