Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified

fresco, Mileseva Monastery, 1234

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. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 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. 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.’ 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.

And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

- Mark 16:1-20

This passage begins with the women who are going to the tomb, to anoint Jesus' body. Jewish custom was to anoint, not to embalm. They purchase the spices themselves, and - in accordance with their devout disposition - have waited until after the sabbath is over before doing so. As we reviewed in yesterday's commentary, these are women who have followed and served and helped throughout Christ's ministry. Mary Magdalene is a follower who has been healed through exorcism, Mary the mother of James and Salome are mothers of apostles (respectively, of James the Less and John and James Zebedee). Each of these women has been with Jesus through his ministry in Galilee and has followed him to Jerusalem. It is telling that while the apostles are scattered, it is these women who boldly do their work of anointing, continuing to follow and to minister to Christ.

If we understand this kingdom to be one in which "the least of these" are of the greatest significance, then we must understand from these gospels the importance given to these women. The great apostles and disciples are in disarray, in hiding and in mourning, but these women continue openly to serve, following Christ and declaring their love by their acts even into death. In the Christian sense of understanding, the acts of these women must be seen as those who rank equal to the apostles, even if they are not called so. Their action of anointing, along with the woman at Bethany, will not be forgotten.

When they arrive at the tomb, the stone is rolled away! This was a sign to them that the tomb is empty. They walk in and are greeted by a man dressed in white. This, as we know, is an angel, a herald, a messenger. Jesus has risen -- see the place where he was. They are to go proclaim the news to the apostles - and Peter - that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee and there they will see him. Again, we must recall that our Christian orientation is to understand that these women are rewarded as the first to whom the good news is revealed. The verses 9-19 have been omitted from the daily reading today, but they can be found here. Although not always included, they have always been considered to be canonical. In those verses, we are told that Mary Magdalene, out of whom was cast seven demons, is the very first person to whom Christ appears in his risen form. Her faith has marked her place forever in this sense, with a special place in the memory of the Church.

We must also note that when the angel speaks to the women, he tells them that they must inform the apostles "and Peter" of the news of Jesus' resurrection. "And Peter" informs us of the forgiveness specifically noted after Peter's denial, and it is a message for everyone of the love of God and the place for each of us who sincerely wish to share in God's love through repentance. Participation means relationship; metanoia or "repentance" will always be a matter of turning back again our minds and hearts to this place of relationship, reconsidering and returning to right releatedness to God and community. We remember Jesus' pronouncement of the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind, to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we return to the Lord in relationship through repentance, it is these commandments we are following that establishes us once again in right-relatedness. That Jesus tells them to go to Galilee, a place where many Gentiles lived, where he will meet them, is the sign that this mission is spread to the entire world. Everyone is included in this good news.

And finally, the great extension of the commission: Jesus, were are told, ascends to the right hand of the Father. He is seated in his place as Lord and Son, yet he is still with us as our brother who has shared our lives and shares a place in our hearts. The mission upon which all are sent is one in which Jesus continues to work together with those who follow and believe. "The least of us" must continue to work and live in faith, and remembrance. One never knows what an act of faith may lead to in its significance, in this kingdom where the last shall be first. We recall the torn curtain in the temple, signifying the relationship established, the veil between God and man opened and grace extended. Our gospel of Mark ends here.

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