After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
The discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and Mary reminds us, that from the early Christian beginnings, the Church is a movement of the disinherited. This text places women as the only witnesses to the empty tomb of Jesus. They made history by becoming the first apostles whose proclamation of good news humiliates and threatens the male authority of religious and political Empire; Caiaphas and Pilate were both implicated in this extrajudicial murder of Jesus.
The earth shook that morning. It shook because women stepped forth as witnesses, as the first apostles to announce God rises up and breaks the power of Empire. The women’s testimony challenged male authority, privilege, and status quo. Matthew records the Chief Priests bribing the guards to create strife and hostile rumours around Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is done to reinstate their legitimacy to power and undermine the women’s testimonies – an effort to discredit and cast doubt against the women. The male disciples are also quick to provide their own witness to confirm what, otherwise, from the women alone would be unbelievable.
But of course the women should be first, this is a further stressing of Jesus’s counter-cultural and subversive teachings and ministry. The community he sought to build through his disciples was meant to be the first fruit of this, thus it is called to be a community of all genders, races and classes. Yet, in this passage, we find that it is the women who followed in his ways. They were rebelling against patriarchy. They were proclaiming that women can have power, access and control. They were flipping the script of what women ought to be – submissive, silent and insignificant. And with them in this rebellion is Jesus, instigating this new order through the first witnesses he chose.
Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their great ones are tyrants over them.
It will not be so among you;
but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant”
The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.
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