The National Catholic Review
A Jewish day began at one sundown and ended at the next sundown. Thus, Jesus’ death day ends at sundown, as does any preparation of the body for burial; this is counted as day one. Buried by sundown of day one, Jesus’ body cannot be further ministered to on day two, because that day two is a Sabbath (and no such work as preparing the body for interment is allowed). Technically, his body could have been ministered to once sundown of day two happened, but then there is no light by which to see. So, at first light of day three the women come to the tomb to finish care for the body of Jesus. Thus, Jesus rose ’on third day’. Joseph, from the town of Arimathea (about 30 miles NW of Jerusalem), was one member of the Sanhedrin who apparently did not vote to put Jesus to death. He seems to have been a disciple of Jesus, meaning that he had identified Jesus with the coming of the Kingdom of God. As a distinguished Sanhedrist, Joseph had access to Pilate; he asked Pilate’s permission to take down the body of Jesus, rather than leaving this task to insensitive laborers. Pilate’s amazement that Jesus was already dead (before sunset of the day of crucifixion) shows that normally the crucified hung on a cross for more than one day – till he died of suffocation or choking his own bile. That the Centurion assures Pilate that Jesus was indeed dead avoids the interpretation that Jesus never died. Joseph used a linen cloth he had bought and wrapped it around Jesus’ body, which he laid in a tomb cut out of rock – Joseph’s own tomb, as tradition sometimes says? This is the Joseph who, again tradition says, brought the Holy Grail, the cup used at the Last Supper and the object of King Arthur’s eventual searches, to England. Joseph put a very heavy stone across the entrance to the tomb, to protect the body from animals or treasure hunters. Women who had been accompanying Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem watched where Jesus was laid; they are witnesses to assure that he indeed was buried. They come now, on the ’first day of the week’ (our Sunday), at sunrise, to minister to the body of Jesus, a ministering which is not embalming, but the washing and anointing of the body as a form of respect and temporary preservation. The passivity, anxiety and consternation of the two Marys and Salome underscores the fact that only heaven knows that Jesus is already risen; no human being had taken the body away or even knew it was gone. The tomb is open, i.e., the heavy stone is gone, and the women see a young man, at the right side of the tomb and wearing white. All of these details would mean to a person of the first century that a divine messenger is present (sadly, only the right hand is ’good’). The amazement of the women is a natural reaction to their knowledge that they are in the presence of a divine intervention into human affairs. The words of the divine messenger are basically twofold. First, there is the solemn and formal revelation and confirmation that the Jesus whom they seek, who was crucified, is not here. This means to say both that Jesus did die and rise, and that they women hardly knew the reality the messenger announces. Second, they are to tell Jesus’ disciples (note the explicit mention of Peter) that they will see him in Galilee – this, in accord with Jesus’ Last Supper words: "...after I have been raised up, I will go before you to Galilee" (14, 28). The women do not see Jesus; the disciples will. The reactions of the women are not surprising; they are normal when one meets the Divinity. One is to assume that they did tell the disciples as instructed. What their story leaves behind forever, though, is the awesomeness of the event and the final teaching of Mark: the disciple is to carry one without the benefits of the physical presence of the Risen One. True, he has found ways to remain forever with his disciples, but it is also true that now walks more than ever without seeing and hearing him. Will the disciple accept this new presence/absence of Jesus? John Kilgallen, SJ