The stone is gone (Pieter J. Lalleman)
In Mark 15:40-41 we read how several women from Galilee stood at the foot of the cross of Jesus. A number of these women were also present at Jesus’ funeral (15:47). That was on Friday. Not long after, on the early Sunday morning, these women became the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus, Mark 16 tells us.
In Israel, it was the women who cared for the bodies of the deceased. On the Friday afternoon, Jesus had been hastily buried. On the Sunday morning the women go to the tomb to complete the funeral of Jesus. How sad they must have been! They certainly don’t go there expecting to witness a resurrection. Mark suggests that only at that moment they begin to think about the stone that blockades the tomb. Imagine the shock when they see that the stone has already been rolled away!
Mark mentions the names of some of these women, which suggests that they were known in the early Christian congregations: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Salome. (It is not strange that two of them were called Mary, because at that time one in four women in Israel was called Mary.) When Mark wrote his Gospel, they may still have been alive and could still tell what had happened.
Mark calmly tells his story; he is certain of his case and there is no need to use big words. Nor does he have to claim that anyone saw the actual resurrection of Jesus. No one was there; women are the first to see the result of God’s intervention. And the young man in white (verses 5-6) gives the authoritative explanation: ‘He, Jesus, was raised from the dead, He is not here.’ He must be an angel.
In Israel and under Roman law, women could not act as witnesses, so it is striking that Mark mentions women from Galilee as witnesses of the resurrection. Their testimony is not legally valid testimony. Mark is so sure of his case that he doesn’t feel the need to come up with male witnesses. This is another important argument for the credibility of his story.
Mark is also honest enough to say that the women initially understand or believe little of the situation (16:8). His description has an unexpectedly open ending, because the verses Mark 16:9-20 are an addition from later times. Mark trusts that, although the women initially doubt what happened, the good reader already knows from Jesus’ words that He would rise (see 8:31, 9:9, 31, 10:34, and 14:28).
As Christians, we proclaim the risen Christ. I wonder if we could replace the cross as a symbol of Christianity with an open tomb. The cross is of course easy to draw and recognizable, but the open grave is at least as important to our faith. We serve a living Lord who makes all the difference in the world. Certainty is scarce in this world, but not in the church! We have a life-giving message about a living Lord and the living Lord Jesus is in our midst!