By Rev. Canon Francis Omondi
Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome became more eloquent in silence than words, and we can interpret this in many ways.
The day after Sabbath, of crucifixion, they slithered in the halo of silence to the tomb with choice spices to anoint Jesus’s body. You may be right to think they feared. For the Galileans had become an endangered species in Jerusalem during this Passover. The lynching mobs were still in town, you would be very afraid if had ever been associated with man of Galilee. The haunting voices of the crowds baying for Jesus’ blood vibrated along the narrow streets of Jerusalem. For instance, A sound one makes outside appears to echo the chants: “away with this man…”, “crucify him”, “we have no king, we have no king… but Ceaser”, all this would ring in ones mind.
How could they speak to anyone in Jerusalem without risking being lynched?
In their silence, the women didn’t arrange for the stone movers at the grave. And this troubled them. But how could they trust the men of their company, who themselves were silent and afraid? The men had a distinct silence. A defeated silence. Like when one can tell no more stories. Akin to what Rabbi Hugo Gryn describes when he arrived at Auschwitz, the entrance to the camp was littered with thrown away tefillin. The Jews used the tefillin in daily Jewish prayers. This became a sign that here in the camp, there was no point in praying any longer.
These men from Galilee had been sustained with a narrative on the road to Jerusalem. And they were convinced of what would happen. The Romans would be driven out at last. Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel and be their warrior king. A similar confession was blurted out in disappointment on another road, the road to Emmaus: “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” Faced with Jesus’ passion and death, the disciples had no story to tell of the future. In that crisis moment, when this fragile community was disintegrating, Jesus took bread and blessed it and gave it to them saying, ‘this is my body, given for you’. He gave himself them, to hold them together in their eminent scattering.
The women knew this and something else about the men, they were not to be counted on for the “operation back to the tomb”. Jesus had exposed them during the last supper. That is the night Judas had sold Jesus, Peter was about to deny him, yes, Peter would betray him and the other disciples would flee in fear.
So, you get the picture on why the women were silent.
In words of Paul Simon, these women dared disturb the sound of silence. The stone at the opening yielded in the naked light of the angle. And the tomb talked without speaking. The women heard without listening. They were writing songs that voices never share.
The radiant tomb broke the silence:
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you,”
but the women remained silent. Why aren’t the women rejoicing Christ is risen? You wonder. Can’t they see that the tomb is empty?
St. Mark entered the women’s silence. See how he ends the most dramatic of the Gospels with the very brave women silent. Mark observes “… they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” He had seen a lot that weekend, enough to narrate the story from the last supper to the empty tomb. Yet he refuses to end this Gospel with an explosion of Joy at the resurrection.
The women’s puzzling sound of silence spoke to Mark’s readers in Rome. Mark wanted his readers to discover themselves in the silent women. The disciples in Rome had created a narrative for the future. The second coming of Christ. This hope intensified with the increase in persecution by Nero in AD 60s. Peter and Paul were murdered, the Roman Christians were filled with dismay and distrust, with betraying one another to avoid persecution, Jesus must be eminent. But he did not come.
Though Jesus was not present in the tomb, the women and his followers could still meet him, said the angel: “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.” Mark wished his readers embrace the women’s hope and live this absence of Jesus with joy.
The silent women still speak to us who seek to find the Savior. Jesus is not in the tomb he is found in his word and in his promises, for he has gone out to Galilee. Suspending gathering in church buildings to curb the spread of coronavirus has opened us to the notion of Jesus’ presence outside.
“He is not here” was the angel’s counsel to the women we ought to heed. We may not meet Christ in our familiar places because he has arrived at the rendezvous, and there he is waiting for us. Jesus is locked down with the poor. He is there with those who suffer hunger because they have not been at work. Jesus is with the sick who have no healthcare. He is with those violently oppressed and made poor by corrupt state policies. How do we whisper in silence when Jesus is already among the poor waiting for us?
Photo by Robin Wyatt for TSM relief 2013
The devastating impact of COVID 19 has exposed the façade, and we can’t hide our violence on the poor. Those that teach blind obedience to corrupt leaders either misunderstand Romans 13:1 or are attempting to suppress Christian righteous action. Who would but the church to question and act on these issues? Bonhoeffer said, “Silence in the face of evil, is itself evil.” As we arrived at the triumphant Easter, we may like the women, be locked in silence if fear has made us blind. Such fear may extinguish our glow. If the church must be a true witness for Christ in crisis time, it must find courage. The silent courage of the women that led them out.
In going out, therefore, we will meet Jesus as friends. We do not try in our strength to merit life after death, as a reward. But his life wells out of us, enabling us to live by the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst after justice, the pure in heart, the peace makers, and so on. For such is where the path begins of eternal life now and eternal friendship.
So every time we gather as a community to celebrate the Eucharist, we remember the moment in which Jesus faced death and disintegration when the disciples had lost what to say about where they were going. We do so with words that come from the Gospels, which were written in the light of the second significant loss of a story about the future when Jesus didn’t return when they expected. The COVID-19 crisis has wrecked our characterization of Christ. It has made tombs of our church institutions, releasing Jesus into the society. Can we imagine the open tomb, with Jesus is recasting his church in the society, in families, among the suffering poor? And raising priests of all believers, eviscerating the clergy centered ministry that we have known for long?
As this Gospel ends with the angel’s initiation to carry on the journey. The end of the gospel is not the end of the story, but the beginning of the journey, our journey. The women walked it in silence. We must keep on walking our walk.
Canon Francis Omondi is a Priest of the Anglican Church of Kenya, of All Saints Cathedral Diocese.