Preparing to preach on Easter I note some curious truths. The first to experience Easter, and the first to preach Easter were women (take that, those who think that women preaching isn’t “biblical”!). And to whom do the women preach the resurrection? The disciples of Jesus.
Preachers and lay leaders of the church please note. The disciples don’t believe the women. They think they are hysterical. The disciples dismiss their news as “an idle tale.” As Kierkegaard noted, how curious that those who were closest to this event, those whom Jesus had been carefully preparing - his own inner circle, the disciples -- are the least prepared to believe. Those who were the most prepared, who had a front row seat in the class - Jesus disciples - were as dumb as anyone, dumber, actually.
People who teach in theological schools take note: Even the two Jewish religious groups who at the time were the most sophisticated in thinking about resurrection, who were working the most diligently from the Scriptures to prepare an adequate theological foundation for the resurrection - the Pharisees and the Essenes - missed the whole thing. As Karl Barth once said, when it comes to the gospel, everybody is an amateur, everyone a beginner.
Luke makes the intellectually marginalized - in this case, women who were denied participation in the educational systems of the day - play so prominent a role in perception of resurrection. Mary Magdalene - maybe the most marginal of any of the early followers of Jesus - is the chief resurrection witness and the only person to appear in all four accounts. All we know about Mary Magdalene before she joined Jesus is that she had previously been possessed by “seven devils.” The “seven devils” could refer to an utterly dissolute moral life or to an extreme form of mental illness. Either or both of these pre-Jesus conditions, coupled with being a woman in a patriarchal society, put her at the far edge of marginality.
If you were Luke and trying to convince people of the truth of the resurrection, would you make your chief endorsements come from those whom the majority of people are least likely to believe? Given the importance that we in our society gives to celebrity endorsements, it’s more than a little disconcerting that the main witness to the resurrection is a woman on the margins.
Unless that was exactly how it happened. Here is a God who tends to work the margins rather than the center, who does not limit divine revelation to the “in crowd.” You can’t get much more in the center of the “in crowd” of the church than being a bishop, and a male bishop at that.
I think in this early testimony to the resurrection that we read in the gospels, a parable is here for those of us, all of us in the church, Jesus’ closest friends, the Jesus “in crowd.” We may be the slowest to apprehend the full, frightening, wonderful truth of the resurrection. We may have to listen to the testimony of those whom we don’t consider to be on the “in crowd.” We may have to admit that the resurrection is both our hope and our judgment as followers of Jesus.
Happy Easter. He is risen, he is risen indeed.
William H. Willimon