An Easter Tale – The Women at the Empty Tomb
For it is women who are the most sensitive and the first to see the truth; even when men see further, women see first. And truth is sometimes not the presence of things, but rather the absence of things.
So it was with the empty tomb which was truth revealed by negation. Revelation by absence, not presence. For Abraham’s God is an invisible deity, and one should look for Him where He is not. And only with women could the time-warping reality be protected, encapsulated in a safe cocoon of tradition and ritual. While the men lamented the death of their master – the one later called Jesus Christ, it is the women who tended the grave.
Motivated no doubt by a stirring of the heart more tangible than that of any man, for women are predestined to accept the quickening and so they feel stronger the mourning of loss. They came to the tomb, as they had done in the two days prior to the Lord’s death. But here they were surprised, for a strange event had taken place, an event that would test the boundaries of reality and turn the world entire upside down.
It was an event that would divide mankind. For some would see that which was invisible, they saw the missing piece, and others would see only that one cannot prove a negative. This stark division is true to this very day.
It is difficult in our fantasy and science fiction saturated epoch – not so dissimilar after all from superstitious times – to appreciate that men and women of reason with their feet firmly planted on the ground and their heads not lost in the clouds but rather filled with the concrete boundaries of that which is real, tangible and possible have always walked this earth. And so it was with the followers of Jesus Christ. These were not unintelligent ignorant and uneducated simpletons. Oh there were a few among them who were lacking in the full measure of reason, but that is true always, there is no doubt of that.
But the bulk of them were merely humble and good folk, which is to say, they were also wary and suspicious of charlatans and tricksters, for naiveté rarely goes along with reason, and the reason is the ever-present companion of goodness and morality and the backbone of humility. The followers of Jesus Christ were a worldly bunch, jaded and cynical and exhausted by a giant multi-ethnic, multi-religious and intensely politicized and economically advanced civilization. They had seen it all, heard it all, and knew every nuance of manipulation, so they were not ready to believe in silly tales, they only believed that which they had no reason to doubt.
The revolutionary preacher named Jesus Christ had died. Crucified on the Imperial Roman implement of execution – the cross, He had suffered and finally expired. His execution was the culmination of a farcical trial, at which He had been sentenced to death by the Roman Governor of Palestine, Pontus Pilate. He had preached peace and love and re-interpreted the ancient scriptures of the Jews to enable all of the worlds of the Roman Empire to partake in them. In doing so he promised an afterlife of paradise to those who led a moral-ethical life, not merely to heroes or those approved by the Senate, but to any man, woman and child who placed goodness ahead of ambition, chastity ahead of passions of the flesh, and the lowest and most wretched of mankind ahead of the most privileged and the most powerful.
His greatest and most revolutionary preaching was that though sin may be inevitable, forgiveness is always possible. To get the attention of the rabble mob He performed miracles, doubted by the cynics, but witnessed by a jaded and over-stimulated crowd who tested Him time and time again until they realized that His miracles from healing the sick to multiplying food to finally raising the very dead themselves back to life were no mere slights of hand but the real thing. Here walked a magician among then who asked for no personal glory, no money, no enrichment, a magician who only wanted to give salvation and hope to mankind. How could such a man be allowed to live, if salvation is in the hands of an individual, the state has no power left?
He was arrested and put on trial for sedition and incitement to rebel. They had whipped him and spat on him and so harrowing was his torture that the death was to the eyes of the Romans a mere afterthought. They took Him up on Golgotha where the Romans had erected three crosses and along with two other criminals – less political than he, mere murderous bandits – He was affixed to His cross, the distinction being that while His companions in death were tied up, He was nailed. They drove the nails into His flesh, into His wrists and feet. They mocked Him and finally crowning Him with a crown made of the thorn-bush they added a small plaque proclaiming His supposed royal position, undoubtedly the real reason the Romans thought He was being executed – for who in his right mind would portray a kingdom for the wretched in the sky without an ambition to make a real kingdom here on earth. They stood the cross up, speared Him to hasten His demise, then the centurions played dice while dividing up his silken clothes. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” He had said as He hung dying on the cross. But that is history, what came next is in dispute.
It is a testament to the strangeness of the tale that this one execution out of many was to be remembered. The Romans executed criminals all the time using their favorite method, crucifixion. They treated thieves, murderers, rapists, and rebels as part of the same criminal class. Some violate the laws of the state to enrich themselves, some to give vent to their dark desires and some to overturn the authority of the state. The last of course are the most dangerous. How little did they understand? Had Jesus Christ been a mere political revolutionary He would have made good on His promise to establish utopia here on earth.
He would have seized military and political power through force and subterfuge and then crowned Himself emperor and given alms to the poor. Many before Him had done just that. But that would mean that the miracles He performed were mere stratagems, a means to an end. No one in power actually believed in the veracity of the miracles, just in their performance.
Thus a simple execution would solve the problem. Sure, they thought: he can make the people believe he resurrected Lazarus from the grave, but, if He is really a wizard, let him come back himself after we execute Him. It is a simple equation. If Jesus Christ did not come back from the dead, He is not the Son of God, and His message has no meaning, for anyone can preach the hope of an afterlife, only the Son of God by coming back from the dead has proven that His pathway is not a pipe-dream.
For once He had died and was turned over to His grieving Mother and a few of Her family and His friends, His disciples scattered, for they were men. Men fear for their flesh. Men fear for their lives. For a man to be unafraid of pain and death he needs proof. Only women are fearless of pain and death. It is encoded in their genes. They are born unafraid to die or to suffer in pain. For how could it be otherwise? Every woman knows how dangerous childbirth is, and how painful the act of giving birth is.
Since uncounted eons, women have watched their sisters, their daughters, their mothers, writhe in agony giving birth to men, writhe in blood and gore giving birth to future generations, to other women doomed to the same fate. And as the women have watched the act of birth so have they watched the associated act of death. For as surely as a woman gives birth to a child, so it is common that she dies in the process of giving life. Yet never have they shied away from this suffering or from this danger. For women are the carries of life. Their wombs are the incubators of all of humanity, for every woman is a crucible, and the steel of men’s souls is forged within her heart. So the women did not fear, neither death nor pain and least of all blood, for how could a woman fear that which is so intrinsically a part of her?
They buried Him in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea – and the Romans placed guards at the site to watch over Him lest His followers or those that were His enemies wished to cause some scene. They covered the entrance to the tomb with a massive stone causing great commotion and noise and requiring many men to pull and push to place it in the right position. Thus the tomb sealed they left Him there to rot away, letting the tormented flesh covered in a simple white linen cloth be devoured by the worms and returned to the earth as dust, as is the destiny of all human flesh from which the spark of life has left. This was the Roman proof that this promised Messiah was in fact nothing more than a charlatan revolutionary. The dead disintegrate and only their name remains until that too is worn away by time and is finally silenced with the passing of those who knew and those who chose to remember. He was to be forgotten.
While the men slept, or wept hidden away, or feared or drank their sorrows away, the women kept vigil by the grave of Jesus and came that morning as they had before to pay homage to Him. Their hearts raced as they saw the stone of the massive tomb cast asunder, the Roman guards could be seen among the bushes asleep and though the women shook them roughly they did not wake. Surely the women feared the worst. That those who hated Jesus had stolen the body to defile it or to mock it further not giving the dead their justified rest. They approached cautiously – the massive stone that had been so unceremoniously cast aside.
Mary of Magdala held the hand of Miriam, the Mother of Jesus Christ, both had been at the execution two days past, both had seen the suffering Jesus had endured and both had witnessed his death, the taking down of his limp body from the cross and his entombment in this very grave. There were according to some, several more women including Salome the Wife of Zebedee who kept their distance. Mary of Magdalene who took the initiative walked into the tomb.
It was dark, the only light coming in from the outside. It took a moment for Mary of Magdala to get used to the darkness of the cavern hewn out of the rock that served as the tomb, but even as her eyes adjusted, so did her hearing pick up on the presence of something missing. She looked into the pitch black. As she moved so did the light scatter and filter in more efficiently as she no longer blocked the entrance. Here she saw nothing. It is the absence that confirms.
It is important to note over and over again that she saw nothing, for the tomb was empty, and the body of Him whom they laid to rest there was gone. She was dismayed. Able to now see with perfect clarity she groped around the chamber hoping for some explanation. She was an intelligent woman not prone to jumping to conclusions, nor to any supernatural explanations. She was educated and calm of the upper caste. She knew that with perception and care she would discover some evidence to explain what had indeed taken place. As so she searched and she prayed, to succor from God that which she most needed now strength. Finding nothing she stood up and left. Miriam came into the chamber after her, all the women had seen with their own eyes, that the tomb was indeed empty. They did not know what to do. This seems reasonable, they were baffled as the inexplicable confronted them. It is just then that two beings appeared before them. They were dressed in white garments of luminous intensity.
It has been said that Mary of Magdala said this to Simon Peter later, but it seems a strange thing to say since she already knew. It seems reasonable that she said it instead to the two luminous beings, the angels who had come upon the women when all hope seemed lost.
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
But the angles were not concerned, “Do not be alarmed!” said one of them to the women, and to their protestations, the second added: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! For it has been foretold by him while he was with you still in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” The third day was upon them.
The women left, but soon began to run and as they departed the site they came upon a figure on the road surrounded by the same luminous white as that of the angels, yet nude, like a child born to the world, and here they fell to their knees for it was Jesus Christ himself and they knew him by his face and the wounds on His body, the one whom they saw tortured and crucified and who died just two days past, the one whom they saw taken down dead from the cross and buried in the very tomb they had just left having found it empty.
“Greetings. Be not afraid!” He said to them, and they kissed His hands. “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” This they did, proclaiming to the depressed men that they had found the tomb empty and saw that the master had indeed risen.
But the apostles did not believe their accounts even though they had witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus, for it is written in the Mishna “From women let not evidence be accepted; because of the levity and temerity of their sex.” And yet, it was true. They ran to the tomb to see for themselves. Simon-Peter, the first among the apostles got to the tomb first and seeing with his own eyes the empty tomb and finding the discarded linen in which Jesus was buried wondered at the great mystery of it all. They gathered in Galilee awaiting Him as the women had stated He would come, and He came then to them in the flesh and one by one they believed, all except Thomas who doubted even what His eyes told him.
This is the day we celebrate at Easter, a day that marks a division between those who believed and understood that there is hope and know that death has been defeated and those who still doubt and are left hopelessly in the dark fearing that death is the end of all.
Death does not exist. Happy Easter.