The gospel proclaims that there is no place for triumphalism in the Christian community, for it is a gospel of “little ones,” of women who were considered so insignificant that their witness had no social or religious validity. By the end of the day of crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had edged closer to the tomb, their hearts as heavy as the stone rolled in front of it, their hopes as dead as the tortured bundle of flesh and bones that Joseph of Arimathea laid there.
For two days they have nursed their pain of life without Jesus. On the third day, “just as the sun was rising,” just as light begins to mingle with darkness and overcome it, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome come to the tomb to do that something more to the hurried and minimal burial rite. They come with spices to anoint the body of Jesus and ask the desolate question of women who have no men around to roll away the stone. But then they see that the stone has already been rolled away and the tomb is open. Entering it, they find that there is a man there — a young messenger of God.
What he announces to them means that the tomb is no longer a place of death; it is the place for beginning to talk of life.
After he has offered the women the assurance that Jesus of Nazareth has been raised, he gives them their mission:
to go and witness to the disciples
that Jesus is going before them into Galilee.
Peter especially is mentioned for he is now a different kind of “little one” whose pride and self-assurance have been cut down by his betrayal and watered by his bitter tears.
Galilee was the place of the first call, the first following, the springtime of discipleship. Now after the season of failure and death, the disciples are called back to a second springtime. The risen Jesus goes before us, as well, to call us back with compassionate and forgiving love to our “Galilee”: to a second, a third, an untold number of seasons and places of new life.
The gospel concludes with the women running in fear for their lives. This is our great consolation, as it was for the persecuted Markan church: that in spite of all our failures and fears, like the women at the tomb, we too have to entrust ourselves to faith in the message that Jesus of Nazareth is risen.
Jesus is not with us as he was before, because he has gone ahead of us. He has reached the risen and glorious end of his journey, and waits there for us to be with him. The absence of Jesus is promise, not failure. The very fact that we have “a gospel according to Mark” witnesses to a believing community in which the women did eventually struggle through their own terror and found their faithful voices.
For over two thousand years, down to our own times, fearful and fragile communities have found hope in the affirmation of God’s power working in our weakness through the Crucified and Risen One whom we celebrate on this night of nights. We have been liberated from our fear, and now joyfully witness with our lives to “the good news of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.”