Apr 28 2013 - Luke 23:44-24:12 – The women who had followed him from Galilee
One of the striking features of today's reading is the role of the women in the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. The male disciples had fled when Jesus was arrested but the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance, watching while he died upon the cross. When the crowds dispersed to their homes, beating their breasts, it was these women who stayed and watched as Joseph of Arimathea took the body from the cross, wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb which had been prepared for his own death. They noted where the body of Jesus had been placed before going to prepare spices and perfumes to disguise the smell of the body as it began to decay.
Having rested on the Sabbath, it was these same women who arrived at the tomb in the early hours of the morning on the first day of the week wondering how they would roll the stone from the tomb. None of the male disciples came early to the tomb. The women found that the stone had already been rolled away from its entrance. Two gleaming figures greeted them asking, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (Luke 24:5). These 'men' reminded the women of the things that Jesus had said while he was with them in Galilee, that "The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again" (24:7). Then the women remembered what Jesus had taught them. So they left the tomb to find the missing men and tell them all that they had seen and heard.
And what of the men? "They did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (24:11).
The Gospels are remarkable in the place they give to women as witnesses to the resurrection. They were written in an age when the testimony of women was given little weight. Perhaps for that very reason the women were able to stay in the vicinity of the cross and follow Joseph to the tomb without attracting attention. They were thought of as insignificant, perhaps hardly even noticed.
Their testimony to Jesus was and remains of the greatest significance. When many men still declaim loudly that the Christian message is nonsense, it is often the faithful testimony of women that demonstrates that Jesus Christ is alive and at work in the world. Women have formed the faithful backbone of the Christian community down the years even though their ministry often goes unrecognised.
The Church of England has recently been exercised over whether to allow women bishops. I would not wish to comment on that debate, except perhaps to say that the episcopal form of government seems to be a peculiar reflection of male concerns for position and power. Might a fresh appreciation of the spiritual gifting of women lead to different models for leadership within the community of the people of God?
Lord God, we give you thanks for faithful women. For Deborah, without whom Barak would not have defended the people of God; for Esther without whom the Israelites would have suffered genocide; for Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James who witnessed the empty tomb and told the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead; for Lydia in Philippi who supported Paul’s ministry and saw a church founded in the city; for Priscilla who was a noted gospel worker and helper of apostles; for many countless women down the years who have loved Jesus and served him faithfully and fruitfully. Help us to value each of your servants and to encourage them in the work you have given them to do.