Updated: Apr 19, 2022
By Julia Styles
Lectionary reading for 4/17/22: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 or Luke 24:1-12
Selected passage for reflection: Acts 10:34-35; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:11-18
Acts 10:34-35 NRSV
34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Luke 24:1-12 NRSV
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
John 20:11-18 NRSV
11 Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look[a] into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew,[b] “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Easter is a celebration of victory of Life over Death. On Resurrection Sunday we celebrate the empty tomb and Jesus raised from the dead! After weeks of Lent, we finally get to shout “Hallelujah! He is Risen!”
The core of the Christian message is that God will do in us what God did in raising Jesus from the dead. God will set all things right between us and Him. Whatever is dying or broken, God can make it right (Romans 10). In Luke 24 and John 20, I see God starting to make things right by correcting the inequities of patriarchy–a system of society in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. "In a world that didn’t accept the word of a woman as a valid witness, Jesus chose women as witnesses for his resurrection,” notes Beth Allison Barr in her book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth.
Barr writes that “Patriarchy exists in the Bible because the Bible was written in a patriarchal world. Historically speaking, there is nothing surprising about biblical stories and passages riddled with patriarchal attitudes and actions. What is surprising is how many biblical passages and stories undermine, rather than support, patriarchy.” She encourages us to seek out those surprising moments and see a true picture of Christianity that does not subjugate women, but holds all humans as equally valuable.
The story of Jesus’ resurrection in Luke 24 and John 20 are two such examples where biblical scripture undermines, rather than supports, patriarchy. Luke 24 centers women as the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other unnamed women went to Jesus’ tomb with spices to prepare Jesus’ body for the grave. What they found instead was a tombstone rolled away and empty grave clothes. When the angels shared Jesus’ message of rising on the third day, “They remembered his words (Luke 24:8).” That means that these women were taught by Jesus. Like Mary, sister of Martha, they sat at Jesus’ feet and were students of the Rabbi. These women were Jesus’ disciples. In a very patriarchal society, Jesus not only opened the doors for women to learn scripture, he empowered them to be the first to spread the good news of the resurrection.
The women’s witness challenges the cultural norms of many of Jesus' followers, and many ignore their testimony, but there are two apostles that take up the challenge and listen to the women: Peter and John. In John 20:3 it says, “Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck.” Those two men ran to the tomb to see the grave clothes with their own eyes. Because John and Peter believed the words of Mary Magdalene and the other women, they were the first of the Eleven Apostles to see and believe Jesus’ resurrection!
I feel for those followers of Jesus who couldn’t break free from the prejudices of their time. They missed the chance to see the tombstone rolled away. They missed seeing the angels. They missed the opportunity to affirm that Death did not have the Last Word. How many times throughout history has the church dismissed or erased the testimony of women, and as a result people have missed out on the good news of Life defeating Death? Too many to count, I’m afraid. It’s time for the church to follow in the footsteps of Peter and John and listen to women–to their wisdom, guidance and testimony to what God is doing in the world today.
In Galatians 3:28, Paul says “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Acts 10, Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.” If God does not show partiality in gender, then we need to do the work to make it a reality in the Church by dismantling systems of sexism, racism and classism, and all the other -isms holding people at the margins.
The first action Jesus took after his resurrection was to send women as his witnesses into the world. Jesus is still sending women into the world to proclaim the good news of resurrection. My hope is that the Church would start encouraging these women instead of dismissing them. My hope is that followers of Christ would take the steps necessary to dismantle sexist systems and practices that pervade our culture and work towards implementing egalitarian structures and ideas, where men and women have equal value, and service is based on giftedness, not gender, and leadership in the church and home is shared.
The first step to being one in Christ, as Paul proclaims, is to determine what divides us, by taking an honest look at ourselves and our religious spaces.
Below is a continuum of justice engagement developed by Rev. Dr. Devyn Chambers. Read through the descriptions and determine where you and your organization fall in the continuum. Reflect on your personal reality as well as the reality of your faith community using this model.
Tolerate • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Willing to recognize women in ministry and leadership in general as long as it does not affect me or require my resources.
Ally • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Befriend women in ministry and listen to their stories and experiences; support women in ministry on an individual or personal level; have empathy for their experiences but do not address the cause of women’s experiences on a systemic level or within my organization.
Advocate • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Vocally support women in ministry and leadership; more than supporting an individual person, support the cause as a whole; recognize and call out systemic injustices that marginalize women in ministry.
Make Room • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Understand that more than advocacy, the flourishing of women is the goal; be aware that righting injustice will cost me something; realize that their embodied advocacy will require that we get out of the way or let someone pass; surrender and share power in every area of my life.
Now Act: What steps can you take to move yourself and your organization further along?
On this Resurrection Sunday, we rejoice along with Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who witnessed the empty tomb. “Hallelujah! He is risen. He is risen indeed!” Jesus, continue to show us the good news of your resurrection in our daily lives. Lord, help us to rest in the promise that we are all one in Christ, and that you show no partiality for one group over another. God, help us to know that you are good and your love endures forever.
About the Author
Julia Styles is a Spiritual Director. She is passionate about women in ministry and believes the church needs to hear their voices—in the pulpit, on the page, in the classroom, and in positions of leadership both within and outside the church. To contact Julia for a free spiritual direction session visit www.spiritualdirectionwithjulia.com.
Julia resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Derek and two littles, Jakob and Zoe.