It is interesting that generally greater prominence is given to the men in the Gospel than women, at least in our general understanding of things. We hear a lot about what the men say, what they get up to and what they do but we seem little about the women. But it is clear that women are not only amongst the disciples of Jesus but they are at the forefront of the Gospel, not only are they mentioned but they spill out from the pages….somewhere along the way somebody has omitted to tell us this. The women do have prominence: Mary & Elizabeth, Martha and Mary, Mary of Magdala, James & John’s mother, Peter’s mother in law, Mary the wife of Clopas, Joanna. But woman also pop up all over the place, sometimes even more than the men: he cures the daughter of Jairus, cures the bleeding woman, comforts the widow of Nain, forgives the woman caught in adultery, a woman anoints his feet and dries them her hair, he feeds 5000 men not to say the number also of women; the women of Jerusalem; the women who come from Galilee with him; the women who walk with him at the cross, the women at the tomb. The parable of the women who searches for the lost coin, the woman who cries to the unjust judge for justice and so on.
It is clear that in the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that women play not only a very important part but are essential players. Whereas the men are nowhere to be seen as Jesus carries his cross, the women in contrast mourn for him on the road and position themselves close to the cross. Whereas the men are locked away - they are in the open. And at the tomb it is they who come to anoint him with even more oils and scents, more than is possible to imagine (it certainly needs a crowd of them to carry them). Not only are they bold to do so but they are unafraid of what might happen to them. Its they who in Luke’s version see the tomb empty and it is they who receive the Easter message - why look among the dead for one who is alive. It is they who speak the word to his apostles who are slow to take it up, they think it fanciful, idle and wild talk. Peter checks it out but all the text tell us is that he wonders at it. Later we will hear that a woman sees the risen Jesus for the first time. She is given a name, as also are the women who come to the tomb, to give them prominence – we might also imagine with that came prominence amongst the early Christians as high as the weak Apostles, even in centuries and ages to follow that was not carried through. We are right to wonder why this was not the case.
If the apostles were trying to put down a story that would seem credible to the deeply hierarchal and patriarchal society to which they belonged, they would not have chosen to place women at the forefront. In this society women had little status and no legal right to be called as witnesses. The evangelists tell the story with the women at the forefront and having great prominence. They are shown to do the things that the men ought to do, they are shown to have courage rather than fear and it is they who receive the first announcement of his resurrection and in turn tell others – is this not the mission of the Church in every age and do not the women in the story give the lead as they have so often done.
We pride ourselves that we are a society that includes women more in our life, appreciates their talents, gives greater opportunities to them, that surely is a great grace for our times. And it is right to look at the Gospel today and take our lead, that in God’s eyes women are just as important as men, just as worthy as men and often more receptive to God than men. Their place is to have an equal dignity.
But it is important to read something else in the inclusion of the women in the story. That is, that God doesn’t exclude anyone from the Good News of Easter, not men and certainly not women. The poor are to be included. The undeserving are to be included. Those shut out are to be included. It is a universal message of joy for all, men and women, rich and poor, good and bad, deserving and undeserving, all have a call on God’s mercy.
Too often we miss the expansiveness of the story. Too often we miss the open arms with which it is addressed to all men and women.
The Easter message becomes therefore not a message that is trapped in a time warp, not trapped amongst a culture, not trapped amongst a group of people but a message that explodes into history, and that cannot be contained. It is not a joy for the few and self satisfied but for all. The tomb is empty not for the few but for all. His death and suffering is not for elite groups but for all. It is a joy that cannot be contained it is a message that is set a light and a fire that cannot be put out.