When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. (Mk 16:1; 5-6)
The Sabbath rest had ended which meant that Jewish law now permitted the disciples of Jesus to attend properly and reverently to his dead body which was laid in the tomb just two days before on Friday. The three women brought fragrant oil to anoint him (Jn 12:7). They came to do their pious duty to bury the dead (Tob 1:17) as this was thought to be contributory to the general resurrection. They had not yet any sense of an individual resurrection – of one man rising from the dead on his own power. If Mary Magdalene and Martha’s sister Mary are the same person (as held by the Latin Fathers) then at least one Mary arriving at the tomb of Jesus would have seen Lazarus rise. Yet, Lazarus did not raise himself.
The women found the tomb empty and were “amazed”. No doubt they were amazed at the angelic messenger whose task it was to say nothing more of his Lord’s whereabouts than, “he is not here”. Further, who would not be amazed upon finding the tomb of a loved one open and empty? The Gospel of John tells us that Magdalene reported the event to Peter and John whom she accompanied back to the tomb; and after they departed, “Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping” (Jn 20:11). She could not help fearing that someone had taken the body of Jesus (Jn 20:13). Sadly, Mary Magdalene was not uplifted from the angel’s message that Jesus had been raised. She only knew that He was “not here”, and she desired so dearly to be near Him.
To assist us in our Sacred Scripture meditation on this glorious Easter Sunday, we have placed on our bulletin cover an image of a work by William Bouguereau entitled The Holy Women at the Tomb (19th Century). Here we see the two Marys and Salome “utterly amazed”. The woman standing needs to brace herself against the tomb wall, while the woman with her back to us peeks into the tomb with fear and hesitation. Yet, the woman in the middle who we may assume is Mary Magdalene is in full adoration posture with eyes attentive, mouth open ready to praise God, and hands folded in prayer. Through the opening of the tomb we see the preternatural herald of God, no doubt the primary source of amazement.
In this Neoclassical work, with its well squared and marbled architecture, Bouguereau creates a contrast between the ladies in mournful black and the interior of the tomb filled with smoky light as when bright rays illuminate an incensed sanctuary – most symbolic of the presence of God.
“Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” (Mk 16:1; 5-6)
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services