April 23, 2000 - Easter Vigil "B" 


            This Gospel (Mk 16,1-8) opens with a feminine touch and a smell of perfume.  Three  women went to buy perfumes and came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.  In order to understand their gesture, we must replace it in its own context.

            During the present liturgical year, we usually follow the Gospel of Mark.  It was his narrative of the Passion that we read on Palm Sunday and it is his description of the events of the morning of Easter that we read this night. Mark's narratives are    concise.  Each sentence is full of meaning and we must pay attention to every detail.  Immediately after Jesus' death, Mark says that the curtain in the Temple was torn in two parts.   The curtain in question was probably not the curtain at the entrance of the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest could enter, but the curtain separating the main area of the Temple, opened to all male Jews, from the outside area where gentiles and women were admitted.

As a matter of fact, immediately after that, Mark adds two sentences: one about a Roman military officer who declares: "Clearly this man was the son of God"; and one about the women present on Calvary and witnesses of the Resurrection.

            According to the law of Israel, Gentiles were excluded from the salvation promised to the Jews, and the witness given by a woman had no legal value whatsoever.  The tearing of the curtain in the Temple means that full participation in the Christian community is now open to everyone, across social, religious, sexual and ethnic lines. 

            Jesus' disciples formed a large family, and each one had a particular relationship with Jesus.  There were male and female disciples.  Among the male ones, three had a closer relationship with Jesus: Peter, James and John.  They were the witnesses of the Transfiguration and also of the agony.  But there was also a large number of female disciples.  Of them Mark says three things: a) they had followed him in Galilee; b) they has ministered to him; c) they had come up with him to Jerusalem.

            To "follow Christ" meant to be his disciple. To "minister" to him meant to share in his diakonia, his ministry. And to have "come up with him to Jerusalem" meant to have accepted the full consequences of discipleship and it meant also to have been a witness of his death and resurrection. 

            Among that group of women, three had a closer relationship with Jesus, and probably a special role in the early Church: Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Salome.  These three were near the cross, with Mary the Mother of Jesus and John (while the other Apostles had fled); and they are the three we find at the tomb, early on the morning of the first day of the week.  They receive the first announce of Jesus' resurrection and will be the first witness of it.

            The tearing of the curtain in the Temple is therefore full of meaning, although attempts were constantly made down the centuries to sew it up !... It means that  with Jesus' death and resurrection the barriers between Israel and the nations, Jews and pagans, men and women are broken down.  The words of the angel to these three women mentioned also the breaking down of another barrier: the one between flesh and spirit, between body and soul.  The angel goes out of his way to show the place where the body of Jesus had lain, and where he is no more; stressing that the Jesus who is risen is the one who died and was buried there.

            Of how many particularities are we not slaves? – particularities of race, sex, education, religion.  During this most holy night, let us strive to rise above all of them so as to pass all together through the torn parts of the curtain and to penetrate together in the New Temple through the door open in the side of Christ, so that we may be able one day to be "one" as  He and His Father are One.