Have you noticed? Perhaps you have.
In the four gospels we have differing accounts of what happened on that first ‘Easter’ morning. I’m pretty sure that you will have noticed that … but have you noticed one of the things that they have in common? All of them concur that it was the women who remained with Jesus to the end and who were first privy to the wonder of the empty tomb. The men seem to have a secondary role in the story. Why does this matter?
In the Jewish culture of the time a woman’s witness was not deemed admissible evidence in a court of law. Women could not to be counted as members of the obligatory ten persons necessary to begin prayer or to set up a Synagogue. The prevailing culture did not trust women. Yet it is women that Jesus trusts to be the first witnesses of the resurrection and it is predominantly the women who remain faithful to Jesus through the story of the crucifixion.”
St. Bede explained, many years ago, that the festival of ‘Easter’ was derived from the name of a goddess whose festival was held on the spring equinox, ‘Eostre’. Interestingly the name ‘Eostre’ is at the root of the word ‘oestrogen’ a female sex hormone. So should we be surprised that those who physically bear new life into the world should also be the first witnesses of the New Life of the Resurrection, and that the English language both preserves and reflects that truth.
Was there something special about these women?
Perhaps the reason these women were privileged to be the first witnesses on this earth of Christ’s resurrection was because they were amongst the few disciples who didn’t leave Christ during His great trial, and were with Him at the cross when some of His other disciples had betrayed or deserted Him.
Not only did these women never desert Jesus, but also they never stopped serving Him – even after he had died. We are told that on the morning after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, and other women who had followed Jesus out of Galilee, came with spices to anoint and prepare His body for burial. One of many ‘woman’s tasks’ – like cooking, cleaning, washing and sewing – that these women were accustomed to doing, and which they’d done for Jesus many times before.
Christ acknowledged the faithful and loving service that these women had given Him throughout His mortal life, and realised that what women do to sustain and provide physical life is important and valued in the eyes of God. He knew that their willingness to take care of His physical body, even after He was dead, was a sign of their great love and devotion, and so He blessed and rewarded them for it.
The last century has seen great changes in what is considered ‘women’s work’. The traditional role of a woman staying at home and running the household has virtually disappeared. Women are increasingly free to find fulfilment in the work place as well as, or instead of, the home. However, surveys show that women still do the majority of housework, and there are areas of work where women still find it hard to be accepted. There are places where gender stereotypes still prevail!
Under God, our church (the Church of England) now recognises that gender is not a barrier to serving Christ in any role. The recent ordinations of Libby Lane as Bishop of Stockport, Alison White as Bishop of Hull and Rachel Treweek as Bishop of Gloucester are testimony to the truth that in God there is neither male nor female. That, ultimately, there is no longer something which we can call ’women’s work’ (or for that matter, ‘men’s work’).
The resurrection stories highlight the truth that God entrusts important messages to those who faithfully serve him. When we argue about who does what; when we become too focussed on gender roles; or when we become too concerned about our status and about power and influence we miss out. For while we are arguing our case, Jesus turns to someone else who has been faithful in service and entrusts his message of love to them.
What matters most of all is our relationship with God, with Jesus and with each other. It is relationships that are central to the Christian faith, and it is love that matters more than power, or rights, or influence. It is relationships that matter more than codes of conduct, or fulfilling what is expected of us. Yes, during Jesus’ life on earth, women had traditional roles; they ministered to Jesus’ physical needs and remained faithful to him. As a result they were among the most privileged of all Christ’s disciples: they never deserted the Saviour; their testimonies of Him never faltered; they never stopped bearing witness of His divinity.
So, it was the women who were entrusted first with the Good News, ‘Christ is Risen!’
It was the women who first were told to ‘Go and tell’.
We have heard their message down the ages. A quick glance around almost any congregation will of course confirm that it is women who constitute the numerical majority of the Christian faithful. But this is not just a message for women to share. Christ calls on all his faithful ones to shout, ‘Christ is Risen!’ and to find ways to ‘Go and tell’ others of all that we have received from him – men, women and children!
The message is alive in both men and women, and we both have a mandate to share the message this Easter. Christ is alive and well; He dwells within us, and calls us (all, whoever we are) to share in the work of the Kingdom.