Courageous and pious women are present in various moments of Jesus Christ’s life. On Good Friday and on Easter Saturday, the Church solemnly read these fragments of the Gospel which tell us about the presence of women – students of Jesus – at the cross and grave of the Teacher, whom they were following till the end. All the Evangelists say unanimously that Risen Jesus appeared to them, women, as the first ones. Surely, in this way, he wanted to respond to their attitude and actions towards Him. It is worth looking at them, so that on these holy days of the Easter period we could experience a similar meeting with the One ‘Who is and Who was and Who is coming’ (Ap. 1.4). For, he solemnly promised all his disciples: ‘Who loves me – I will appear to him. Father will love him and we will come to him and be with him’ (see J. 14.21.23). What is this love of Mary Magdalena and other women like, if Risen Jesus just gave them the most important task: preaching about the Resurrection to the Apostles, the Church and the world? Everyone who would like to participate in this salvation task today, should get to know better how they loved Jesus.

Presence in the hour of darkness

They came to Jesus from Jerusalem, in order to celebrate Passover here – the token of remembrance of liberation from Egypt, from the house of slavery and extermination. They wanted to worship God for His liberating power. They expected with others that Jesus would appear finally in the capital as an awaited messenger of God, victorious Messiah – the King. Whereas they were to participate in His way on the mountain of perdition and were witnesses of his death on the cross. And when Joseph from Arymateia took the tormented body of Jesus down from the cross, ‘the women were present then, who had come with him from Galilea. They looked at the grave and at how the body of Jesus had been laid there. After their return (home – see H. W.) they prepared spices and oils; but according to the commandment, they kept the resting on the Sabbath’ (Luke 23. 55-56). These courageous women from Galilea and Joseph from Arymateia and Nikodem - did a favour to Jesus; they were with Him in the hour of darkness and helplessness with their loving presence. The body of Jesus, tormented by the Roman soldiers and slandered by Jewish fanatics – taken off from the cross – was taken to the grave in the presence of the women. They prepared a place in which the body could be laid with reverence. They did it with dignity and peace, because they must have remembered His words about the grain of wheat, which must be laid into the ground and die completely, so that it would bear harvest.

I love you in a distance – I am looking for you

After Sabbath, as early as they could, ‘on the first day of a week they went to the grave, bringing prepared oils’ (Luke 24.1). The oils with which they want to anoint the body of the Teacher laid in the grave, are the symbol of their tender and sacrificial love. Being directed by love, ‘they are looking for Crucified Jesus’ (see Mt 28.5), as an angel says. Ignoring the darkness of the early morning, a stone and guards guarding the grave, they go to the garden, where the dearest body has been laid. They want to anoint it with the greatest care and without any haste, so as to give the Crucified their purest feelings of devotion and warm-heartedness, as well as their pain, weep, nostalgia and loving memory. They are looking for Him fervently thinking that he was completely helpless and left in loneliness, laid in a closed tomb. He did not stop exits for them even for a while! On the contrary, remaining in a distance of death and the tomb, he becomes closer and dear to them. Loving Him as a Bridegroom from Song of Songs, they are looking for Him as Bridegroom, who passed away, with their great zeal and devotion: ‘I have been looking for my soul for the whole night, I have been looking for Him, but I have not found Him. ‘I will stand up and will walk in the city, in streets and squares, I am going to look for the beloved of my soul’. I was looking for Him, but did not find Him. Guardians, who are guarding the city, saw me. ‘Have you seen the beloved of my soul?’ (Song of Songs 3. 1-3).

Love opening eyes

Having arrived to the garden, the disciples looking for Jesus found a stone removed from the tomb. What is more, they heard an angel who addressed a message to them: ‘He is not here because he rose from death, as he had said. Come and you will see the place where he has been lying. And go quickly and tell His disciples: He rose from death and here he is going to Galilea before you. You will see Him there’ (Mt 28.6-7). They believed in the words of the angel, love opened their eyes immediately. The One whose body is not the tomb any more, rose from death. Not hesitating of asking extra questions, they accept the words of the angel, which get to their loving hearts deeply. Now they want take the words quickly to the scared disciples, who are lost among gloomy thoughts. The words of the revelation, which they learned to accept with love in Jesus’ school, sparked faith in their hearts.

Delight and joy

‘So the quickly went away from the tomb, with fear and great joy and ran to tell His disciples about it’ (Mt 28.8). This quick running is the best measurement of delight and joy which they experienced, faithfully listening to the words of the angel. The evangelist uses the word ‘fear’, but in fact he means the delight with the greatness of Jesus. They must have remembered His words: ‘The Son of Man must be given into the hands of sinners and crucified, but on the third day he will rise from death’ (Luke 24.7).And now they understood that this ‘rising from death’, about which He had said three times before his death, is the work of God, and Jesus is a real Son of Man – a victorious King, having His participation in the majesty and power of God (see Daniel’s Book 7, 9-10).

In the hearts of the women there is also joy about the fulfillment of His promise that on the third day He would rise from death. This promise was so unimaginably great that it seemed something incredible even for Peter. A strict reprimanding from Jesus (‘Go away from my sight, satan because you do not think about what is God’s but what is human!’ (Mk 8.33), was not successful in the case of a fisherman, a strong realist. On the courtyard of archpriest he completely forgot about it and he denied his Master. The women kept this mystery of Jesus in their hearts. And now – this promise recalled by the angel – in one moment became the source of their real joy. These simple words of Jesus, which took on a special power in the empty tomb, filled the women with joy: ‘This is what I told you, so that my joy would be in you, and your joy would be complete’ (J 15.11).

At the feet of the Risen Lord

‘And here Jesus stood in front of them and said: <>. They came up to Him, embraced His legs and paid tribute to Him’ (Mt 28.9). Lord does not wait for them to fulfill the command they received. He knows that they are faithful and will not stop in the mid of their road, nor they will hesitate, but he knows that they will precisely repeat the disciples what they heard and they will say what they saw in the empty tomb. They will not be discouraged by their disbelief. And in order to strengthen them , when they were still on their way to the disciples, He appears to them in His glory. The evangelists use a characteristic sentence: ‘Jesus stood in front of them’. It recalls their attitude at the cross. They were ‘standing’ in front of Him there – who was stripped off everything and crucified on the tree of death. They were embracing Him with their eyes, feelings, prayers and warm-hearted weeping. Now He, as the alive One, ‘stood in front of them’ and is looking at them with love bringing joy. His other words are turning true: ‘Again (….) I will see you, and your heart will be happy and nobody will deprive you of this joy’ (J 16.22b).

Without fear in the presence of Lord

And Jesus said to them: ‘Do not be afraid!’ (Mt 28,11-10a). Mary Magdalena and other disciples who were courageously looking for the Teacher (see J 20,11-18) are the first addressee of the message of Risen Jesus who reveals that he ‘is’ and calls: ‘do not be afraid!’. Being strengthened by Him, they can remove their fear against persecutions and death, which will touch disciples. The Apostles closed a hall where they gathered together after death and funeral of Jesus, like mourners anxious about their future life (see J. 20, 19). Their hearts and souls were paralyzed by fear so much that they did not want to believe the words of the women. Some disciples even hurried to leave Jerusalem like the ones disappointed who were going to Emaus.

But bigger fear was roused in disciples by the absence of Jesus rather than persecutions. During their journey through a lake at night, when He was not with them, and their boat was tossed by waves, and coming to them in the morning and walking on the water, he was calling: ‘Be courageous! I am with you, do not be afraid!’ (Mt 14, 27; see J. 6.20). The disciples loving Jesus, did not imagine further life without Him. The Risen Lord assures them that He will be with them because he has really risen from death. And he will be present as the One who speaks! He is also a kind of bodiless spirit or an apparition because they can embrace His legs! The new presence of Jesus appearing after death has a realistic character, is available for those who are looking for Him courageously and with love, like the women of the Easter Morning (see 1 Cor. 15, 3-5).

Messengers sent by Lord

‘Go and tell my brothers: they should go to Galilea and they will see me there’ (Mt 28.10b). Jesus entrusts these women the most important task: they are to pass the news to others that not only did he rise from death, but they can also see Him! Mary Magdalena, finding the Apostles in the Upper Room, solemnly – on behalf of other women – says: ‘I have seen Lord!’ (see J. 20.18). It is her message which is the most important testimony for them. For, when on the same day in the evening Jesus ‘came and stood among them’ and then he addressed words to them bringing victorious peace, he showed them His hands and wounds, they ‘were happy (….) to see Lord’ (see J.20, 19-20). Now they did not ask any questions, and their disbelief to the women was replaced by joyful faith, coming from their personal seeing and listening to Risen Jesus. It was thanks to the fact that they had been looking at open and glorious wounds and listening to the words of adored Jesus in whom they uncovered a winner of death, hell and satan – simply His Lord. They see the Good Shepherd, having eternal life in his hands for his sheep, and in His wounds they uncover the source of the Spirit of Paraclete – the Giver of Life and Defender.

Witnesses of history

The disciples of Jesus, hurrying with spices to His tomb, their thinking about the stone, sudden change of the perspective and experiences in meeting with the new reality, recalling oneself about the words of Jesus about the Son of Man, finally meeting with living Lord – from the historical point of view these are very important testimonies and very important witnesses. The Evangelists – despite appearances – do not differ, quoting these testimonies, although each of them accentuates something different in them. They know that the testimony of women in the ancient times hardly meant anything. But they could not give it, is Risen Jesus had chosen just these disciples as the first witnesses of His empty tomb, and especially his new life in glory. It was Him who sent them with the Easter message to the Apostles: ‘Go and tell my brothers: they should go to Galilea and they will see Me there’ (Mt 28.10b).

The author is the director of the Biblical Studies Institute of the Catholic University of Lublin; the chairman of the Polish Bible scholars Association; an editor of ‘Verbum Vitae’


"Niedziela" 16/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl