Mark 16:3

They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

there is always one more thing
usually its something small
and we can work around it

every once in a while its big
huger than we ever imagined
that takes more than we have

before we can close the door
on all that has come our way
we need to open it again

we’ve got what we need out here
but how in the world will we
ever complete our closure out here

It is not unusual for us to get so caught up with intentions that we miss some critical piece of information. The women have been focused on the incomplete burial they witnessed and thinking about making it through Sabbath to bring spices and complete the burial with an anointing.

They hustle to purchase the spices in the dark after Sabbath. They hurry on their way at sunrise.

As they draw near to the tomb it dawns that there is an impediment—that stone rolled over the entrance. Where are James and Joses when you need them? They help to identify Mary as Jesus’ mother, but they are not close enough to help move a stone. Their absence reminds us that all the male disciples, having run away, are also not available.

If we take a step back, we can see that Mark is using the stone as a signifier of death. It is not just Pilate and a centurion who authenticate Jesus’ death. Creation itself testifies that dead is dead. This is a stone that cannot be removed.

The stone is mentioned 4 times in 5 verses. LaVerdiere2320 picks up on Mark’s penchant for emphasis through repetition:

Mark underlined its importance. In this part, Mark’s story is not so much about the empty tomb as about the rolling away of the stone.

The symbol of the stone is connected not with Jesus’ resurrection but with his burial. The stone was not rolled against the exit from the tomb but against the entrance to the tomb.

The blocking of the entrance was not just about hindering the bringing of spices, which would be a cultural/cultic confirmation of death.  The stone would also keep out a disciple-come-lately who, at the last minute, might have tried to literally follow and be buried with Jesus as a way to force their way into rising.

Mark 16:2

Very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, after sunrise.

yawn that market opened early
I’m still exhausted from our vigil

was it only two days ago
I really needed that sabbath

well it’s a new week of creation
let’s listen for a new word

hey you’re forgetting we’re still beloved
we’ve got all the words we need

well yeah for sure of course
but we’re still going to a tomb

oh yeah that’s right
I keep forgetting that

well it’s not far now
what shall we do after

There has been much made of rising on the third day. There has been a long road trod since the Transfiguration event. All along that timeline we have heard about suffering, death, rising and third days.

Now we hear a different reference—a first day.

A third day rising has baffled character after character. It seems to have a null set that could never be factored in because there was so much resistance to the suffering and death.

When the arrest happened, no one suggested being ready to start a countdown as the suffering and death proceeded to deepen and darken. There was no anticipation of a bright-sun day.

After reminding us that the first day is not related to the rising as an event, but its proclamation, LaVerdiere2319 goes on:

Normally, the Greek expression for “the first day” should have been written with an ordinal numeral, prote (“first”), as we find it in translation. Instead what we find in Greek is a cardinal numeral, mia (“one”), making for a very awkward expression in Greek, “the day one,” instead of “the first day.”

The significance of this begins to dawn when we know that the Septuagint (Greek Hebrew scripture used during Jesus’ time) did this same number play for the first day of Creati*n (day one). This eventually connects with those who follow Jesus to have this be day one, a new creation. As per usual, the characters are not aware of this.

Mark 16:1

When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought some spices, so that they might go and anoint the body of Jesus.

let’s see
where were we
before yesterday
oh yes
the day before

with a day to process
our starting hope
and a closing scene
we’ll honor our hope
by honoring its dashedness

we’re ready for marketeers
wanting a strong first sale
to token the rest of their day
the cheapest spice
leaves more for beggars

we at least learned
how to love our neighbors
at the material level
and that’s a tough learning
so on to the tomb

In Mark’s way of structuring his story, the suffering and death part of Jesus’ expectation was begun with an unexpected anointing by an unknown woman and is now about to be concluded with an expected anointing by three named women. [Note: If it weren’t going to be these three women, there was a guild of women in Jerusalem who would attend to the bodies of the crucified to give them as much respect in death as they could provide.]

Given that an unknown woman has already anointed Jesus—in good story-telling process, a Reader may intuit that three named women will not be successful in their quest.

Their only hope may be a present shift from their past. From other sources we hear the sordid background of Mary Magdalene. Earlier, in 4:31–35 Mary, mother of James, was demoted from blood family status to Partner of G*D status. There are stories of Salome’s being Herod’s daughter who asked for Baptizer John’s head. Anyone who changes their hearts and lives might yet find possibilities previously undreamt.

As Mark’s story hurries to its end-point, we will soon find out if their anticipated anointing adds anything but a bracketing of Jesus’ trial and death.

For Mark’s purposes, this storyline with the women does provide a counter-narrative to that of the authorities where Jesus’ body has been notarized as dead, carried away, wrapped, and deposited in a tomb with a large stone to seal him away to stinkily decompose and, later, have his bones cleared away to make room for a next body.

Mark 15:47

Mary of Magdala and Mary, the mother of Joseph, were watching to see where he was laid.

it’s late late afternoon
preparation for tomorrow
will have to take care of itself
while we trail this guy

having watched thus far
we can’t not finish
the movie of a life
without watching the credits

who knows maybe
there might be
an easter egg
still to come

a sequel doesn’t seem likely
so let’s let this settle
ahh it’s a final resting place
now we can get back to tomorrow

Joseph is able to put the tomb behind him—mission accomplished. It is the outsider portion (women) of the insider disciples that are left to perceive where the tomb is.

The word for “saw” is θεωρέω (theōreō,perception). Sabin1196 would say, “spiritual perception”. Mark has previously used this word: when demons perceive Jesus’ identity (3:11), the people of Gerasene come to behold what had happened to the pigs and were as afraid of Jesus as the demons (5:15), Jesus sees through the grief of the Jairus’ household to see life still available (5:38), Jesus discerned the import of the widow giving her last coin to the Temple (12:41), and the two Marys and Salome watching a sign of the beginning of the end—Jesus’ death (14:40).

The two Marys are the last two to have an investment in Jesus’ body. They have come a long way from being supporters in Galilee. They have probably heard the stories of various women having been healed and often tell about the woman who anointed Jesus. This has held them while they watched crucifixions from a distance. Now they are steadily progressing closer to Mark’s end game. Jesus’ resting place in the center of a never-ending wilderness of power and privilege, greed and authority has been noted.

Even these last two witnesses have not run the last of their quest. They are already beginning a turn away—they have identified Jesus’ location as a tomb—a tomb from which none return.

Even as they see Jesus’ dead body closed in by a large stone, they see the sun going down. It is so close to Sabbath—a Sabbath made for them, not them for the Sabbath—they wither and turn away.

Mark 15:46

Joseph, having bought a linen sheet, took Jesus down, and wound the sheet around him, and laid him in a tomb which had been cut out of the rock; and then rolled a stone up against the entrance of the tomb.

the market couldn’t have been
closer to closing
had to bargain
just to begin bargaining

I was over a barrel
and paid for linen
as though it were gold
what am I doing

might as well finish
hey you Cyrene
want to finish the job
I’ll pay you too

rats I forgot
one more payment
that tomb there
that one how much

push that rock
okay job well done
what a strange day
I’ll sleep well tonight

The last time a “linen cloth” was referenced it was in the hands of those arresting Jesus and its wearer was running away. Consider the added irony of Jesus going to the grave wrapped in the garb of one of his betrayers.

If one wants to play with the later mystery of the Shroud of Turin, we might see Jesus transfiguring, blessing, and forgiving all acts of betrayal—an abundance of mercy.

Some commentators argue that this is the original concluding verse. This does end the beginning of the good news promised in 1:1. If anything were added after the stone precludes any further encounter with Jesus, it would become a next beginning of good news. We might speculate what a Markan sequel would look like, compared to Luke’s Acts of the Apostles.

It is worth a pause to look at the Greek behind the English “wrapped”, ἐνειλέω (eneileō). Mann658 writes:

eneileō has a very wide range of meanings, from shackling a prisoner, holding people in debt, or wrapping children in clothing, to the quite neutral sense of “to wrap.”

Shackling would have Joseph closing the action of the Sanhedrin by immobilizing Jesus in a tomb, never to be seen or heard again. This argues his actions are based on piety, not secret discipleship. Holding people in debt returns us to the woman at the treasury putting in her last half-pennies. Wrapping children (swaddling), comforts and protects them as they begin their journey through life. Or, wrapping is just, descriptively, wrapping. What would you pick?

Mark 15:45

and, on learning from the officer that it was so, he gave the corpse to Joseph.

if he’s dead he’s dead
his use to me is done
let his bones be eaten
or grave stone engraved
it makes no difference

it’s your choice
follow me in walking away
or your own bleeding heart
as for me and mine
we’ve got better things to do

y’all are strange birds
always playing both sides
first hurry me to judge
I consider the case closed
and now an appeal for respect

the time/fun ratio
was pretty close
the first time
now at its widest
put it to rest begone

We often talk about death in euphemistic terms. This is a magical protective shield concerned with not drawing the attention of “Death” to our current setting.

It would be helpful to have more words that would better describe various perspectives on “dead”. To this end, LaVerdiere2314 helps us hear some of the nuances that would otherwise be missed if Mark is only read in English.

When the centurion confirmed that Jesus had died, Pilate gave the body (ptoma) to Joseph. Joseph had asked for the body (soma) of Jesus. The word soma which is normally associated with a living person, evokes Jesus as a living person. The word ptoma, associated with something that had once been alive, emphasizes that Jesus, now lifeless, was really dead, and ready for burial.

This distinction can be further drawn as we find the word soma used in relation to Jesus’ body that a woman anointed (14:8) and Jesus uses soma to connect bread with his body (14:22). These associations with a living body as seen by others and by Jesus himself contrast, in an ironic fashion, with Pilate and the centurion so used to and limited by their dealing with corpses. A lack of distinction between bodies in English is one reason the Bible doesn’t connect with lived experience.

One reason Mark emphasizes ptoma is to refute the rumors and accusations already present in his time that Jesus had not died but had a body double on the cross or had his body stolen by his followers so they could make up a story about an empty tomb. Mark uses the authority of the state to confirm that Jesus was completely dead.

Mark 15:44

But Pilate was surprised to hear that he had already died. So he sent for the officer, and asked if he were already dead;

there’s no way
that death
was that quick

I expect suffering
built upon suffering
struggle to the end

let’s await
a coroner’s verdict
before signing off

death is nothing
to play games with
I look for seriously dead

The word often translated in this verse as “wonder” is a variant on the same word heard in 5:20 as “marveled” or “amazed”. The consideration here is wrapped in amazement that Jesus was already dead.

A usual expectation is that it would take a day or so for the muscles to exhaust themselves and the crucified not be able to take another inhalalation and suffocate.

Unless an underlying medical condition exists or the beatings were severe, Pilate is correct to seek corroboration.

Presumably, this is the same centurion who used what could be interpreted as pious words as they saw Jesus die. Without an additional word here, this can add to other reasons to affirm the centurion was, more than anything else, mocking. Jesus died as everyone crucified dies.

There is to be no question that Elijah or anyone else took Jesus’ body before he was well and thoroughly dead. Pilate was to certify Jesus’ death and Jesus’ body was removed by a member of the Council (regardless of his personal hopes).

The principalities and powers have apparently won the day. They remain in charge of the world. At question is whether Jesus’ understanding that the consequence of living as though love of G*D and love of Neighb*r in an economic system that privileges the few over the many would be suffering and death was the end or if there is a rising and what the nature of that rising might be.

So many have lived noble lives, enfleshing good. So many have had their life summarily removed if the authorities feel there is some question of or threat to their rule. Such authority seems to be persistent from one regime to a next. In such rocky and weedy ground, how do we measure the value of a seed that dies?

Questions of liberation are perennial. Evidence of a rising tide continues to be sought.

Mark 15:43

Joseph from Ramah, a councillor of good position, who was himself living in expectation of the kingdom of God, came and ventured to go in to see Pilate, and to ask for the body of Jesus.

no matter one’s rank
or respectability
there is tension
at border lines

will I be received
this time
will this be the time
I’m not

we’re talking bodies here
first theirs
then if time disjoints
mine mine

no matter past privilege
it doesn’t accrue
this risk is this risk
proceed apace

There are questions about whether Joseph was a part of the Sanhedrin testing of Jesus and finding him a blasphemer or having just arrived on other business from Arimathea. This latter possibility seems best for another Markan parallel—with another passer-by, Simon of Cyrene (15:21). Also arguing against having been present in the Sanhedrin is the degree of hypocrisy he would have had to hold as someone eagerly watching for the Presence of G*D.

There are additional questions about Joseph’s motivation. If he were a “secret” follower of Jesus, he would wish to honor his presence with a proper burial. However, the burial is not altogether proper without a cleansing and anointing of the corpse. An argument can be made that the burial was incomplete simply because of a lack of time.

Even with the caveat that Joseph was awaiting “God’s kingdom”, what likely brought Joseph to bury Jesus’ body so quickly was a desire to honor his tradition as found in Deuteronomy 21:23:

…you must not let his corpse remain on the stake overnight
but must bury him the same day.
For an impaled body is an affront to God:
you shall not defile the land
that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.
[The Jewish Study Bible]

There are those who suggest that the centurion and Joseph are a reversal of the condemnation by Rome (Pilate) and the Sanhedrin (Chief Priest). This feels like an attempt to find a blessing in every cloud, an unwillingness to face the ugliness of life eye-to-eye. A narrative line that has a mocking centurion and tradition-bound Joseph carries a stronger consistency.

Mark 15:42

The evening had already fallen, when, as it was the Preparation day – the day before the Sabbath –

awkward time
late afternoon

press on
put off

both right
both wrong

late afternoon
awkward time

Mark is going to pack a great deal into the hours between 3:00 and 6:00 PM. It would be handy to have a deus ex machina such as Joshua’s sun that stopped moving.

Sabbath was quickly approaching in which rest is a key understanding. This includes Jesus’ body resting. It must be noted that decomposition does not rest, Sabbath or no Sabbath.

If Jesus is to be buried within three hours, with no prior arrangements having been made, there is no time to waste.

The first question to be addressed is who will begin filling out the necessary forms to have Jesus taken from the cross. Then comes the adjudication of permission. This is followed by the identification of a tomb that will receive Jesus’ body. At best his body will find its resting place. The likelihood of preparation of his body through cleansing and anointing is unlikely.

There continues to be a bit of confusion about what day it is because Mark uses the Roman day (sunrise to sunrise) but references Jewish markers that use a day that runs from sunset to sunset.

Metaphorically this day of death is Jesus’ Preparation Day for rising.

If we are simply dealing with a timeline, LeVeriere2313 says:

Evening began around 6:00 p.m., before sunset. By the Roman reckoning, Passover had ended that morning, and Jesus was crucified the day after Passover, the day of preparation for the sabbath, which would begin the following morning, Saturday at 6:00 a.m.

By Roman reckoning there is sufficient time to complete these tasks by the next morning. For the Jewish community we are running out of time, which will somewhat account for a lack of a final anointing.

There is not just a time element here. Jesus has died an unhonorable death. All the amenities of a funeral with the usual ritual and mournings are not expected and out-of-place. Time and dishonor will play their part in the next scenes.

Mark 15:41

all of whom used to accompany Jesus when he was in Galilee, and give him support – besides many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

How did Jesus from Galilee
know to go to Jordan John
but by those quiet promptings
a mother’s friend’s whisper
about second birthings
needed in each new year

strange ancestresses send genes
packed with antennae
to pick up soft signals
here now there again
mothers old mothers new
lead support follow

Often times it takes time to let new information filter through systems. In this case, the system is patriarchy and we are finally finding out that the disciples and the Twelve overemphasized males. This has had an impact to this day.

We are again revisiting the word diakoneō(deacon, minister, serve. And, again, this word is translated into English in its weaker form of support rather than minister. Even as women are acknowledged, they are reduced in importance.

The same diminishment happens with the word ἀκολουθέω(akoloutheō, accompany, join as a disciple). This is not just trailing along, but significant accompanying. There is here a feel of escorting or being the patron of an artist.

Sabin2148follows up her comment about the equality between Mary Magdalene and Mother Mary with:

It is striking that Mark does not single [Jesus’ mother] out; he treats these women as a generic group. Yet Mark suggests that this generic group of women, in their “following” and “ministering” and, above all, in their watchful “seeing,” act in the ways to which Jesus has called all his disciples.

A perspective not often noted regarding the valuing of women in the church is held within these two verses (40–41). Myers202states it well, “In others words, from beginning to end these women, unlike the men, understood the vocation of discipleship as servanthood.”

This understanding is set over against Peter’s refusal to allow servanthood to contain suffering and death as well as rising (8:32–37). It also contrasts with James and John looking for positions of power (10:35–45). All of the Twelve miss this when they complain about others healing without their imprimatur (9:38­–40). Likewise, they are distracted by money when Jesus is anointed by a woman (14:4–9).