Slow reading: The witness of women

Mark’s account of the resurrection is very odd, ending in silence, fear and a great big question mark: for the last word of the gospel account is ‘because …’ Most English translations are so uncomfortable with this ending that they drag the ‘because’ backwards, using it to explain the women’s behaviour. Thus we often read, ‘They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.’ This is not Mark’s wording. A more accurate translation ends with ‘They said nothing to anyone. They were afraid, because …’ – inviting you, the reader, to enter into the story, and wrestle with the question and the sense of unknowing. With current events in mind, I invite you to dwell on the story, the women, the fear, and the dangling question, as you slowly and prayerfully read and wonder how it continues to speak into our world today.

1. PREPARE: Make yourself comfortable. Uncross your legs; relax your body; uncomplicate your heart. Ask God to help you surrender to whatever it is that God wants to do in you or say to or through you. Breathe slowly and deeply in, then out.

2. READ: Read the following passage aloud at least three times through, slowly. Listen carefully. Notice anything which captures your attention.

  • When Jesus was crucified, there were women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, and Salome. These women used to follow him and ministered to him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph.

    Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

    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.

    They were afraid—because … (Mark 15:40-47, 16:1-16)

3. REFLECT: Allow the passage, a phrase or a single word or image speak to you. What catches your attention? What emotions do you feel? What questions are bubbling up? Reflect in silence.

4. RELATE: Wonder: In your family, the wider church, or our systems of power, are women usually treated as reliable witnesses? How does this story support, challenge or contradict this culture? How does this story resonate with your own experience, or with current affairs? Why do you think the women were afraid?

5. RESPOND: Arising out of your reflection, pray. Tell God about anything which has emerged. If you feel called to action, ask God to show you/us the next step. If anything emerges which you would like to talk through with a pastor, give me a call and we’ll make a time to chat.

6. REST: Rest now in the Word, who loves you. As you leave this space, if any word, phrase or image persists, carry it with you and let it guide you. If nothing in particular arises, remember this:

  • Be not afraid.

Because Jesus knows how often we are afraid, and how it can immobilize us; and so again and again in the gospel accounts he tells us, Don’t be afraid: I am with you. And at some stage, of course, the women were no longer speechless with fear. Instead, something emboldened them, loosening their tongues to tell the story, and something has led people to keep telling it, generation to generation, all the way down to our little group in a garden just at dawn. I wonder what that something is?

Peace,
Alison

Drawing from the dawn service at Sanctuary, 4 April 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Image shows Women Arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi.

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