Keeping Vigil

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM   April 8, 2023

I wonder how many Palm Sundays I’ve heard Matthew’s account of the Passion. I wonder because, listening this past Palm Sunday, I sat up straight when I heard the ending, the final sentence that follows Joseph’s taking the body of Jesus, laying it in his new tomb, rolling a huge stone across the entrance, and then departing.

And then this: “But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.”  (Matthew 27:59-61).

How had I never noticed those words? The image of a bereft Mary Magdalene and Mary remaining, just the two of them. Exhausted by the spectacle of crucifixion. Bewildered by the consuming weight of grief. Their posture simply stated: they were keeping vigil, sitting there, facing the tomb.

We don’t know what their thoughts were at that time, but any of us who have sat facing a tomb might offer a guess. Dreams collapsing. A sense of being enveloped not by a loving embrace, but by utter emptiness. A feeling of shouting our despair into surroundings that are suddenly dry, lifeless, and unresponsive. And perhaps worst of all, a sense of being abandoned by the God we counted on, the Holy One who promised victory over death.

Yet we have access to a perspective that Mary Magdalene and Mary did not have at that moment: the rest of the story that we call the Paschal Mystery. The suffering and dying, of Jesus, yes, but also his rising. The continuum of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday.

And let’s not forget Holy Saturday, that liminal, Kairos space, so full of waiting for what might be, hovering somewhere between despair and the audacity of  hope. That’s where I picture the two Marys. Not far from the burial stone. Not looking away. Not averting their eyes. Not putting distance between themselves and Jesus whom they love. Sitting there. Leaning on one another. Holding silence and grief in loving community. Waiting. Remembering.

Bruno van der Kraan, Unsplash

And in the darkness of Easter’s dawning, making a pilgrimage back to the tomb (Matthew 28:1-10). To an earthquake. To a stone rolled away. To the announcement of an angel whose appearance terrified the guards but resonated with the knowing women. To these women, to the ones who waited and refused to surrender hope, were delivered the words we all long to hear, especially on the Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays of our lives: “Do not be afraid!”

Today, may we hold in tenderness and prayer all those in our world who are at this moment facing the tomb and carrying the oppressive weight of grief. If we are among that number, may the Holy One meet us on the way. May we, like these women who were “fearful yet overjoyed,” live lives that continually announce the good news of Jesus’ rising in our time and place. And no matter how or where we are sitting this Easter, may we recognize the nearness of the Holy this day and always.


Sit in silence with the Holy One.
Imagine yourself seated with the two Marys outside the tomb.
Listen to their story and share with them your own heartache and loss.
Share also your container of hope and hold onto theirs.
Let the Holy One Easter in you.

Featured Image:  BBC Creative, Unsplash

Blessings of Easter, Passover, and Ramadan!

For many years, my Good Friday practice was participation in the Pax Christi Good Friday Way of the Cross in Manhattan. Since I moved from New York, my practice has become a prayerful viewing of the film, “Of Gods and Men.” It’s the true story of the Cistercian monks of Algeria, a peaceful and loving presence among the Muslim people. At a time of deepening strife, the monks struggled to discern whether to move to a place of safety or to remain with their neighbors. Ultimately, they gave their lives over in love and surrender as Jesus did.

Please remember in your prayer my Sister, Elizabeth DeMerchant, and my IHM Congregation as we celebrate Elizabeth’s final profession of vows on April 15. May the Holy One continue to Easter in her and in our beautiful yet wounded world! 

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5 thoughts on “Keeping Vigil”

  1. Cris, that entire Mining the Now was so meaningful, so much to ponder down to every last word you said. Thank you. I am going to share it with my friends.
    Congratulations on your sister Elizabeth’s. profession.

  2. Blessed, blessed Easter to you, sister, and thank you for these beautiful meditations! In the midst of these troubled times, I have been overwhelmed of late at the amount of love I keep encountering from various sources. He is risen, and He is still among us, making His presence known!

  3. Another beautiful message. I am reading this blog while waiting to go to Holy Saturday eve Mass, where I will be sponsoring a new member of our church for her Confirmation. Happy Easter

  4. You are such a blessing – the cadence and beauty of your words settle on and surround me with peace and assurance. Happy Easter and thank you, thank you for your ministry!

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