Listen to the hopelessness in those opening lines of today’s Gospel – Mark 16:1-8: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’” It is not difficult to imagine the women walking with their heads down. The harsh truth of what they had personally witnessed was weighing heavily on them. From the arrest of Jesus, through his “trial”, torture and eventual brutal crucifixion, they had every last ounce of hope wrung out of them. That Friday was not a beginning but an unimaginably horrid ending.
Listen then to the hope – yes, amidst terror and confusion – in the closing lines of today’s Gospel: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”. Resignation has been replaced by energy!We learn a valuable lesson from the experience of the women: Hope can live with terror and fear, incomprehension and confusion. Hope does not depend on us having the strategies and skills to sort things out, as if we could reduce life to problems and solutions. Hope comes from our encounter with the mystery at the heart of life. Our faith tells us that the mystery at the heart of life is God, revealed to us in the Risen Lord.
What is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate mystery of existence – “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages” (Colossians 1:26). And so St Paul prays for the community in Colossae: “I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself” (Colossians 2:2).
There is a very practical implication in this truth of our faith. In this time of great change and need for renewal and reform in the Church and society, we should remember that our hope is always in the Lord, not in the renewal and reform. Does this absolve us from working for deeper and more effective ways of witnessing to the Gospel as Church? Absolutely not! But it does give us a compass. Sometimes frustration and anger can overtake us because we place our hope in our version of what is needed. That is a formula for despair. A hope grounded in Jesus Christ can survive a lot of frustration, fear, incomprehension and human failure. A hope grounded in anything else simply will not survive the harsh reality of human ignorance, dishonesty, incompetence, narcissism, bloody mindedness and sheer weakness – all of which you will find at play in any human organization, including the Catholic Church.