Year B: Easter Vigil

The Resurrection of Jesus.

Mark 16:1-7

When the Sabbath was over Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. As you move through this life, what new meaning does Jesus’ death and resurrection have for you personally?
  2. “Do not be amazed!” Do you still find yourself “amazed” at the resurrection even though Jesus told us he would rise?
  3. Where in your life have you caught yourself looking for Jesus or God in “empty places” where he cannot be found? Explain
  4. What does it mean for you, to be a witness to the resurrection for others? How do you do this?
  5. God brings life out of death. We are always dying and rising, where are you seeing “resurrection moments” in your life or in the lives of others this Easter? Explain


Biblical Context

Mark 16: 1-7
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

We have no story in which someone claims to have witnessed the resurrection. However, there are two kinds of stories that are claiming that the resurrection occurred: empty tomb stories and post-resurrection appearance stories. At the Easter Vigil during Cycle B we read Mark’s empty tomb story.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome approach the tomb. Mark has earlier told us that these women had watched the crucifixion from a distance and had followed Jesus to Jerusalem from Galilee: “There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him” (Mark 15:40-41). Mark also tells us that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses had watched where Jesus was buried (Mark 15:47).

Mark tells us that the women came “when the Sabbath was over… very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week “The Sabbath was, of course, Saturday. Mark has earlier told us that Jesus was crucified at “nine o’clock in the morning” (Mark 15:25) and that he “breathed his last” at “three in the afternoon” (Mark 15:37, 34) before the evening of the Sabbath. So, Jesus was placed in the tomb on Friday before sunset, and the tomb was found to be empty on Sunday morning as the sun was rising, on the third day.

The women were bringing spices so that they might anoint Jesus. Evidently, because Jesus had died as a criminal and had been buried hastily before sundown his body had not been properly prepared for burial. Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, when a woman anointed Jesus’ head with costly oil, Jesus had considered her action at least a partial anointing in preparation for burial. When the woman was criticized for her extravagance Jesus said, “She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial” (Mark 14:8). However, the women are coming to the tomb in order to perform an important ritual that had not been properly completed.

As the women approach the tomb, they discuss who will roll back the stone for them. The stone that blocks the entrance to the tomb is large and heavy. This is not something they could do by themselves. However, when they arrive they find that the stone has already been rolled away.

Because the stone has been removed the women enter the tomb. Much to their amazement they do not find Jesus’ body. Instead, they see a young man clothed in a white robe who says to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” This news is so remarkable that the messenger invites the women to see for themselves: “Behold the place where they laid him.” Jesus’ body is no longer present.

Before the women say a word or are given any time to assimilate this extraordinary news the messenger tells the women to become witnesses to the resurrection. He says, “But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'” Earlier in Mark, between the Last Supper and the agony in the garden, Jesus had said to his apostles, “All of you will have your faith shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd and shall go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). The man in the tomb is referring to this statement when he says, ” ‘… as he told you.’ “

Today’s Gospel reading ends with the women sent on mission to the apostles. However, in Mark there is a concluding sentence to this empty tomb story: “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (v. 8).

Throughout his Gospel Mark has emphasized the failure of chosen people to carry out their missions. The apostles consistently fail to understand Jesus’ teaching. They all desert him in his hour of greatest need. Now, before Jesus’ appearance, but with the evidence of the empty tomb, those who loved Jesus and followed him still cannot bring themselves to believe the good news. Like many in Mark’s persecuted audience, they are still afraid.

Many scripture scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel originally ended at this point, with the women afraid and silent. If so, why would Mark choose to end in this way? One possibility is that Mark wanted to present a clear challenge to his audience, Christians who had also heard of the resurrection and were having to decide whether to be witnesses to this good news or not. To be a witness might result in martyrdom. Would they follow in Christ’s footsteps, embrace the cross, and, with Christ, rise to eternal life, or would they, like the women, remain silent in fear? Only one of these choices leads to eternal life. Which path will Mark’s audience choose?


Fr. Michael K. Marsh

 Several years ago, a woman told me that her great-grandson asked why she had so many wrinkles on her hands. “I’m old,” she told him. “Do you know what happens when you get old,” he asked. “You die and they bury you in the ground.” Before she could say anything, he added, “But that’s ok; God comes and unburies you.”

What more is there to say? He’s just told the Easter story. It’s that simple. We get buried by the circumstances of life and God unburies us. Over and over God comes to the tombs of our lives and unburies us. That’s Easter. That is the power and love of God. It is as true as it is simple.

That truth speaks louder than the reality of our burials. There are so many ways in which our life gets buried: sorrow and grief, death and loss, fear and anxiety, perfectionism, anger, guilt, regret, resentment, self-hatred, the things we have done and the things we have left undone. Those are the stones that block our way. Those stones mark the many in ways in which we have suffered death, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

With each stone we ask, “Who will roll away the stone? Who will do for me what I cannot do for myself?” That’s what the three women are asking as they walk to the tomb. It’s not really a question as much as it is a statement about their life and what they expect. Their life has been buried in loss, pain, and death. And they expect it to stay that way. They expect a stone of death too big, too heavy, too real for them to do anything about.

I wonder how often we live not only expecting to get buried but expecting to stay buried. We too quickly forget that for every burial there is an Easter. That’s what the women discovered as soon as they looked up. The stone of death, the stone that blocked their way, had already been rolled back.

That’s why we show up this day, year after year. We want to know that the stones of our tombs have been rolled back. We want to hear the story again and be reminded that the tomb is open and empty. We want to know ourselves as unburied. We want to hear one more time, “Christ is risen!”

“God unburies you,” he told his great-grandmother. The young man in the tomb told the women, “He has been raised. He is not here.” The Church proclaims, “Christ is risen!” However, it is said, it is the good news we want and need to hear. Those are sacred words; words of hope, life, and resurrection. Everything has changed. We are a new people.

Recall the stones that have blocked your way.
Christ is risen, and they are removed.

Name your loved ones who have died.
Christ is risen, and they are unburied.

Count your sins.
Christ is risen, and you are forgiven.

Stand before God.
Christ is risen, and you are loved.

Removed, unburied, forgiven, loved. These are God’s Easter words to us, not just today but everyday. God has been enacting words of salvation, hope, and love to God’s people from the very beginning. It happened when we were created in God’s image and likeness. God’s Easter words parted the Red Sea and drew the Israelites into a new land and life. Those same words transplanted in humanity a new heart, a new spirit, and made us God’s people. Ezekiel stood in the Valley of Dry Bones watching God open graves and breathe life into dead skeletons. It never ends.

Today Christ offers you and me his unburied life. One day you look up and see that the stone of death has already been rolled away. Christ is risen. The unburied life comes to us in a thousand different ways. You overcome bitterness and anger, reconciling with another person. That is life unburied. You feel the presence of a loved one who has died but you weren’t even thinking about him or her. That is life unburied. You look at the world and weep with compassion for its pain. That is life unburied. You respond to another’s harsh words or actions with forgiveness rather than your own harsh words or actions. That is life unburied. You love without fear, holding nothing in reserve, offering all that you are and all that you have. That is life unburied. You feel a new sense of Jesus’ presence, a reality and connection that move beyond beliefs. That is life unburied.

Life unburied always presents itself as a new creation. So it is that the women in today’s gospel go to the tomb on the first day of the week, the day creation began. Everything is being made new. The sun has risen. It is the dawn of a new day declaring that the Son has risen. If Christ is risen, then so are we. This new day is also our day, the day of the holy and unburied people of God.

So, I wonder; what will we do with our new and unburied life?


Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.