The Women Coming at Dawn

“But after the Sabbath, at dawn — the first of the week — Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.”

(Matthew 28:1)

“And when the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James), and Salome bought spices in order to go and anoint him. It was exceedingly early on the first of the week when they came to the tomb, when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who  will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb?”

(Mark 16:1-3)

“And so, it was the first of the week, at early dawn, that they went to the tomb taking spices that they prepared.”

(Luke 24:1)

“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary (the mother of James), and the remaining women who were with them who told these things to the Apostles.”

(Luke 24:10)

“And so, on the first of the week, Mary Magdalene went early while it was dark, to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”

(John 20:1)

It seems appropriate that, as we enter the historical church season of “Lent” that, having concluded Ecclesiastes, we turn our gaze toward the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so, the followers of Jesus, having witnessed his death on the cross and hastily buried his body in a borrowed tomb, spent what must have been an agonizingly quiet Sabbath day at rest behind closed doors. Yet, now, on the first day of the week, a group begins to make their way to the tomb, largely with the intent of finishing the burial preparations that had been begun on the Friday of Jesus’ death. 

One of the beauties of a harmony like this is that you get to see some of the distinctive elements highlighted by each of the Gospel authors. For example, all four mention the presence of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, though Luke does not list the names of those present until the women were reporting to the Apostles. Both Mark and Luke mention that Mary, the mother of James (who was likely Jesus’ mother, see Mark 6:3), was present, though this may be the reference to “the other Mary” of whom Matthew speaks. 

We also see that Mark mentions Salome and Luke mentions Joanna. Salome is often considered to be the wife of Zebedee (mentioned in the crucifixion account) and Jesus’ aunt, the sister of his mother, Mary. This is largely based on Roman Catholic traditions as to who some of these people are. Joanna, we are told is the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household steward (Luke 8:3), which places her as one of the faithful women who used their wealth and influence to fund Jesus’ ministry. Remember, Luke points out that a number of women were present.

The other point of interest is that John’s Gospel seems to make it sound as if Mary Magdalene went ahead of the other women on an initial trip before the sun had come out. That would be doubtful given that would mean that she would have knowledge of the stone rolled away and of the empty tomb, which would be inconsistent with the conversation that Mark mentions about the ladies being worried about how to remove the stone.

A better explanation of this is that Mary Magdalene was the one who instigated this trip. Arguably, it could be imagined that she was eagerly awaiting time at the tomb and so, before sunrise (thus, violating the Sabbath), she began to collect what she needed and at the very earliest point of the day, when the rays of the sun were beginning to creep in on the horizon, she went and rallied some other women to go with her.

In the end, the account that all four of the Gospel writers record is that of a group of faithful women desperate to complete the work of Taharah on Jesus’ dead body — wishing to express their own grief as they consecrate his body — a final gift to their Lord. What follows is something that none of these women suspect and is more than any of these women could have hoped: resurrection — life from the dead, and a promise.

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