Saturday, April 23, 2011
It is standard enough when reading the Gospels to contrast the behavior of the apostles, and indeed of all the men who followed Jesus apart from the disciple whom Jesus loved, with that of the holy women who followed him. Among the apostles most infamously numbered the one who betrayed him, but also can be found Peter's attempt to bypass the Cross by the force of his sword, his triple denial, and his painful absence from Golgotha. Indeed, all of the men save John, and perhaps Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, either fled or were at least absent at that final hour of Jesus' agony, and even Joseph and Nicodemus had been secret followers of the Lord. It was the women — Mary, his mother, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome — who stayed with Jesus to the end, tended to his broken body, ministering in the few hours they had before the sabbath, and who then returned very early in the morning, the first day of the week. The women, the common wisdom goes, kept faith, where the men were slow to believe.
If that is what we have led ourselves to believe, the Evangelist Mark quickly disabuses of us that notion. Mark reveals to us just what was on the mind of those women that early Sunday morning: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulcher? No less than the men, these women disciples had failed to understand what Christ had been teaching from the beginning of his ministry, and ever more urgently as he came to Jerusalem, that the Christ must be betrayed, must suffer and die and the hands of wicked men, and be raised on the third day. Yet, here they come, imagining that they are going to tend to a corpse. Their illusion is no less powerful, and no less confused, than Peter's, who thought to defend Jesus with a sword. They think that, while Jesus has failed, they might perhaps, by their own efforts, at least dignify his body which had been so cruelly mistreated.
Today, however, is not the day of recriminations. Peter was wrong, and so were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome. None of them was able to move from his experience and understanding to the mystery of Easter morning. The good news is that none of them had to! Apart from all their efforts, apart from all their failures, apart from their misunderstandings, they saw the stone rolled back. Into the confusion of their lives, the inadequacy of every human effort to cross the gulf between the broken world and the majesty of God, comes the empty Tomb, the stone rolled away, and the proclamation of the angel: Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified: He is risen, He is not here.
The joy of the resurrection, the joy of the empty Tomb, is the discovery that Jesus has anticipated even our failures to embrace him, our gaps in insight, our rebellions and denials. Jesus has seen what we would not see, has known how we will still want to make right what we know is beyond our power to correct. Yet, where we expected a great stone we could not move, we find the way already cleared. Where we thought we would have to puzzle our way through a mystery, there was the angel to announce to us what we both need to know and long to hear.
To the fearful, the empty Tomb is a message of courage and hope — Be not affrighted. To the seeker, it reveals the one who answers his questions and satisfies his desires — ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. To the doubter and the skeptic, it stands as an unconquerable witness to the truth of the Gospel — He is risen, He is not here; behold the place where they laid him. To the sluggish, it spurs on to action — But go, tell His disciples, and Peter, that He goeth before you into Galilee. To every aching heart, it promises the comfort of the presence of Jesus — there you shall see him. And to those who have received the faith but have wavered in their trust, it rekindles a confidence in his revealed word — as He told you.
The angel at the empty Tomb speaks to more than three women bearing myrrh. He speaks to every human soul, from the one who has lived long in the faith, to the newly baptized, to the seeker, and to those far off. The Lord is truly risen as he said. Death is conquered and the reign of sorrow is ended. Rejoice! Alleluia!