Mark 15:33-39, 16: 1-6
The extremes of today’s Gospel for the feast of All Souls perhaps mirror the extremes of life as we encounter it from time to time. There is nobody who is untouched by the turbulence of life. At different times in our lives we may experience moments of great joy and celebration but we too face the trauma of suffering and death. Our newspapers are a mixed collection of both good and bad news stories. Even our favourite sports teams, no matter how good they are, do not win all the time. As we recall the memory of our faithful departed today we taste first-hand the mystery that can at one and the same time conjure such joy and sadness. In this short section Mark touches on the whole array of emotions those first followers of Jesus underwent at this most significant period of our human history.
The Apostles and Women who were closest to Jesus had invested so much in Him. For three years during His public ministry, He went about the dusty roads of Israel telling people of God’s fatherly goodness, mercy and love. He convinced many. So much so, that he was known to attract crowds of more than five thousand people; fishermen dropped their nets and ultimately their livelihoods at His invitation and tax collectors dared to hope again. People saw in Jesus the fulfilment of God’s promises. He healed the sick, raised the dead and taught with authority. God had visited His people. Imagine the utter despair then, when all their hopes and dreams were literally being dashed, scourged, humiliated and crucified in the most horrific way possible. It seemed that the hopes of not just this people but of all generations and all societies past, present and future had fallen short. Imagine the desolation if not even God Himself could deliver the promises He had made.
Consider the despondency on that first day after the death of Christ among the faithful who had devotedly followed Him all over. However, the drama was not over yet. Mary of Magdala, Mary, the Mother of James and Salome approached the tomb very early on the first day of the week just as the sun was rising. They were about to realise that all the hope they had in Jesus was not misplaced. God could in fact deliver on His promises and He did so in spectacular style. These faithful women were among the first to realise that the story does not finish on the cross. ‘Death, where is your victory; where is your sting’ St. Paul would later proclaim to the Corinthians. It was slowly dawning on these emotionally-drained women that there can be no victory without suffering, no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. On the cross, Jesus displayed His mastery and command of a situation in which He was deemed to be entirely subdued. His strength came from His unfailing trust and abandonment to His Father’s will, even to the extent that He should quote the Psalmist by crying out ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?’ Jesus entered fully into the depths of self-abandonment for love of us. Like His followers He knew what it was to suffer, both physically and emotionally.
The joy of Easter Sunday is the full story. It does not end on the cross, rather in fact, it is only the beginning. Our own memories of our faithful departed today will necessarily share in the sadness of Jesus’ followers, but to forget the joy of the resurrection is unhelpful. It is like enduring a course of unpleasant antibiotics or medical treatments but rejecting the health benefits. We are alive! We live because Jesus lives and we hope because our hope is placed in One who has the power to fulfil what He promises. Since, as believers, we say that this is Good News, there must be more to the story than the horror of Christ’s passion. This is the greatest love story ever told and we are all called to this relationship with God. We can rightly hope that our brothers and sisters who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith share in this victory won by Christ and that we, too, share in it. Our sadness ought not triumph on this joyous occasion. A well-known Third Order Dominican named Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti held that ‘the day of his death would be the most beautiful day of his life’. Let us draw on such ideas and remember fondly those whom we entrust to our Father who loves us more than we know.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God! When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
-Mark 15:33-39, 16: 1-6