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Posted on Sun 12 April 2020

Why the Women?

Bishop Michael has recorded an reflection for Easter Sunday. A transcipt is below and it can be viewed by clicking this link: https://youtu.be/siivc3tVzS8. All of the reflections which Bishop Michael recorded for Holy Week can be viewed here: https://www.feba.org.uk/blog/holy-week-20.

The one fact which stands out from all the rest in the story of the Resurrection is that of the women going to the grave and finding it empty. Matthew also tells us that they met with the risen Jesus, even as they fled from the grave in a mixture of emotions: amazement, fear and exultation and John records that spine tingling encounter with Mary Magdalene. All the Evangelists tell us that the women were charged with bringing the news to Jesus’ close followers. But why the women? At the time, their testimony wasn’t worth much and wouldn’t be allowed in court. In St Paul’s somewhat forensic list in I Corinthians, there is no mention of them.The fact that all the Gospels mention them, in such a significant way, lends immediate credibility to the truth of the story.It doesn’t sound as if someone has made it up.

The emptiness of the tomb has never been explained away by the enemies of Jesus and of the early Jesus movement: if the women had gone to the ‘wrong’ tomb, why was the ‘right’ one not produced immediately to squash any rumours of a resurrection? Again, if the authorities had removed the body, precisely to prevent such rumours from arising, they could have produced it when the news began to circulate of strange happenings at the grave of Jesus. Grave robbing was a serious offence severely punished by the Romans. In any case, grave robbers don’t steal bodies, they steal the valuables buried with it. What would they have done with the mangled, broken body of a crucified man?

As for the disciples, if they had stolen the body, then, by their bold declaration that Jesus was alive, they were not only living a lie for the rest of their days but many of them died for it! People may live a lie but nobody dies for one.Any one who has some idea of what crucifixion meant would know that the ‘swoon’ theory is also false. No one could survive what Jesus went through, let alone meet with people in the way the risen Jesus does. No, the tomb was empty because something mysterious and wonderful had happened to the one interred in it. This was not just a restoration to life after death as with Lazarus, the widow’s son or Jairus’ daughter. Jesus was fully able to restore the dead in this way but this was something wholly new, a new kind of life which breaks in from the future and gives us a foretaste of what the future will be like.

In fact, the radical change in a bunch of cowards and demoralised men so that they become fearless missionaries of a new message itself cries out for a reason. Even though they knew that the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection would expose them to ridicule from both Jews and Greeks, it remained central to their words and work and became the foundation of the Church. The rest of the Christian story depends on it.

The accounts of the Resurrection are cumulative in effect:the empty grave, the witness of the women, the change in the demeanour of the disciples, the lists of meetings and eatings that people had with Jesus and the existence of the Christian Church have all conspired to convince and men and women of the truth not only of the Resurrection of Jesus but, more generally, of the Christ event as a whole.

The persistence, nay, growth of the Church from age to age, from continent to continent and from culture certainly demands an explanation but to paraphrase an old pietistic hymn:

“if Christ were ten thousand times raised, if not raised for thee, thy heart is forlorn!”

There must be an immediate and personal demand of the Resurrection on each one of us. What does Paul mean when he says we are in Christ and Christ is in us? It must mean must it not that the Risen Christ transforms our way of thinking about the world and ourselves? Again as Paul says, to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:6). Faith in Christ is then a worldview and the risen Lord gives us a perspective of hope for the the universe and for ourselves.Christian faith is not, of course, just a religion of the head but also of the heart: God so loved the world that he sent his only son to save the world (Jn3:16,17) and while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom5:8). The ministry of Jesus was characterised throughout by his compassion for the poor, the ill, the strangers and the excluded. So must ours in the confidence that Christ will meet their need and change their situation just as he has changed ours. We can also find that the poor and those on the margins of society can witness to us, challenging our comfort and leading us to be more Christlike in self denial and radical service. Christian faith in the risen Christ is about the renewal of relationships with those nearest and dearest to us, towards our colleagues and neighbours. In particular it makes it possible for us to witness to God’s plan for human relationships, whether that be marriage, the bringing up of children, our attitude to society and the State, how that has gone wrong because of us and how God is putting it right. Easter is about making us and the world and our fellow human beings new again in Jesus.Will we let him?As the great evangelical bishop, HCG Moule, put it:-

“Come, not to find, but make, This troubled heart A dwelling worthy of Thee as Thou art; To chase the gloom, the terror and the sin, Come, all thyself , Yea come, Lord Jesus in!”

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