The Women at the Tomb
In the aftermath of the Resurrection, things were a little bit… chaotic, to put it lightly. Whereas the gospels mostly lined up all right during the ministry of Jesus Christ, after the Resurrection, everything seems to have been a bit confused.
Which makes sense, if you think about it! After all, Jesus had just died in a very horrible and painful way for the whole public to see. There were multiple witnesses to His death. He was dead. Absolutely, completely, irrevocably dead. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that he was dead.
It was a fact.
The disciples were wild with grief. They were hiding. They were afraid that they would be killed next — a fate which they sought to avoid. They were confused and doubtful about everything that had happened.
And then: the Resurrection happened.
So, for this Easter season, I would like to share with you artwork which illustrates the chaos of the whole scene. I will try to put it in some sort of understandable order… however, know that the gospels are a bit jumbled up, so some of the art will be jumbled up!
So first! The women come to the tomb. All four gospels have an account of this strange meeting, however I would like to share with you the Gospel of Mark:
1When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. 2Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. 3They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. 5On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. 6He 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. 7But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’” 8Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.[
And, of course, the perfect artwork to go along with this scene is this one, by Carracci, one of the leaders of the Counter-Reformation movement! In this movement, artists stood up to the chaos — and iconoclastic attitudes that the Reformation stirred up — and depicted the gospel in a new way, focusing their artistic attention to tell the gospel in a way so as to let the viewer be immersed in the scene as it happened in the moment as it was recorded in the gospel.
Thus, this artwork sought to illustrate this particular gospel scripture passage… and it does a beautiful job at it, if I may say so myself!
In this painting, the three women are gathered around the angel, who points at the empty tomb. These three women’s faces are turned away from us and focused on the angel. Nor is it clear who these women are: the only woman who can be recognized is Mary Magdalene, and that is only because she does not have anything covering her hair!
Instead, the focus is on the angel. Or, more precisely, the focus is on the angel’s amazing message. The angel speaks, his face radiant, while his hand gestures to the empty tomb, inviting us to ponder with the women at this wondrous miracle.
As they listen to the angel, the women’s hands turn upwards, reminding us of their surprise — but also making us look up at the sky and pondering Heaven in a new way.
Death has been destroyed and Heaven is no longer closed to all!
What an incredible message!
This message transform
The gospel tells us that they are frightened at first by this message. Yet, despite everything, they acted upon it and followed the angel’s advice. And thus, they became the first people to spread the Good News.
It brings to mind St. Pope John Paul II’s letter, which says:
We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”From St. John Paul II’s Angelus document. Source:
May we listen to God’s word and not be afraid to follow His command and spread the Good News!