Women find empty tomb, Mark 16:1-8

Becky Rogowski, Hays First Presbyterian Church
Becky Rogowski

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, at sunrise, they went to the tomb. They had been asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back. Then as they went into 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 the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Then they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (NET)

This passage occurs after the Jewish Sabbath, which occurs on Saturdays. Women who were present at Jesus’ crucifixion came to his tomb to anoint his corpse with spices. These are things that his closest disciples should have done, but Mark’s story portrays Jesus’ female followers showing more faith and courage than the men. The different storytellers (Matthew, Mark, and John) have slight variances as to why the women were coming to the tomb. Mark says it is to anoint him with spices; something that should have been done when he was buried. This suggests that perhaps because of how close the Sabbath was, that there wasn’t proper time to prepare him for burial.

As faithful as the women may be, this version shows that perhaps they don’t plan ahead real well. It isn’t until they are almost to arrive at the tomb that they begin to think about how they will move the great big stone that had been placed in front of it. They can’t move it themselves as it likely weighs more than a thousand pounds and the time to think about moving it was before they set out that morning. Does Mark write it this way to make us wonder if Jesus’ disciples stole his body?

An amazing coincidence reveals to the women that the stone has already been moved! On a morning filled with coincidences, there is also someone there who tells them that Jesus has risen and is already gone. I don’t know about you, but I would have really been questioning my own sanity right about then.

When I forget to plan a major piece of a project (moving a thousand-pound stone to get inside the tomb), it doesn’t usually end with two coincidences that work out so neatly. The reality of the message they’ve just been given? Jesus, who had clearly DIED and been BURIED and a THOUSAND pound stone placed in front of the tomb… the “messenger” says he has risen and is gone. He tells them Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee. Oh… OK!? The messenger also states that Jesus’ closest disciples don’t know yet and want these women to tell them. There are definitely red flags all over the place here!

In Mark’s version of Resurrection Day, I have great questions about the man who is at the tomb. Who is this young man who is at Jesus’ empty tomb? He would become suspect #1 to me for the missing Jesus!

I would be glad I was among friends and not alone. In Mark’s story, the man is there solely to give information to the women because he doesn’t do anything and he doesn’t seem to plan on waiting for anything else – he tells the visitors to pass the message along to others. Mark’s version doesn’t have the women actually see or verify that the tomb is empty – they take the man’s word for it. Their faith in what Jesus said was going to happen is shown here by them trusting that it actually is happening. While it may appear on the surface in the final line that they were terrified and afraid and didn’t say anything to anyone as a result – they are actually showing great faithfulness in believing exactly what had been told before. This gives great hope for the future… just as Jesus said it would!

The last words given to the women were, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” These are faithful words. This is what Jesus had promised to do. This really shouldn’t take them by surprise, because he had said that he would go before them to Galilee when he rose from the dead, and he would meet them there. Our messenger at the tomb is here to underscore the reliability of Jesus’ words. He is absolutely trustworthy; he has done exactly what he said he would. His promises can be believed. You can rely on him. This changed the women and brought them great hope.

This brings the Easter message into our own lives. It doesn’t end with the women learning the tomb is empty. There’s a message to deliver. There’s an invitation to let the risen Lord into our lives and hearts. The invitation opens up the change to know him, to feel him, and to have him present in your life. When the door is opened (the stone rolled away from the tomb), the message is available for each of us to invite into our lives and to deliver to others. 

Becky Rogowski is the Generations in Faith Together Coordinator at Hays First Presbyterian Church.