May 11, 2014

Look and See

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered 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 of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
[And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.]
[[Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.]]

Today we again meet the women who came to the tomb. This time, in Mark’s Gospel account, it is only 3. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome are listed. Salome is traditionally believed to be the mother of “Zebedee’s children” (James & John), not the step-daughter of Herod whose dancing led to the death of John the Baptist. Some sources consider her to be Jesus’ aunt and Mary’s sister-in-law.

In Mark’s account of the Resurrection, the sun had risen, so those coming to the grave were able to see more clearly. In John’s account it was still dark and in Luke it was barely dawn. Here though, according to Mark, the sun had risen. The women can look and see things clearly. Their encounter can call us to look more closely at our response to the Risen Lord.

As they go to the garden, the women ask one another the burning question, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ It’s a valid concern, but one that doesn’t stop them from going to the garden to offer service to their Lord. The stone covering the opening would have been large and very heavy and would have fit in a groove in front of the cave. It would not have been easy to move.

As they round the corner, the trio looks up and sees that the stone “which was very large, had already been rolled back.” They must have looked at each other in surprise, wondering who else had come to the tomb before them. They know that the men who had followed Jesus are not likely to be coming to the tomb. They are too busy staying out of sight of the authorities.

There is no time for discussion. Instead they [bravely] enter the tomb where they look and see “a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side.” Mark says “they were alarmed.” It is certainly very odd that there is a complete stranger sitting in a tomb in the garden. This was the grave where they expected to find the body of Jesus. No wonder they were alarmed or afraid when they meet this unexpected personage. Probably they stare at him in amazement, awe, and fear.

The body of Jesus is not in the grave, instead the stranger speaks to them. What he says is even more confusing. ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.’ (Mark 16:6) I’m not sure that these would have been reassuring words if I had been with the women. In fact they are a bit confusing. The three women probably looked at each other in amazement and not a little fear. Perhaps one of them said, ‘what does raised mean?’

As shown in this 1590 image Holy Women at Christ´s Tomb by Anibal Carracci, the figure in white seeks to explain by saying, ‘Look, there is the place they laid him.’ In the early morning light they can clearly see that Jesus’ body is no longer there. I wonder if they thought that this stranger had taken the body elsewhere or if they were just too stunned by events to even do more than just stare. They were looking at the empty tomb, but they were not seeing the deeper meaning.

The stranger, though, has instructions for them, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7) With these words, the angel helps them understand that the Risen Lord has not disappeared or been stolen, but will meet them and be seen by them.

In verse 8 we are told, “They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Verse 9 redeems their actions by saying that “All that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter.” According to Mark the women were too afraid and amazed at first to tell anyone anything, but then they do go to Peter and the others. Unlike in John and Luke, Peter does not go to the tomb himself.

The alternate ending for Mark in verse 9 adds something like a postscript that reminds us of John’s account. “Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.” (Mark 16:9-11)

In Mark’s Gospel it is the women alone who look and see the empty tomb. It is the women alone who then go and tell. What is the difference between looking and seeing in our faith lives?

You can look at a picture or at scenery even while thinking of something else. You can look at a person and not really see them. We can look at the Bible and even read it, without seeing the meaning. We can attend church and enjoy the music and sights and sounds of worship without becoming engaged. We can gather with friends for fun and look at what is happening, even while being distracted by our phone or what someone else is saying across the room.

It is only when we really stop and see the scenery that we notice and observe details that escaped our cursory looking. When we pause and really see a person, whether they are friend or stranger we can understand their joys and needs more fully. When we internalize the message from the Word of God in the Bible and in worship we will meet the Lord. And it is in full, conscious communion with friends that we really see and love them.

In Isaiah 6:9-13, the people are warned that they are becoming oblivious to God because they (and we) “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand. Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”  
Jesus himself references this citation in Matthew 13:10-15 and again in Mark 4:11-12, Luke 8:10 and John 12:39-41. Clearly it is important to really see and be aware of the works of God in us and in all around us. What or who do you look at but not see?

With the JJ Weeks Band and the Colton Dixon lyrics we can sing and pray “Let them see You in me
Let them hear You when I speak, Let them feel You when I sing, Let them see You, let them see You in me.”

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