rural road between grassy field

The unexpected

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.

Mark 16:1

The unexpected is oftentimes hard for us. It does not mean that going through what we “expect” is easy, but at least we have some idea of what may befall us. As I read the story of the women who returned to where Christ’s body had been placed, I was struck by the juxtaposition of their strength and determination in the face of significant difficulties, and their intense and fearful reaction to a truth they had not expected.

Mary, and the other women, had gone to the cave where Jesus was placed with the hope that they could properly prepare His body in accordance with Jewish post-death rituals. The notes in my Bible spoke of the large obstacles that awaited them: guards that had been placed outside the cave and the large rock that had been used to seal it. Thinking further on their situation, it was also unlikely that they would be given permission to enter because, as women, they had little standing in their society. However, in their love and devotion for Jesus, they walked on towards those potential obstacles. Their faith lead them to face what seemed impossible.

Now most of us know the story. They arrived at the tomb. The rock had been rolled away, and there sat a young man in a white robe who 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 16:6. From the other gospel accounts, we learn that there was a pile of linens neatly folded where Jesus had once been. In fact, Mary had seen Him laid there before the Sabbath came. It would be shocking to learn that the obstacles you had planned for were mysteriously gone, but these women were jarred with the truth that His body was gone too! That was something they clearly had not considered as they journeyed to honor Him. The angel continued with his statement and instructed them, “But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.'” Mark 16:7.

As current-day disciples of Christ, most of us may think that if we had been in their shoes, we would have immediately rushed back to the other disciples–especially Peter–and conveyed the angel’s message. “Chop, chop!”, as I like to say in our household when we need to hurry. It is easy to think that we would have done just as we were told; for heaven’s sake, it was an angel speaking! Who would disobey a direct order from above, coupled with the amazing feat of having the obstacles removed so that they could see that He was gone. Surely, our reactions would have been one of automatic and unquestioning obedience.

But that is not what we saw happen, right? We did not see these disciples, who walked with and loved Christ in the flesh, act with superhero-size faith and instantaneous compliance. Rather, we saw them do as they had often done throughout their journey with Christ; they reacted instinctually to what they observed. In fact, I believe we saw what most humans would have experienced given the circumstances they went through.

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Mark 16:8

It is at this point that it truly helps to understand how our body works and its response mechanisms to the unexpected, painful, and shocking. Simply put, how the body copes when faced with a traumatic event. “Trauma” is rooted, by literal definition, in the Greek word for “wound.” ( And wounds can happen physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Traumatic,” from the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster, one of our founding fathers, means “pertaining to or applied to wounds.” (Webster, 1828, volume II, page 96). Most people shy away from discussing trauma because it typically involves subjects that can be overwhelming and difficult. Others dismiss trauma information believing that they do not need it or do not work in a field that involves trauma. However, to dress a wound that impacts us or another, we must understand that trauma and wounds are often connected and occur more frequently than we realize. The more we understand about trauma, the better job we will do in helping ourselves and others to heal.

Going a little deeper in unfolding trauma requires us to dig into the meaning of wound. “Wound”, from Noah again, can be a “break of the skin and flesh…caused by violence or external force.” (Webster, volume II, pg. 115). Noah goes on to note, “The self-healing power of living beings, animal or vegetable, by which the parts separated in wounds, tend to unite and become sound, is remarkable proof of divine benevolence and wisdom.” Id. Trauma makes wounds, but inherently, most wounds are designed to heal given enough time and care.

Noah goes on to expand the concept of a wound as “an injury; hurt, as a wound given to credit or reputation.” Id. Hence, wounds can involve both physical and emotional injuries and hurts. They can come from words, a lack of words, or even body language as well as violence and negative physical interaction. Cascading our learning a little further, injury includes “in general, any wrong or damage done to a man’s person, rights, reputation or goods. That which impairs the soundness of the body or the health, or gives pain, is an injury. That which impairs the mental facilities, is an injury. These injuries may be by a fall or other violence. Trespass, fraud, and nonfulfillment of covenants and contracts are injuries to rights. Slander is an injury to reputation, and so is cowardice and vice. Whatever impairs the quality or diminishes the value of goods or property, is an injury.” Id. Additionally, injury can stretch out to involve both “mischief; detriment. Any diminution of that which is good, valuable or advantageous.” Id.

Suddenly, trauma can involve something less than tragic or horrific; it does not have to be extreme in tragedy to qualify as traumatic to the person experiencing it. But we are not done yet. In the definition of wound, which can be thought of as the origin point of trauma, we also find the word, hurt. Let’s unfold that to see what more there is to learn. To save space, here are two lists: its roots and the key words from its definition. Roots of hurt are wounded; to strike or dash against; to push, thrust or drive; to assault; to butt. (Webster, Volume I, pg. 113). Hurt’s key words are: to bruise; to impair the soundness; to damage; to injure by diminution; to damage by reducing the quality; to harm in general; to give pain to. Id. Not all hurts rise to the level of trauma, but all traumas come from hurts or injuries that damage, impair, bruise, demean, reduce, and harm.

Let us think back to the women at the grave. Broadening our vision and going deeper, can we see any event in their lives that had recently taken place that might have caused trauma, injury or hurt to any of them? Absolutely! They had just witnessed Jesus being crucified. But let us push back the timeline a little further…

Mary Magdalene had gone to where the disciples were dining with Jesus, a night or so before His death. With her, she brought an expensive bottle of perfume; something she treasured. As she arrived, she was not welcomed into the dinner; she was not allotted a space at the table. Rather, she got down on her knees and bathed His feet with both the perfume and her tears as the men ate and talked. As she was doing so, the disciples began to scorn and scold her for being wasteful for they could see the money that could have been gained if she had given them the perfume instead of using it on Jesus. They bruised and verbally diminished her and her gift, until Christ, Himself, intervened and corrected their insults and false assumptions. He brought healing to her wounds by gently praising her and declaring that her act would long be remembered in history.

Pushing back even further in time, we see Mary surrounded by many who held a superior position in society and felt justified to condemn her to death for an act of sin that she had been caught in. Most of them held stones in their hands as they had begun the process of judgment that would lead to the punishment of stoning. Alone, she would have faced death had it not been for the hand of her Savior and His words. He admonished them for their willingness to kill another despite the sin they, themselves, had within their own lives. Slowly, one by one the rocks fell to the ground, as those souls realized that their sin could have easily led them to the same fate they had willingly wanted to inflict on her.

In Mark 16, we now see Mary seeking to honor Christ. Yet, despite the obstacles, the soldiers who radiated a menacing presence, and how powerless they were, she and her companions pushed on until they were faced with something they had not anticipated; the lack of His body and an angel waiting for them. Those two things triggered a strong fear response in their bodies. In fact, it appears that the fear was already anticipated by heaven when the angel uttered these words, “Do not be alarmed.” But why? Why were they so overcome with fear when they had already expected to face the insurmountable? Why did the gospel writer feel convicted to note that the angel had foreknowledge of how they would likely respond to what they were seeing and what they could not see?

Because God has designed our bodies to take in trauma certain ways. Our systems, both body and brain are filled with nerve endings and senses that move at a speed that overwhelmingly outpaces our minds. When we are frightened, threatened, surprised, or even angered, we process circumstances differently than how we process most of the other events in our lives. Reflecting on the definitions of trauma, wound, injury, and hurt, it becomes crucial for us to recognize how traumatic events (whether big or small) impact us and those who surrounds us, whether friend, foe or stranger.

Before you deny the impact of hurts in your life, do you know that there can be secondary trauma? Yes, it is true. Secondary trauma can occur as people help other people through something traumatic despite not having been wounded or experienced the trauma firsthand. Sometimes it can occur just from learning of the trauma and understanding the impact. Trauma ramifications flow first to the person experiencing the injury, and then outward. It can have a ripple effect as news and the aftereffects circle out amongst those near and then move towards those further away. Much like a wave reaching a distant shore, trauma can continue well past its origin point.

When we unfold God’s words that involve trauma, we learn that we should not make quick evaluations or assumptions about others. We do not know what their past truly involves. In fact, we need to pause and stop relegating the effects of trauma to only near-death experiences or great tragedies; that blinds us to how pervasive trauma wounds are in our lives and the lives of others. Our blindness can lose sight of moments made for compassion, kindness and healing. As injury and hurt indicate, most of us have more painful moments in our lives than we likely want to acknowledge or understand. Despite our society being rooted in independence, toughness and forgiveness, our bodies are designed to quickly return to prior hurts when something too familiar reminds us of them. Hurts cannot be healed by indifference, denial, demands, procrastination, or deception. There is no sweeping it under the rug, as our bodies are not designed to do so. When we force things down or underground, we will not prevail in healing as the hurt and its effects will find their way to the surface of our lives eventually.

The science of trauma, which shows how it impacts our lives, has grown dramatically in recent decades. The effects of trauma can impact our decision making without us even being aware. It gives birth to many our fears, and lends support to the things we do to cope. It can cloud, like a thin film over our eyes, how we see and deal with others. Our hurts and injuries, our wounds, are catalogued by our body and considered in the future by our brains, whether we like it or not. Learning more about trauma is one way to loosen its impact on our lives. Understanding more about it can help heal those wounds that lie inside of us while also holding the potential to impart healing to others. God often moves souls into the path of those who have walked a similar road so that they know they are not alone and that their healing will eventually rise and overcome the brokenness of their hurts or injuries.

So, with that under our belts, let’s look at Mary and her companion’s reactions as they speak boldly and truthfully about how the body responds to trauma.

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.”

Mark 16:8