Let’s talk about these women for a moment. At Easter it is a common to say Jesus was abandoned by all his friends and followers. Judas betrays, Peter denies, the rest flee - leaving Jesus alone. But when we read carefully we see that while that was the case for the men, there is a group of women who stay. They stay through the entire, gruelling, devastating crucifixion. They stay through the chill of that sorrowful night, as Jesus’ body is buried. And they return, as soon as the Sabbath (and its requirements) are fulfilled. Matthew does not include any details about why the women are going to the tomb. Unlike other gospels there is no comment about approaching with spices in hand, no conversation between them about who will move the stone. Once again - like their silent vigils across the Friday - they just show up. And I think they stay and they show up for the same reason - it appears that, unlike the other disciples, they have taken Jesus at his word.
Jesus has again and again predicted his death and announced that he will rise. At almost every occasion this is met (by the male disciples) with confusion, objection, or disbelief. These women on the other hand, responded with action. The first act was the anointing at Bethany. Matthew leaves the woman doing the anointing unnamed (though records Jesus saying that her act - of preparing him for burial with a most lavish display of reverence and affection - will be held forever in the memory of the church), John names this woman as Mary - the very same Mary who is here in our reading. That was the first act. The second act is the solidarity of the silent vigil these women held while watching their friend, their messiah, their hope, slowly extinguish on the cross. Just as we proclaimed on Friday, that Jesus dies in solidarity with all the victims of history; in solidarity with all of us at our lowest points, the women stand in solidarity with him - ensuring that even if he feels completely alone, they are keeping watch. The third act is here, on the day of the resurrection, when the women show up. And I think Matthew, by omitting all other details, intends for us to see that the women are showing up expecting Jesus, expecting him to be true to his word, expecting God to vindicate and raise their friend, their messiah, their hope from the depths of the tomb.
And so it happens. The earth shakes, the stone rolls away, and the angel of the Lord appears with the good news - fear not! He is not here, he has been raised, he is on his way to Galilee - just as he said - go now, and tell the others. Just as he said… the women’s trust and action has been vindicated. They were right to anoint him, ready for death, they were right to stay and watch, they were right to show up expectant. Who better to entrust the first Easter proclamation, the first testimony to the resurrection than to these women - these women who took Jesus at his word, and kept showing up. These women, who continued to demonstrate their trust through wordless action, are now entrusted with the most important words of all - Christ is Risen!
At this moment the narrative takes a funny turn. The Angel of the Lord tells them to go, preach the good news to the disciples, and then meet Jesus in Galilee. The women run off, in fear and great joy (what a phrase!) but then Suddenly (what a word!) Suddenly Jesus met them. Why didn’t Jesus wait… its unlikely he and the angel got the message mixed up, the women were doing what they were commanded, but Jesus jumps the gun and shows up to them with greetings. The women stay true to form, falling at his feet and in jubilation, relief, and joy to worship him — then Jesus basically repeats the angels message: fear not, go tell the others, meet me in Galilee. Why this interlude? Why this cameo?
We cannot know. But we can feel something in it. It’s a moment full of feeling. I’ve been reflecting on it for some time now, wondering why Jesus shows up for the women rather than waiting. I have two ideas; afterwards I’d love to hear any of yours:
- It happened because they expected it to happen; they had shown up for Jesus, so Jesus shows up for them. Jesus continually promises to be present (when two or three gather, when you knock and seek, when we remember him) and these women came to the tomb, gathered in his name, seeking his face, remembering his promises - and Jesus responds earnestly. Out of lavish grace and generosity he is moved by their faith and becomes present to them.
- The second, and this is my favourite: Jesus just couldn’t wait to see them! The resurrected Christ is still the fully human Jesus of Nazareth - who made friends, shared meals with his followers, and invited them to share in his relationship with God. One of the most important truths of Christianity is that the resurrection can never be detached from the crucifixion - Jesus, though resurrected is still marked by the experience of the cross - as John records, he still bears its scars (and those scars are physical and emotional), and so Jesus must feel gratitude to these women who prepared him for this most humiliating and painful of experiences, must feel gratitude and love for these women who kept watch over him as he died, who stood by him when so many others turned away, who stayed to watch him be laid in a tomb and who showed up again at that tomb as soon as they could. I mean if you had friends like that, how would you feel?
Jesus just couldn’t wait to see them and so - suddenly - he appeared to greet them. The overall plan is still the same, assemble the whole crew and go to Galilee, this moment is simply an overflow of grace, and love, and affection from Jesus the crucified and risen one, for his friends and followers.
And I say it is the same for us today. Jesus wants to meet us. Wants to greet us on the road. Wants to be present before us, filling our hearts with jubilation, thanksgiving, and praise. When we gather together and when we go, Jesus longs to meet us. And this isn’t just for those who, like these women, never faltered in their trust, Jesus shows up for all his disciples, Jesus enfolds them all back into the new family he has created. And the risen Christ, present with us today by the power of the Spirit, longs to meet those who have never expected to meet Jesus, who have never looked for the living amongst the dead, never approached the cross with fear and great joy.
There’s a story told in an episode of The West Wing:
"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.
"A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
"Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on
"Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"
Jesus, our friend, longs to meet all of us, exactly where we are, for two very Easterly reasons:
1) Jesus knows how hard it is - Jesus lived a hard life, and he died a bitter death. Jesus has been down in the hole. Jesus has compassion for our plight - the kind of compassion that we might have felt when we see someone struggling with the same or similar issues we have or are dealing with.
2) But not only has Jesus descended to the depths, Jesus has provided the way out - in the resurrection Jesus has made a way out of no way. Jesus has shown that the pain, agony, isolation, anxiety, and evil of this world does not have the last word, it will not win the day. Jesus has shown that the world’s petty violence and vindictive injustice is not greater than the power of God’s love. God’s kingdom of life has overcome the empires of death. In the crucifixion and resurrection the Triune God has acted together to begin the making right of all that is wrong; the destruction of Sin and the undoing of Death. God has opened a path not only for us to be free from all that holds us down, but to participate - each and every day in the work of God to do away with all that oppresses and establish all that leads to peace, justice, reconciliation, and love!
And whether we show up expecting just such a miracle, or whether we have lost all hope or whether we never thought to look - Jesus is showing up, often quite suddenly, and Jesus is staying with us, and Jesus is showing us the way, that whenever we want, we can meet him in Galilee and join him in the good work of the Kingdom of God - work which brings hope where there was despair, justice where there was oppression, community where there was brokenness, inclusion where there was exclusion, love where there was hate, life where there was death!