There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
The Burial of Jesus
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
The Resurrection of Jesus
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
In the passage from Mark’s Gospel we get an insight into some of Jesus’ other followers; we’re all very familiar with the 12 disciples, but Mark mentions ‘women looking on from a distance’. It got me thinking about the nature of discipleship, about visibility and invisibility, about proximity and distance. Do you feel like one of God’s visible and close followers, or do you feel more hidden and further away?
Sometimes we hide because we fear that we are not acceptable. It can take enormous courage to present ourselves to God, to ask for something. I think of the courage of the woman who dared to touch Jesus’ cloak and was healed. The prominent disciples often tried to shoo the crowds away, but Jesus commended this woman for her faith: ‘But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.’ Mark 5:33-34.
Sometimes we stay in the shadows because of cultural norms and expectations. It is no accident that it is the women in Mark’s account ‘who look on from a distance’. The women stay in the shadows, loving and caring, providing and enabling, but drawing no attention to themselves (‘they used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee’). There are many people whose Christian discipleship looks just like that. Those who have served the church and God tirelessly for years and years: dusting, cleaning, washing, serving, tidying, caring, providing. The unnoticed army of disciples whose ministry is not blessed in awesome ordination services; whose love and devotion is not usually remarked upon in books of saints and martyrs. And yet, there they are, at the precise moment of God’s intersection with heaven and earth.
It was these women who were first to the tomb, these women who brought spices for the anointing of the body. And their patience, love and devotion is rewarded. They are there and they see. For once they are right at the centre, drawn into the extraordinary theo-drama: Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome.
And their response to being at the centre of this extraordinary moment? They could only run, run away from the extraordinary realisation that something had happened, something unexpected. And it had happened to them.
Despite their fear and dread, they must have spoken, eventually. And so, they provide an example for other disciples and followers of Jesus. There are so many: they walk softly into our church during the week; they would never dare attend a service, but they light and bring candles, they sit and pray, they bring an offering to God. Even if we try and stay on the margins, even if our discipleship is tentative, shy, in the shadows. Even if we only dare peek at what is happening, we may find ourselves at the centre of the God-drama. Just like the women who looked on from a distance. If you are one of those who look on from a distance you may be surprised to realise that God comes closer to you than you ever dared imagine. And that God empowers his silent army of followers to speak.