Easter women

Easter Sunday, 31st March 2002
Early morning Eucharist

Christ is Risen. Alleluia!

Once again, itís a woman who is there! Women were at the foot of the cross and now, early in the morning, before anyone else is up, before the dayís work begins, Mary Magdalene has gone to tend the tomb of the one whom she loved so tenderly. The arrival of Peter and John is almost incidental to the story. Yes they come running; they are the ones who actually look into the tomb to find nothing; but there is nothing much else to be said. They believed but what they believed is not clear, for in the next breath, the evangelist says Ďfor as yet they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead. Extraordinary really isnít it? All those hints which Jesus seems to have given them - all that promise, all the expectation, and then they, the two best disciples, come face to face with the empty tomb, and still it does not click. What do they do? They return home. Wow, is that dumbed down religion or what?

It is left to Mary to be the agent of revelation. Fascinating that, if Mary was really what tradition claims she was. She is the one, weeping, who stays, and, one assumes, prays for comfort, for understanding, and as she weeps and prays, she is the one who encounters the angels, the messengers. Where did they come from then? Werenít they there when Peter and John looked in? Peter upon whom the church is to be built, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved - why could they not see them? Who knows? Whatever the answer, in that moment, as the final barrier is overturned, and death is transformed into life, so the whole social order of 1st century Israel is overturned too and for that matter, the social order of most of the known world for two thousand years. For Jesus, at one and the same time, confusingly unrecognisable to the eye, yet instantly known in the heart as he speaks just that one word ďMaryĒ, Jesus the Risen Christ, the Christ in whom the fullness of Godís life is at this moment revealed, sends a woman with the good news of the resurrection. It is Mary who is the first apostle of the good news of the totality of Godís victory on the cross. And it has taken the world two thousand years to recognise that truth, and even now it is half-hearted and grudging in so many respects.

I remember some years ago, when I was a curate in Alnwick, arguing the case with the then Bishop of Newcastle, an eccentric but holy man, of whom we were very fond, but who was wholly unconvinced of the case for ordaining women. He rejected the argument; but I remain convinced! If Johnís Gospel is about anything it is about the encounter between creation and Creator in which the fullness of Godís possibilities for the world are revealed through the mediation of Jesus - water into wine, blindness into sight, sickness into health, death into life - and in the death and resurrection of Jesus the final transfiguration of the world is revealed, the vision of the completion of Godís creative work is made real. With this vision at the heart of our faith, all that is imperfect and broken can clearly be transformed. And as the first demonstration of that fact, the story which has for the most part been apparently so male-focussed is itself transformed by Maryís encounter with the living Christ, and her subsequent apostolate to the apostles.

Of course tradition has it that it is Luke who is concerned about issues of justice for the poor and the marginalized and the ignored; but it seems John too, in his more expansive and poetic style, lays down his challenge - a challenge we have found it so difficult to handle in the church as much as, if not more than, the rest of the world. Strange isnít it that in the ASB calendar of Saints, there are eighty-six which commemorate men and only fourteen for women, strange that although for a long time churches generally have been more full with women than with men, and have relied so enormously on their ministry, women have given themselves with at least as much fidelity and courage to the religious life as have men, that women it was who ministered to Jesus, stood at the foot of the cross, witnessed the resurrected Christ and yet still the church in its wisdom - and I mean the church at every level - will not give to women the place that is rightfully theirs. I say that knowing very well that progress has been made (after two thousand years) little by little - but let us not pretend that the ordination to the priesthood of a few thousand women has overturned the history of the world! Ordination is by no means everything, but it is symbolic of something which goes very deep in the culture of mankind; and for as long as the attitudes still prevail that suppress the fullness of the life of women, attitudes that force individual women in so many contexts to bear crosses imposed upon them by a world and a church which is in most respects still mediated by men, the call heard from parts of the church to return to scriptural values ring hollow indeed.

What then can I do, as I proclaim that Christ is Risen on this Easter morning? Very little - I cannot change the world. Besides I am a party to and complicit in the blindness that prevails, the impoverishment of the new world that Christ proclaims. I can own, and own up to, my sinfulness and our corporate sinfulness, and I do. But there is little more - oh yes, I can commit myself to work for justice, words which slip easily from my lips, and in the end become patronising - but what else? Nothing, but thank God, and thank you. And I do that. Thank you, Eileen and Gilly, and through you, all those who still are in essence unrecognised as apostles of the resurrection. I hope you will accept these as symbols, as you are symbols, offered not patronisingly, but in thanksgiving for your, and all womenís partnership in the Gospel of our crucified and risen Lord.

Andrew Deuchar

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th May 2002