At Easter people tend to preach from the resurrection narratives, all four of which hinge on a woman or group of women arriving at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body and then finding the tomb empty.
They give us various other details, which are not difficult to harmonise, because they wanted to draw out different details—my favourite being the way John depicts the tomb as the Holy of Holies, the stone slab as the mercy seat and the presence of God… not where you would expect it to be. Perhaps a story for another day!
When we preach these narratives its very common to point out that in a first century context it would be unusual to use women as eyewitnesses. They were less likely to be believed and their evidence had less weight in court. The point usually is, if you were making it up this is a terrible way to do it. It only makes sense if this is how it happened.
It’s a piece of an apologetic argument to try to verify that these accounts can be historically relied upon. As far as it goes, I think its fine, but when preaching as opposed to trying to defend the gospels as history, it’s an exercise in missing the point.
Sometimes people take the point a little further and notice that the accounts confer unique dignity on women in a culture that tended to do the opposite. Maybe we could draw out that all the men left (except John) and all the women stayed to watch the crucifixion, or that women were the first to proclaim the resurrection. This is closer to the point that the gospel writers wanted us to grasp, but still misses some of the Bible’s story.
For a start, it is not a surprise that women are the first to meet the resurrected Jesus. Why not? Here are three reasons.
God announces his plans to women
When God acts in the Old Testament he often announces his plans to women. Often enough, in fact, that it becomes a trope (a feature of the story) so that if we knew that Jesus would be raised and be announced as King in the act, we would expect a woman to be told. Likely, a childless woman, a mirror to Mary his mother at the start of his story.
Think throughout the scriptures and find these women: Eve, Miriam, Hannah—preceeding great acts of redemption. Think more about God’s actions and perhaps see also Tamar, Rahab, Sarah, Ruth, Bathsheba and many others as important actors in the stories of new kings or the leaders of the people.
Who else would Jesus meet?
The promise is given to Eve
In Genesis 3 after Adam failed as king of the world and he and Eve are cursed for their sin in taking what they wanted instead of receiving what was given, God speaks with Eve. He gives her a promise that from her will come a seed—which is stranger than we often allow, men have seeds, women have eggs, we’re supposed to notice this and look for one who comes without a man.
It’s a promise to her, for all women, about a descendent who will have his heel bruised by the dragon but slay him for good. A descendent who doesn’t come from men but from women and God. A promise given to Eve, and through her all women, and through them all their children thankfully including the rest of us.
The promise is given to Eve, we would expect to see another woman in another garden walking with God on the first day of the new creation. That is of course, exactly what happens.
Women are the crown of creation
A close reading of Genesis 2 should give us the idea that the woman is particularly important. The end, or goal, of creation in fact. A king had to be put to sleep (read: death) and have his side opened to find a bride to complete his mission with. Does that sound familiar?
We often say the gospel is in Genesis 3 with the promise to Eve, its already been given in Genesis 2. I think its already been laid out in Genesis 1 as well. The Bible describes men as ‘heads’, which we need to consider carefully and with an eye to story, but is a fact of existence. In the same breath we should speak of women as crowns. Which is clunky, but I mean that the woman fulfills the story role of the purpose, the end, the reason for creation.
Which is to say: Jesus came to get his bride. Who else would he be eager to meet first? Especially in John’s gospel who has showed us the bride again and again along the way. In Mary Magdalene we find ourselves. This is the story we’re all living.
Who are you in the grand faery tale of history? You’re the princess waiting for the prince to, at great cost, kill the dragon.
What else did you expect?
There’s nothing wrong with the typical preaching tropes, they aren’t untrue, but they are missing the point. Let’s preach the Bible to our people in its fullness.