After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene came with the other Mary to inspect the tomb. Suddenly there was a mighty earthquake, as the angel of the Lord descended from heaven. He came to the stone, rolled it back, and sat on it. In appearance he resembled a flash of lightning while his garments were as dazzling as snow. The guards grew paralyzed with fear of him and fell down like dead men. Then the angel spoke, addressing the women: "Do not be frightened, I know you are looking for Jesus the crucified, but he is not here. He has been raised, exactly as he promised. Come and see the place where he was laid. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has been raised from the dead and now goes ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see him.’ That is the message I have for you.” They hurried away from the tomb half overjoyed, half-fearful, and ran to carry the good news to his disciples. Suddenly, without warning, Jesus stood before them and said, "Peace!” The women came up and embraced his feet and did him homage. At this Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid! Go and carry the news to my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, where they will see me.”
Entering the Scene
How familiar is this story?
Three Women at the Tomb by Duccio di Buoninsegna To View a Larger Image, Please Click on the Image
Duccio di Buoninsegna was a 14th century Italian painter in Sienna. His style closely resembles that of Byzantine Art but he is considered one of the founders of Western art as he softened the figures and gave them warmth and emotion.
As with many works of art, this painting combines details from several gospels. The angel "sitting on the stone,” is unique to Matthew’s gospel but there are three women here as in both Mark and Luke, rather than the two in Matthew. Of course the stone is not one which is rolled as per the gospel account. Rather, it follows the byzantine model in portraying a tomb. And of course, this painting depicts the encounter with the angel, not the encounter with the Risen Jesus, Mt. 28:9-10. Interestingly, you will find very few, if any, paintings of this particular Resurrection appearance. Go ahead and look. While you may find some contemporary renditions, which would have been problematic for copyright purposes on this site, I was not able to find this scene portrayed by any masters.
This scarcity, however, speaks to the overall way in which this episode is largely overlooked. The only time it is proclaimed as the Easter reading is during the Vigil of Year A. This is true for the Roman Lectionary, the Episcopal Lectionary and the Common Revised Lectionary. If you do not happen to be at the Vigil on that one out of three years, you will not hear this story at an Easter liturgy. So it is possible that this particular story with its unique details may have been relatively unknown to you. Let’s take a closer look now at those details and at the women.
Getting into Character Who are these women?
Mary Magdalene is well known and will be focused on in our next session, but who is meant by the "other Mary?” For clues, let us look to the other synoptic gospels of Mark and Luke to see who they name.
Mark says (16:1), "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome bought perfumed oils with which they intended to go and anoint Jesus.” Good, so now we know who the other Mary was, but we’ve also added Salome.
Luke writes (24:10), "The women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James.” Oh, so now we’ve confirmed it was Mary the mother of James—yes! But instead of Salmome, we have Joanna, which may not be the whole of it because in the next line Luke says, "The other women with them also told the apostles.” (vs. 11). So, which women went to the tomb that Easter morning? Was it two or three or more?
We are not going to find complete correspondence from one Gospel to the next and that’s good. Each is unique even as each is authentic. But since we are going at this as WITNESSES to Resurrection, it’s important to decide through whose eyes we are doing our looking. And because we are looking at this particular telling of the story from Matthew, let’s decide to settle on this "other Mary,” and let’s have her also be the mother of James—knowing that there may well have been other of the women there as well. They were a tight bunch, these women who followed Jesus.
Mary was, in fact, also with Mary Magdalene on Good Friday as Jesus was buried:
Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in fresh linen and laid it in his own tomb which had been hewn from a formation of rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb. Mt 27:57-61.
This is where the curtain goes down on Good Friday. How long did they stay? Night was coming with all the dangers that darkness brings and this was Sabbath’s eve. They were bound by law to be home—to stay and not to move about ‘til Sabbath’s close, a day away. Still there they sat upon a stone that grew ever colder as the sun withdrew. The chill they felt was not from the stone; it was in their very bones. They sat among the graves, as silent as the graves, and they stared, petrified with grief. They stared at that "huge” stone that had been rolled in place, sealing their Lord, their Love, their Hope, their Life inside. That immutable, immovable stone. The final scrape and thud of its moving into place echoed still. So final, so hard, so heavy. For how long did they stay and stare? We do not know. In the lines that follow, Pilate sends guards to watch the tomb which would have clearly driven them to leave. At some point they made their way through the rocks, along the pathways to someplace they could collapse. Did exhaustion allow them to sleep, if only fitfully, or did sleep allude them? Did they dream? If so, what terrors did their dreams hold?
Somehow after two such nights and an interminable day of enforced immobility, the light of a coming day released night’s hold and they followed where their hearts led. They followed to where they could not not-be. And the curtain goes up on this first encounter of Easter morning. Though all four gospels begin the story with women making their way to the tomb, only Matthew gives us this touching scene where even as they run to tell the others, half overjoyed, half fearful, Jesus appears before them. Suddenly, without warning, Jesus stood before them and said, "Peace!” The women came up and embraced his feet and did him homage. At this Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid! Go and carry the news to my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, where they will see me.”
After all they had been through, they fell to their knees in astonishment and reached out to touch, to embrace, to feel, to know for sure that this was Jesus—no dream, no imagining, no wish, but Jesus with flesh and warmth. And he allows them this comfort, the sensation of skin touching skin, the satisfaction of flesh pressing flesh. What tender mercy and consolation in this kindness.
Bringing It Home
1. Listen to the words from Roll Away the Stone
Were not these the thoughts, with many others, that banged through their brains as the women sat looking at the closed tomb? What are the messages that run through your mind in soul-trying times? What are the messages that repeat and weigh you down? Write an equivalent message alongside the words of the song.
2. The angel rolled away the stone, told them not to fear, that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and sent them to tell the others, then ended, "That is the message I have for you.” How is this the message you need to hear? How does this news roll away the stone and answer all the above messages in your life?
3. The women who followed Jesus provided for him out of their resources, Lk. 8:3. By this we can assume the necessary care of buying, preparing, and serving food as well as cleaning and mending clothing, etc. We also have stories of how women washed and kissed his feet, dried them with their hair, reached out to touch him, and anointed him with oil. The scene of these women embracing the feet of the risen Jesus symbolizes their physical closeness to him, and he to them. In what ways does this physicality challenge you? In what ways does it appeal to you?
4. This "other Mary” is wife, possibly of Alpheus, and mother, of at least James and Joses. It is as follower of Jesus Christ and bearer of his resurrection news that she is known to us. How do you wish to be remembered?
5. In the Eastern Church, instead of Happy Easter, the greeting is, "Christ is Risen!” to which the enthusiastic response is, "Indeed, He is!” How do we convey our hope in the Risen Lord? What about us—our countenance, our speech, our actions, shows Easter joy? What do you do in your home to mark Easter as a religious holiday? Can you think of a simple way to convey to others the joy and meaning of Easter?
Lord, you chose to grace these faithful women with your presence. "Do not be afraid! Go and carry the news…” was your message to them. May we go forward as they did—our feet swift, our hearts full, to share the news that you are alive in our lives!
A personal note from Kathleen
OPTIONAL BONUS: If you enjoyed Betsey's dance of Roll Away the Stone, here's an explanation by Betseyof how to pray this song with dance yourself.