It was the Women

mary mag susanna joanna

Have you noticed that in all the biblical narratives about Jesus’ resurrection (what Christians around the world celebrate on Easter Day) it is the women who first see the empty tomb, or the risen Christ, or the angel in glaring white who proclaims he has gone before them, that he lives on?

In Matthew’s gospel “Mary of Magdala came with Mary to inspect the tomb.” (Matt 28:1) In Mark’s rendition it’s “Mary of Magdala, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome” who approach the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus and find it empty, with a “youth” dressed all in white standing nearby. (Mark 16:1) In Luke “the women came to the tomb bringing the spices they had prepared” and a few lines later Luke tells us “the women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James” (Luke 24:1 and 10) and even in the gospel of John “Mary of Magdala” came to the tomb, sees its empty, and runs to get the other disciples (John 20:1-2).

You may be thinking:  that’s a lot of Marys!  A lot of women!  And… where were the men?  If you remember from the story, or if you go back to look, they aren’t there.  They fall asleep during Jesus’ agony in the garden, even after he asks them to stay awake with him.  They scatter when he is arrested.  Peter, his closest apostle, denies him outright three times, swearing he never even knew Jesus.  Then, after the ordeal, the violence of the crucifixion, they are in hiding, it is assumed because they are petrified that the same thing could happen to them (and as a side note, they were not unfounded in such fears—years later Peter would, indeed, be crucified as his Christ was crucified).  Yet the women, we are told, remain.  They are with him along the way of the cross.  They are with him at the foot of the cross, while he breathes his last.  They are with him, even in his death.

Isn’t this curious?   Shouldn’t it grab our attention?  It has mine, especially since over and over in my life and theological studies I’ve been told there were only 12 apostles and they were all men.  Moreover, this understanding of the select group of apostles is often used to justify why women in the Roman Catholic tradition can’t be priests—because Jesus, they say, only called men to follow him.  Yet here, in the gospel accounts themselves, in fact, in every single one, it is the women who witness this most-important moment in the history of Christianity—the resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, in each case, they are the ones who go and tell the men in hiding.  Without these women, it might be wondered, would we still have, 2000 years later, the story of the Christ at all?

When we probe further into the story, into the gospel texts themselves, we see that these are not just any women—these are the women who have been following Jesus from the beginning, and who have in fact been supporting his ministry.  Luke says that a group of women– Susanna, Joanna and “many others” were supporting Jesus “out of their own means.”  (Luke 8:3).    In this mix of women is Mary of Magdala—the one who Scripture says (Luke 8:2) was healed of 7 demons, who then devoted her entire life to his way and his teachings.  (Mary of Magdala, also, it should be noted, is NEVER referred to as a prostitute in Scripture.  That scriptural mix-up was sealed in the public eye 1591 in a homily given by Pope Gregory the Great.  {Visit here to read more} and has remained the main understanding of the Magdala in popular, misogynistic culture).  By her name alone, especially the “of Magdala” part, we can assume that this Mary was a person of power and property, wealthy and with-it enough to be a patron of Jesus.  These are the women who remained, who were with him through it all, the only ones who did not leave his side, even in the moments of his most excruciating pain, humility and death.

So why, then, do so many Christian churches still claim that Jesus’ apostles were only men?  Why do the powers-that-be continue to use this as an excuse to further denigrate women, relegating them to places of submission on the sidelines?  It is clear that these women were central, not just to the life of Jesus, but to the entire existence and ongoing narrative of the story of Christianity.  These are the women who stood strong and remained persistent in their belief, who clung through the Mystery of Death to their concrete experience of the Christ, so that even when he was gone, love was still stronger than death.  Love became the eyes to see the unbelievable—the Risen One, life beyond death, a love that would never die.  The remained, they persisted, and so they saw—and in their sight the rest of the world was able to see the resurrection too.

It has become essential for me to lift up the women these days—in this narrative, in all narratives—because something is happening in our world.  The women are rising.  Women are rising with their cries of “no more” and “me too.”  Women are taking to the streets to protect their children, to call for an end to violence, to demand environmental protections for our Earth mother, to say enough is enough, I am not an object, corruption will not win, evil will not have the final say, death is not the end of the story.  It is the women who are doing this, because it is the women who are suffering, the women who have suffered for thousands of years under the stifling boot of patriarchy and misogyny.  Women have participated in this system by playing small and staying quiet and pretending we are less powerful than we are.  But we see that it’s not working, that wars are raging and the earth is dying and insanity is ruling and nothing seems to make sense anymore.  And so the women who have always remained, who in their rootedness and assurance of our place in things, our full-bodied confidence in healing and in life, who have long since stood watch for every little moment of resurrection, are rising in this Big Resurrection time.

We are rising and we are pulling everyone along with us, because when the women rise, it is not just about them, it is about the entirety of humanity and this earth we call home.  When the women rise, it is integral and whole because they, we, in our bodies, hold the whole.  We know death, looking it in the face every time we give birth.  We come to its edge and through great pain and the outpouring of blood and water we bring life into the world.  In this way, the paschal mystery has come to be over and over and over and over again through the bodies of women.  It is essential for the continuance of life.

This paschal (Easter) mystery—death, agony and resurrection into new life—is needed now more than ever.  Women are and will lead the way, even if they remain unacknowledged by culture, religion and politics, those in “power”.  It will be because it is the way of the Risen One, the One who names women as his primary disciples, and who asked them, the women, to be the bridge from death into life, fear into belief, hiding into open action.  It is the way of the One who healed Mary of Magdala so totally that she became heart-bound to him forever and is, indeed, the apostle to the apostles.

In this Easter time, let us remember the women of the gospels, but especially, let us remember the women throughout time and those today—who bleed and suffer and die and who rise with their cries of “no more.”  Let us listen and let us together be true people of resurrection.  Let us give birth to a new world of love and justice where women continue to lead the way.


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