Today we celebrate the commemoration of Joanna, Mary, and Salome, the women who set out for the tomb bearing spices to anoint the dead body of Jesus. The gospel of Mark tells us, “They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’” But, of course, when they arrive at the tomb he is not there; he is risen. They arrive to the answered prayer of their death being vanquished, but also to their simpler prayer of a stone rolled away without their elbow grease.
In their journey to anoint the dead, these women found themselves staring into the purest and most superior form of life: the life that conquered every threat to it. Being that close to the space where emptiness promises the closeness of God is its own miracle, so these women were, at the very least, the first witnesses to the most miraculous presence of everlasting life.
They were, when their feet first hit the dusty road, when their hands were holding sacks of spices, when their minds worried about the weight of the stone, sent to take on death, to take on uncleanliness, by touching the dead body of Christ. They are met, though, with yet another resurrection: they go to touch death and they are anointed and called into everlasting life. They carry spices to mask the scent of death and instead they smell the fragrance of holy absence. They go to be made unclean and instead they are anointed and sent to preach the truth of the risen Christ.
If we move too quickly to the resurrection joy, we might miss how beautiful it is that the women found hope within absence. We are in a time when, with every news report, every Facebook post, every worship service we can’t attend in person, we are listening to the calling of what might feel like Christ’s absence. But, the dramatic turn that reminds us that we believe in the Gospel, is this: out of this absence, we hear the familiar anointing words: “go, tell.”
Right now, the opportunities for compassion might feel more endless than in years past. You might feel like discipleship comes at a higher cost, that every day you are faced with a heavier stone to roll away. This is, however, good news for the Christian, this is what the gospel sounds like, because we never set out into a calling believing that we have the power to face it when we arrive. No, we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves; we have no elbow grease in us that can push hard enough. When we are anointed, when we hear the terror-inducing “go, tell,” our fleeing is not into ourselves, but into the power of God, the only power that could have sent us, because it is the only power that has ever overcome every threat to it.
Wherever the words “go, tell” lead you (and I promise you, you are hearing those words right now—everyone is hearing those words right now), you will find a place that might feel like the absence of God, but it is the kind of absence that can only be created when everything that threatened your calling has been rolled away. The world is rich in opportunities for the dead to be raised to life, for the scent of death to be overcome by the spices of resurrection, for miracles to result in anointings. We are bearing the spices, we are set out toward the tomb, and now we must trust that when we arrive, the stone will already be rolled away.
What does your “go, tell” sound like?
What does the stone in front of you feel like?
Who is beside you on as you set out toward the tomb?
What might be hidden in the holy absence of your life?