“Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise”: These words hint at a new beginning, not that the women coming to the tomb know that yet for they come with spices and heavy hearts to anoint Jesus’ body. They saw Jesus dying on the cross and with his death something in them died also – their hopes, their faith, their courage. They can no longer listen to him or serve him and follow him as they did before. They think they know what to do and they made their preparations, buying spices to anoint his body and give him a final homage.
What worries them is the large stone at the entrance to the tomb: who will remove it? But nothing will happen as they expected. The stone has been rolled aside and, inside the tomb, instead of Jesus’ body they find a young man dressed in white who has something to tell them.
In biblical language, the white garment of the young man suggests that what he will say comes from God – and what he says repeats an age-old pattern of speech that comes from God – don’t be afraid!
• Isn’t that what the angel said to Mary at the very beginning of this story?
• It’s what the angel says to the Shepherds outside Bethlehem.
• It’s what Jesus says to Jairus and it’s what Jesus repeatedly says to his disciples.
“Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus; he is going before you to Galilee.”
Hearing that Jesus is risen, the women do not sing for joy, they are “trembling and bewildered.” What they have just heard is absolutely unimaginable. They are looking for Jesus’ body, but the way to Jesus is infinitely longer than they could have imagined. He did not remain in the tomb; he is alive and continues his journey. They must therefore go further and keep on following him.
The journey of these women will not end at the tomb. It is by going towards the others that they will be able to encounter Jesus. But at the moment they are so overwhelmed by the message that “they said nothing to anybody.” They need silence in order to allow that unheard-of news to transfigure their fears. Like a seed thrown onto good soil, the word of the angel was cast out, but it needs a time of maturation in order to grow and bear fruit.
What do the women do afterwards? The passage does not tell us; it was not written to satisfy our curiosity about history, but to share this good news: Christ is risen and goes before us to Galilee. We will not find Jesus at the tomb; we are invited to look for him “in Galilee.” We need to read and re-read the Scriptures and we will find him in the Galilee of the Gospel. But we can look for him in the Galilee of our lives as well, where he goes before us. In our life of faith, we are called to take new steps forward, to make new beginnings. Like the women, we can try to prepare them and sometimes we will worry uselessly about the obstacles that can arise on the way.
But in going forward we will often discover that these obstacles cannot separate us from the words that God wants to speak to us; they always find a way to reach us.
These words invite us to believe that Jesus is waiting for us in “our Galilee.” When we reflect on the course of our life of faith, we can discern the traces of the Risen Christ’s presence in our past with its failures and its joys. We can rely on his presence to make the choices we must make in the present, with all its questions and challenges. We can entrust to him our future, with its uncertainties and its hopes. He is there, waiting for us.