It is significant that, because these women were doing ‘a woman’s task’ – taking care of Jesus’ physical needs – they experienced one of the greatest privileges: to be the first witnesses of His resurrection.”
THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE EASTER STORY,
Dionne Gravesande looks at the role of women in Jesus’ life and death, and explores the various reasons why women were the first people to see Jesus following His resurrection
The story begins with the most human of activities, visiting the site where a loved one lies buried. Here, three women are talking about the depth of their friendship and time together. Together, they had travelled with Jesus, listening and learning, questioning, laughing and praying. I imagine that they so loved Him that it was unbearable to think of Him as dead, and if it had been unbearable to think of Him gone when He was with them, how much greater, more desperate the pain now?
I’ve often wondered why Christ chose to appear to women first after His resurrection. Was there something special about the women? And was there something symbolic about it? During the run-up to Easter, I took a moment to reflect upon the gospels which talk about the death of Christ and, as I was reading, I connected with the resurrection story through a different lens. Could it be that the reason these women were privileged to be the first witnesses on this earth of Christ’s resurrection was because they were amongst the few disciples who didn’t leave Christ during His great trial, and were with Him at the cross when some of His other disciples had betrayed or deserted Him? It was only later that the Pharisees asked to set a watch outside the tomb and seal the stone, so that Christ’s disciples wouldn’t try to steal His body (Matthew 27:62-66).
Not only did these women never desert their Saviour, but also they never stopped serving Him – even in death. The Scriptures tell us that on the morning after the Sabbath, as early as they could possibly come without breaking the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, and other women who followed Jesus out of Galilee, came with spices to anoint and prepare His body for burial. This task of anointing the body was just another of the ‘woman’s tasks’ – like cooking, cleaning, washing and sewing – that these women were accustomed to doing, and which I imagine they had done for Jesus many times during His ministry.
It is significant that, because these women were doing ‘a woman’s task’- taking care of Jesus’ physical needs – they experienced one of the greatest privileges and blessings of all of Christ’s disciples: to be the first witnesses of His resurrection. This highlights that Christ acknowledged the faithful and loving service that these women had given Him throughout His mortal life, and realised that what women do to sustain and provide physical life is important and valued in the eyes of God. He knew that their willingness to take care of His physical body, even after He was dead, was a sign of their great love and devotion, and so He blessed and rewarded them for it.
Doing women’s work often gets bad press these days. Somehow it is interpreted as not being ambitious enough, and such tasks are just things that need to be done in the normal functioning of a household. Young and upwardly mobile women aspire to be successful entrepreneurs, or to have a fruitful and meaningful career. Meanwhile, it seems to be the older women who embrace ‘women’s tasks’ with joy and fulfilment, particularly within a church context. That said, I agree that to balance work with family is an extremely difficult task for women nowadays and, according to sociologists, the ability to do so can differ depending upon both marital status and class. Women of the working class are far more likely to prioritise family above work, and rightly so, while professional businesswomen tend to focus most of the attention on their work. Of course, there will be women who don’t fit into such generalisations, but there are still questions we can ask about our attitude to ‘domestic duties’.
It seems to me that we are distracted with arguing about whose role it is, and finding answers to support why cooking, cleaning and washing don’t belong to any gender group specifically. I am not arguing for women to do or not do as the case may be, but I do think there is a lesson to learn from the Scriptures. The highlight here is about our relationship with God and each other, and the currency of both is love! The relationships between God and people are central to the Christian faith.
During the time when Christ lived amongst us, women had an undisputed traditional role; they ministered to Christ’s physical needs and more, and I think this is why these women were among the most privileged of all Christ’s disciples, because they never deserted the Saviour; their testimonies of Him never faltered, and they never stopped bearing witness of His divinity.
What a blessing to receive the message to “Go and tell.” For me, this is the moment Christ sends ‘the message’ with a woman, and that is wonderful for all people to read. The message is alive in both men and women, and we both have a mandate to share the message this Easter. Christ is alive and well; He dwells within us, and calls us to share in the work of the Kingdom.
Dionne Gravesande is Head of Church and Young People’s Relationships at Christian Aid