While his male disciples abandoned him, Christ’s female followers witnessed his crucifixion & his burial “from a [safe] distance” (Mark 15:40-41,47).
While after his execution the disciples of John the Baptist came to take his remains for burial (6:29), the disciples of the crucified Jesus were too afraid or ashamed to come forward to do the same.
“The fearlessness of Joseph of Arimathea in requesting the body of Jesus is noted in contrast to the cowardly dispersal of the disciples. Joseph does what the disciples of Jesus should have done. He courageously associates himself with the crucified Jesus & gives him a proper burial.” (Stephen Binz)
“Within Judaism the anointing of a body for burial was the highest corporal work of mercy because it made those who performed it unclean themselves.
“To anoint the body of a condemned criminal, especially one who was crucified, was seen beyond the limit of service, for many Jews believed that such a one was abandoned even by God.” (Megan McKenna)
Joseph supplied what was lacking in the fearful disciples & lived up to his name, Yosef (Hebrew): may He add.
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body” (16:1).
Perhaps their reflective silence in observance of the Sabbath strengthened the women to do a belated work of mercy. Thus the first recipients of the Easter message (“He has risen”) were women who attempted an act of mercy.
Even belatedly, “we must go forth, after we have worshipped, into the tombs & cities & their outskirts to make sure that all those who have suffered, even killed, are treated with respect & honor” (McKenna).
On their way to the burial place, the women asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (16:3). Perhaps they were like Filipinos who could add under their breath, “Ba(t)hala na (Let God take care of it).”
Indeed God already took care of it. In their attempt to perform an act of mercy toward the body of Christ trampled by sin, they would discover the Resurrection already at work.
Today, we can discover in acts of mercy, in feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, sheltering the homeless, employing the jobless, generating decent jobs, empowering the powerless, the Resurrection already at work.
Inside the tomb, the women find a young man dressed in a white robe who says to them, “He has risen...Go tell his disciples & Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (16:5-7)
The young man in a white (baptismal) robe represents every baptized person who is empowered to proclaim the Easter message so much so that the (spectacular) appearance of the Risen Christ is unnecessary.
Indeed there is no appearance of the Risen Lord with the original ending of Mark’s gospel (16:8): “Trembling & bewildered, the women went out & fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Why did the earliest gospel end this way?
“Mark leaves the Gospel incomplete because the good news of Jesus is incomplete. It must be taken up & proclaimed by people in every generation.” (Binz)
Why were the women afraid? Were they fearful of rebuke or retribution from the Lord, who in his suffering they left alone surrounded by enemies who taunted & demonized him?
The disciples were told to go (back) to Galilee, where Jesus’ ministry started, to rise above their shameful cowardice & to begin anew.
Were the disciples afraid to start anew after shameful failure? Were they afraid to go back to ministry in a poor region like Galilee, to take up the cross again, to follow a Suffering Messiah?
The Easter message has reached our generation. Thankfully, the women overcame their fearfulness, and the men listened to the women & proceeded together to where everything began.
“On the road back to Galilee [144 kms through rough terrain] they became a believing community,” an Easter community (McKenna).
What could have been discovered, discussed & understood on the rough road?
“God’s promise was never that life would be fair. God’s promise was that we won’t have to confront the pain & the unfairness alone.
“The 23rd Psalm doesn’t say...‘I will fear no evil because people get what they deserve & I’m a good person.’” (Harold Kushner)
This Easter, may the following be gifts we discover & cherish:
1. Acts of mercy by the baptized reveal Christ’s resurrection here & now.
2. We can discover the Resurrection whenever we dare start anew after (great) sin or failure.
3. Easter people proclaim in word & deed the good news that nobody will have to confront pain & unfairness alone.
Have the “women’s story” reached me to begin anew?