In her memoir Mighty Be Our Powers, the Liberian grassroots activist and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee said:
Modern war stories often resemble each other, male commanders are quoted offering predictions of swift victory, male diplomats make serious pronouncements, male fighters, rebels and government forces alike shoot off their mouths and guns … but if you look closely and carefully, in the background you will find the women. You will see us fleeing, weeping, and kneeling before our children’s graves. … Our suffering is often just a sidebar to the main tale, but we are always there.
Unfortunately like stories of war, Bible stories are told eerily similarly; a male God speaks to male prophets, about male kings, and a mostly male people that this male God cares deeply about and the women, when they are mentioned, are sidebars to the main tale. One must look carefully to see them, to hear them, to notice their stories, to see them kneeling by their children’s graves, but the women are always there.
If we look closely in the Gospel of Luke we see the women here clearly. Luke tries to make plain what the other biblical scribes push to the background. Luke makes it very clear that the women in Jesus’ life were not just bystanders to God’s plan of salvation, they were not just watching from afar, hanging in the background; no, they were there for every important moment in the life of Jesus, including being the first to witness the Resurrection.
They were there when Jesus was baptized. They were there when he began his ministry and gave his first sermon to his home synagogue. They were there when Jesus calmed the storm, healed the sick, and raised the dead. They were there as he argued with the Pharisee and organized his neighbors in Galilee. They were there as he called for prayer and peace for his country, and as he wept for his people. They were there for his dinner with Zacchaeus, and his parables of the prodigal son and good Samaritan. They were with him as he mourned with Martha and Mary, as he wept for Lazarus’ death.
They were there in the upper room on that Thursday as Jesus instituted the meal, gave the new covenant, and washed all of their feet. They were there when Judas greeted him with a kiss and when the centurions and chief priest arrested him. They were there when Peter denied Jesus, the crowd mocked Jesus, and Pilate taunted Jesus and sentenced him to death. They were there as he took his long walk to the cross, as they put the crown of thorns on him, as they shoved the nails into his hands and hammered the iron into his feet. They were there as they strung him up on the cross and he struggled to breathe and catch his last breath. They were there as darkness covered the whole land, the ground of the earth began to shake, the veil of the temple was torn in two and Jesus was pronounced dead.
They were there listening as Peter beat himself up for denying Jesus, and they were there when news came that Judas killed himself for betraying Jesus. They were there as the beloved disciple retreated into a corner because his world was over and his best friend and partner in crime was gone. They were there and active in every step of the Jesus ministry; his miracles, his teachings, his leadership, his community based activism, his spiritual revivals, his great awakening, his Jerusalem campaign. They were there for all of that, and that Saturday night they struggled to sleep.
Scripture tells us that the women — Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and the other unnamed women — rose up early that Sunday morning and journeyed to the tomb. As they approached they noticed the stone was rolled away and a strange man dazzling in white was facing them and posed them this question:
Why do you go looking for the living one among the dead?
I see Mary staring back at the angel with a blank face and worried eyes. Yet, I imagine the angel continues:
Why did you come here this morning? Why did you get up so early three days after Jesus died? Why did you wait until today? Why not come yesterday or tomorrow, why come out at all? You all knew exactly what you were looking for; you came here looking for the living one among the dead. You were hoping that you would find Jesus alive and well, breathing and resurrected.
I imagine the angel saying:
You were there with Jesus when he healed, taught and proclaimed. You were there when he predicted this would happen, when he said it must happen. But you were also there when he suffered, and you almost forgot the most important thing he taught you, but I think when you woke up this morning you remembered that he promised he would rise again. And you came here because you believed his promise. You came here because you were hoping he would be alive.
And in that moment, I see Mary’s eyes open widely. See the hope light up in her body as she too dazzles like the angels remembering the words of her God that had sent her looking for the living among the dead. Yes, that is why we came to the grave. Yes, that is why we woke up so early this morning. Yes, that is why we couldn’t sleep last night. Yes, yes, yes — we have come looking for the living among the dead, the time we have spent with Jesus has taught us that this is exactly where we should be. We heard him and we internalized what he said, but we forgot as we traveled through all that despair and pain. We remember now. Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen! Death has not won. We have seen life beyond death.
I believe that when these women woke up early this Sunday morning, in addition to spices and burial perfumes they also carried hope with them. They knew they saw the tomb shut closed, and that Jesus didn’t have a pulse anymore, but they also knew he promised to always be with them and promised to beat death. And I believe because of their proximity to Jesus, they knew his promise was more reliable than conditions of physical body.
I believe that their action of hope, going to a graveyard and hoping that there would be life there, is the Easter story we need. I believe the Resurrection happened the moment the women decided to rise up from the depths of their despair and have faith in the teachings of Jesus and follow him into graveyard of death hopeful that they would find life.
I believe that the very act of being hopeful in a dreadful world is a proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The very act of living as though there is a tomorrow, when today is crashing down on you is an existential protest of death and an ontological rebellion against despair. I believe that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Joanna embodied the Resurrection ethos and thus were the most significant expositors of the gospel because they were the first to declare that Jesus has risen even before they ever see Jesus for themselves. They are true faithful ones. They construct the Resurrection narrative, not by sight, but by remembering their faith.
They teach us that Resurrection was just not one historical moment that only happened when Jesus of Nazareth overcame death, despair, and evil. Oh no, the testimony of the women who were there teach us that resurrection can and should happen every single day when we go in search of Jesus, the living one, among what the world has declared dead. They teach us that the power of resurrection is available to each end every one of us. Christ is Risen! Death has not won.