Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Faith that is Based on the Testimony of Women

When women went to the tomb in darkness, on the first Easter morning, they were disheartened by the thought of a large stone placed by the soldiers before the entrance of the tomb. To their surprise, the stone was rolled away. An angel, messenger of God, perched impudently upon the rock.

The angel preached the first Easter sermon: “Don’t be afraid. You seek Jesus, who was crucified? He is risen! Come, look at where he once lay in the tomb.” Then the angel commissioned the women to become Jesus’ first preachers: “Go, tell the men that he has already gone back to Galilee. There you will meet him.”

(How sad that there are still churches that continue, despite this clear witness of scripture, to deny the testimony of women and to prohibit them from preaching the gospel that God has given to them – but I digress.)

The women obeyed and sure enough out in Galilee the risen Christ encountered them. Why Galilee? Though all of Jesus’ disciples came from there, Galilee is in the Judean outback, a dusty, rural sort of place. Jesus himself hailed from Galilee, from Nazareth, a cheerless town in a forlorn region. (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” asked Nathaniel, before he met Jesus.) Galilee was held in contempt by most Judeans. It was a notorious hotbed of Jewish resistance to Roman rule. So the risen Christ has returned, once again, to those who had so miserably forsaken and disappointed Jesus first time around.

It’s emblematic of Jesus. Despite his disciples’ betrayal, the first day of his resurrected life, there’s Jesus, risen from the dead, with nothing more pressing than rapidly to return to the rag-tag group of Galilean losers who had the first time so failed him.

And what does Jesus say to them? His last words, at least as Matthew remembers, are – “You have all had a rough time lately. Settle down and snuggle in here in Galilee. After all, these are the good country folk with whom you are the most comfortable. Buy some real estate, build a church and enjoy one another’s company in a sort of spiritual club.” -- No! The risen Christ commands, “Go! Get out of here! Make me disciples, baptizing and teaching everything I’ve commanded you! And don’t limit yourselves to Judea. Go to everybody. I’ll stick with you until the end of time just to be sure you obey me.”

How like Jesus not to allow his people rest and peace, not to encourage them to hunker down with their own kind, but rather to send forth on the most perilous of missions those who had so disappointed him. They were, in Jesus’ name, to go, to take back the world that belonged to God. Here we encounter an implication of Jesus’ peripatetic nature: there is no way to be with Jesus, to love Jesus, without obeying Jesus, venturing with Jesus to “Go! Make disciples!”

By the way, in that time and in that place, the testimony of women was suspect, inadmissible in a court of law, ridiculed as being worthless. So why would the early church have staked everything on the testimony of these women at the tomb? You can be sure that if the men (hunkered down back in Jerusalem, I remind you) could have told the story of Jesus’ resurrection another way they would have – unless it happened exactly that way.

Let’s give thanks that these first preachers, these first evangelists, despite any fears they may have felt, despite any resistance they encountered from the men, stood up and told the truth of what they had seen and heard. Happy Easter!

William H. Willimon

4 comments:

Nathan said...

Well stated Bishop!
I've been using the fact the Mary Magdalene was the first to preach the Gospel as evidence that God cannot be against women preaching the Gospel. That God would pre-ordain every aspect of Jesus life and Holy Week, and then leave who preached the resurrected Gospel first completely to chance? Impossible!
Love the Blog,
Pastor Nathan Nordine
East Ohio Conference

Dr. Will Hensel said...

...and a message entrusted to mad men--the man from whom Jesus exorcised the legion of unclean spirits may be the first preacher He commissioned (Mk 5:19-20, e.g.). As a car salesman, I'm near the bottom of our cultural food chain in the eyes of many--so it's encouraging to recall that God explicitly includes those least favored by 'the world' among those called to be witnesses to Him and His faithfulness and holy love.

dt parker said...

Maybe I am being presumptious, but I think something needs to be clarified.

Denominations like mine, that do not ordain women to word and sacrament ministry do not tell them not to proclaim Christ is risen, or deny them the responsibility of effectively sharing their faith with their neighbors or friends. (I will admit there might be some that do... )

Rather, we see the desire of people who know trust in Christ to share that with their friends, neighbors families, and enemies, as something to be encouraged and strengthened by those who are called to shepherd the flock.

God uses people in every vocation, and in every vocation there is the opportunity to testify of the Lord who saved us. Not all are called to preach Christ in the ekklessia, or to administer the sacraments. Those are given to the church for that purpose, but that doesn't make them better, or holier. All are called to minister (and indeed deacon/deaconess are ministers) and yes there are women who were prophetesses and ministers in the early church. We do not deny that, yet there is also a specific defined description of the pastoral office, and a clear reason for that. One's work, no matter what their vocation, is set apart for them by the Holy Spirit. Luther once compared the priest saying the words of institution as being akin in the kingdom than the mother cleaning the dirty butt of her infant. Both necessary, and both doing God's work. (I could draw more similarities....about the work rescuing the ones they serve from the same...muck... :-) )

To say that we stop people from proclaiming the Lord has died for our sins, and risen that we may have life abundant isn't a fair representation. To label my position as "sad", based on that misrepresentation is something I would not have expected here.

dtp

(By the way, while they were commanded to do this, and did tell the 11, you might also be interested in seeing Mark 16:8)

foxofbama said...

Bishop Willimon:
Little off topic here but wanted to praise your review of the new bio of Flannery OConnor I read yesterday in the Christian Century.
I imagine you read as well the sterling review recently at www.nybooks.com.
Fourth footnote in that article on OConnor's Artificial Nigger as a Christ figure is very strong.
Hoping to see you weigh in soon on Steven Miller's new look at Billy Graham, Nixon, Race and the Southern GOP. It had a recent review in NY times by Ross Douthat easily googled up.
I am hoping somebody will follow up on Miller's work with a look at Graham's legacy through his daughter Anne Graham Lotz, and Nixon Operative and Graham great friend, Harry Dent's daughter, Ginny Brant, of Seneca, South Carolina.
Maybe our friend Curtis Freeman of Duke will tackle it.
Hope things otherwise are well.

SFox