In anticipation of Holy Week, we reflect on why two dedicated women, after witnessing the events of the first Holy Week, stayed with Jesus after his death.
By: Rev. Robert J. Wagner, Secretary to the Bishop
Several years ago, I was struck by a single verse at the end of St. Matthew’s account of the Passion. After Jesus is taken down from the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea laid his body in the tomb, rolled a large stone in front of the entrance and then departed. Then Matthew offers this detail: “But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb” (Mt 27:61). “The other Mary” was the mother of James and Joseph mentioned in Matthew 27:56.
This simple verse paints a vivid picture of the stunned response of two of Christ’s disciples. These women followed Jesus from village to village, listening to His preaching and supporting Him and the apostles (Lk 8:1-3). They came to Jerusalem for the Passover, only to see Jesus arrested, tried, handed over to the Romans and sentenced to death on the Cross. They walked with Him and cried out in sorrow as He carried His Cross to Calvary (Lk 28:27-31). They stood at a distance as Jesus stretched out His arms and gave up His spirit (Mt 27:55-56).
These women saw their Lord suffer rejection, injustice, indignity, violence and death. Now it was over, and they were left to decide what just happened and what came next. We can envision them, sitting in silence and looking at the tomb, while everyone else had departed. We can only imagine what was keeping them in that place and what was going through their minds.
In their physical and emotional exhaustion, were they just unable to go on? In the shock of losing the One to whom they had offered their lives, did they remain because they no longer knew to whom to turn? In their affection for Jesus, did they simply want to remain close to Him even after His lifeless body was enclosed in the cold tomb?
We do not know the answers to these questions. All we are left with is the intimate reaction of these two disciples of Jesus, who had witnessed the events of the first Holy Week in person, and were left to ponder what it all could have meant.
Holy Week begins this weekend with Palm Sunday. At Mass, we will hear Matthew’s account of the Passion of the Lord, and we will again meet the two women sitting alone outside of Christ’s tomb after Our Lord’s burial. These two women are an example to emulate: offering our lives to Jesus at the risk of sorrow, pain and disappointment, and clinging to Him in the darkest of times.
However, our Lent has been so far, let us pray that we can walk by the side of Jesus during Holy Week, praying with the Gospel accounts of the Passion, participating in the liturgies of the Holy Triduum, and, moved by our sorrow for Jesus Christ, confessing our sins so that we may merit from His crucifixion and death and be set free.
Both during Holy Week and throughout our lives, when we accompany Jesus to Calvary as did the two Marys, we always awake to the empty tomb on Easter morning. Such faithfulness makes us participants in Christ’s victory over death, and the promise of peace, joy and eternal life with Him.