Bible Study · Devotional · Spiritual Disciplines

Mark 15 & 16: Empty Tombs of Hope

I’ve been trying to figure out how to wrap up Mark. Because a lot has happened over the last couple chapters, but nothing feels like a stand-alone post. Or rather, everything feels like it’s been done over and over and over.

Then I saw this tweet over Easter weekend, and everything came into focus.

I think I found a hook…


So, to recap the last few days/couple chapters of Mark.

Jesus shares a final meal with his followers.

Judas completes his betrayal.

Peter denies him.

Jesus is convicted in rushed scam of a trial, and he is crucified.

Everybody scatters.

See, it isn’t just Judas who betrays him. All of them bailed.

It’s not a good look if you’re a Jesus follower!

Except…

Except there were these women, man. Seriously, what is it with Jesus and these women?

The women were always there. They had been there from the beginning to the end of his ministry.

Back in Mark 1, Peter’s mother-in-law was healed. What was her response?

He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. ~ Mark 1: 31

Got up off her death bed, and went to work.

In Mark 5, there was a woman with some chutzpah who got herself healed after spending a dozen years as a pariah. Jesus called her “daughter.”

Mark 7 has a Caananite woman who teaches an old Jesus new tricks. He rewards her by healing the woman’s daughter.

Jesus praised the widow’s offering in Mark 12, and he gratefully received the scandalous gift from the woman who anointed his feet with costly perfume.

Jesus ministered to women, he ministered with women, and he was ministered to by women. They loved him, they followed him, and they argued with him. They didn’t get the headlines of the Twelve, but they were always there, and they were solid. 

And now, here they are again, at the crucifixion.

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

~ Mark 15: 40-41

Was this really a surprise?


And then, again, on Easter morning:

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?”

~ Mark 16: 1-3

Don’t rush past this to get to the big reveal at the empty tomb.

On Easter morning, as far as these women knew, Jesus was dead and it was over. They didn’t have any special insight the twelve didn’t. They weren’t going to the tomb to see a miracle. All they had were dead rituals and old memories.

“Who will roll away the stone for us?”

Don’t miss this: They didn’t even know how they were going to move the stone.

But they were going anyway.

That’s devotion.

Also, a little nuts. Maybe a little of both.

They were going because they loved him, and because they believed in him and his message. Even if they weren’t exactly sure what that meant anymore.

They were going because, well, dang it, somebody had to.  And the guys were nowhere to be found.

They were going because this is what you do for the dead when you cared about them.

They were faithful to the end and beyond, even if that meant they were going to end up standing and weeping in front of a big rock they couldn’t roll away, a rock shutting them off from the one they loved, from the one they had placed their hope in.

They were going, at best hoping to find small comfort in their dead rituals and old memories.

I’m trying to imagine the conversation along the way. I see Salome as the practical one:

“I’m just saying, it’s a pretty big stone,” she mutters.

Magdalene sighs in response. “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

All the while, they do not break stride.

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.”

Mark 16: 4-7

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you what the big “life lesson” is. Where I’m supposed to ask you “Where is God calling you to have hope no matter how bleak things look?”

But I’m not going to do that. Because I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think God is calling us to be cockeyed optimist in the face of a world that feels intent on crushing our spirits.

These women certainly didn’t have any hope.

What they had was duty. What they had was “going through the motions.” What they had were rituals, and a dull ache that they were certain would never fade. They had all the things we have been told to despise about “religion.”

Dead rituals and old memories.

But then …

“He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”

And then…

“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 what’s the point, John? You’re saying our hope is in rituals?

Uh…no.

The point is, sometimes there is no point.

Sometimes life kicks you in the teeth for no good reason. Sometimes people you care about get taken from you, and there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes all you have are dead rituals and old memories.

When you are there, don’t be ashamed of clinging to them. Don’t be ashamed of “going through the motions.” Don’t beat yourself up about how you’ve “lost your joy” when it takes all your energy just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Just. Keep. Walking.

Because sometimes…

Sometimes, if you will just keep shambling on towards that tomb, resurrection shows up when you least expect it, right in the middle of those dead rituals and old memories.

Sometimes we find hope where there was no hope just because we keep telling those inner voices, “We’ll figure that out when we get there.”

That’s what the women did.

So listen to these first Easter preachers; they know what their talking about.

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