It is interesting to fantasize about the end of human history.
Maybe a giant meteor will destroy life on Earth after some of us migrate to Mars. Movies such as "2012" entertain us. Nuclear holocaust scares us.
I want to tell you about four women who lived nearly 2,000 years ago. They are worth remembering today because they saw what the end will look like. What they witnessed changed the history of the world.
The four didn't know they'd be given this forward glimpse. Their concern was practical - their hearts weighed down with grief, their focus limited to the moment.
The most holy man they'd ever known had just had his lungs squeezed to death on a Roman cross.
They were preoccupied with getting him buried before Passover arrived.
Passover fell on the Sabbath that year, which began at sunset of the day Jesus died. Hit hard by grief, the women used their remaining energy to wash and wipe Jesus' bloody corpse. Then they rubbed spices on his body as they wrapped it in strips of cloth, with more spices between the wraps. This was to counteract the stench of decomposition.
The spices were provided by a wealthy man. His servants, or one or two male disciples of Jesus (meaning some who lived in Jerusalem), may have helped the women get the initial job done, and a stone was placed over the tomb's entrance. Then the Sabbath-Passover began. There could be no work done the rest of that night, nor the next day.
Some of the women waited for Passover to end to add finishing touches to the job they'd begun.
In grief, a person may set aside everything else to focus on the departed beloved, specifically the care of the body. In those days, people had to burytheir own dead.
The women got up early the morning after Passover, so they could be at the tomb by sunrise. They knew where to find it. It's location was keenly etched on their memories.
Their shock at finding the tomb empty quickly turned to consternation. Assuming Jesus' body had been removed, they sought its new location.
Mary Magdalene encountered a man she thought was in charge of the cemetery area. Only when he spoke her name did she recognize his voice. Only then did the truth register in her mind.
The man who said, "Mary," was the same man they had buried. Now he stood before her alive, in full possession of life and limb. He wasn't a recovering victim, hobbling about, asking for a drink of water.
Mark ends his book with the women's minds and hearts being filled with fear. This is so much more realistic than portraying them as filled with giddy laughter.
This was an intense awe, not a cowering fear - the awareness that God had powerfully vindicated Jesus. God had actually re-created him. It was a resurrection, an act of creation.
The women ran and told Jesus' male disciples. But, initially, the men didn't believe them.
Two of the men ran to the tomb, saw the empty grave clothes folded, and wondered. Later that day, the resurrected Jesus visited them, too, and then they also believed. They believed when they could see and touch him, even his healed, but still visible, nail holes.
Why were the disciples slow to believe the women's first report?
One reason was that the Jews did not believe God would raise anyone from the dead in ongoing human history. Resurrection was expected only at the end of history. That it happened in their day was a sign to them that Jesus was intimately connected with God, more significant than a holy prophet.
The resurrected Jesus is a sign to all of us of what the end will include. God will raise the dead, and redeemed people will be given new bodies like Jesus was given.
This is what I meant when I said the women had seen the end of the world. When God finishes human history on Earth, it will not be to dispense with billions of people, but to remake all of creation and resurrect the dead with bodies that can never again grow weak or die. This will be the ultimate victory of God over all evil and decay. And, when the women saw Jesus, they got a glimpse of what the Resurrection Day will look like.
There were actually more than four women who were at the cross, helped bury Jesus and returned to finish their work that first Easter. But only four are identified because they lived for years afterward and remained available as public witnesses to Jesus' resurrection in the early Christian communities: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, and Salome.
Cheers for these women! The resurrected Jesus visited them first.
Here God gave a blessing that preferred the women disciples over the men. Doing a difficult task, being faithful, they received a great honor from God.
The Rev. Mark Koonz is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write: Contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.