Who will roll away the stone?
When you think about it, wasn’t it a bit foolish to set out on a task, knowing there was a major obstacle to accomplishing it. It’s clear from Mark’s Gospel that these women were fully aware that they had a problem when they set out at dawn to anoint the body of Jesus. Nevertheless, they set out to do what they had planned. Everything had been readied. They left at dawn because this was not a task that could wait any longer. Yes, there was a major obstacle, but they went in trust, because the obstacle was not the focus of their mission.
Where were the male disciples who could have helped them with the stone? Perhaps they were still hiding. Maybe they were embarrassed. Possibly they were skeptical of the foolishness of these women attempting to go someplace where they could not enter. Very likely they were unconcerned. After all, they hadn’t been around to see where he was laid. Mark’s passion narrative ends with a clear statement that “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” Matthew’s passion story ends with an image of these women sitting opposite the tomb, as one might linger at a graveside when the crowd moves on.
Mark’s account flows into the resurrection narrative, which begins with the women returning to the tomb, returning for a final act of love, the proper anointing of their loved one. They know where the tomb is, because they had stuck with Jesus right through to the end. Only a stone stood between them and their task. They had seen Joseph of Arimathea roll the stone in front of the entrance, and so they knew that a kind one such as he could also roll the stone away.
However, when the women got to the tomb the worries of their hearts vanished. There was no stone to move, and the task they had prepared for was unnecessary. The open empty tomb thrust them into a new reality, their fidelity and trust and love rewarded with the gift of resurrection. There was not death behind that stone, only life. Now their purpose also changed, from tenders of the dead to proclaimers of the living.
We can take heart from Mary Magdalene and the other women who did not let a mere stone become an impediment to their mission of service to Jesus. Theirs had been a pattern of service all the way from Galilee and this was not the first obstacle they had encountered. We all know women or know of women who did not let the boulders of societal and ecclesiastical convention impede them from following the radical call to do what is right. They may have had to push and shove or even clamber over that stone. But when they did so and faced the new light from the empty tomb they became the proclaimers of a new word of resurrection to the weary, the hungry, the outcast.
Yes, indeed, Jesus had been raised from the dead, but the task of announcing the new day of hope was given to the women who had remained faithful to the end and bore within themselves the authentic witness to the resurrection.
As we celebrate the mystery of resurrection this Easter, let us celebrate the resurrection brought about in the women of Galilee and all the women who have not let a mere stone deter them from their God-given task. Let us pray that we all may be counted in that number.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP