The women who followed Jesus had known the goodness of God’s love, and loved him in return, writes Bishop Libby Lane
The story of the first Easter day in Mark’s Gospel is told from the point of view of the women. They had known the goodness of God’s love in Jesus, and loved him in return. They had faithfully followed Jesus to the bitter end and watched him suffer and die. They waited through the Sabbath, and then arose early in the morning to demonstrate their love for him in the tender, practical action of anointing his body.
Last night, many around the world will have relived the experience of those women: awake through the night, waiting for the first hint of morning to begin the day, because anything is better than waiting any longer, feeling hopeless and helpless. Many will have been kept awake by grief, by pain, anxiety, guilt, by anger, disappointment, by fear. Many will have been kept awake by love: up all night nursing a sick child; watching by the bedside of a loved one, holding their hand as death approaches; worrying through the dark hours about having let someone down, about what could have been done differently, about “if onlys”. We all know what it is when dawn is a relief. When first light means we can get on and do something.
But when the women arrived at the tomb they did not find him. Their love had brought them to this place; but now the opportunity to show that love, by caring for his body, had gone. It had been only a couple of days since the devastation of Jesus' death, and it was, perhaps, the anticipation of these necessary rituals that helped them process, accept and accommodate such grief – that had kept them going. But here was information, and the evidence of their own eyes, that nothing was as they thought.
“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified,” the angel tells them. “He is not here… Look, here is the place where they laid him.”
And then they receive instruction: “Go and say to his disciples, 'He is going ahead of you… you will see him, as he told you’.” But, without further explanation or comfort, instead they ran away. “And they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
Yet these were not fearful women. They had remained with Jesus when the men had dispersed at his arrest. They had been at the cross through the long hours of crucifixion. They had followed to see where his broken body was laid. They had faced down the political and religious authorities to accompany Jesus through his passion and death and burial. These were not fearful women, but women who together were strong and compassionate and faithful and determined.
Love is a very powerful motivator. Their love had made them brave, but now it seemed there was nothing left to love. Even Jesus’s body was gone and the manifestation of love they’d intended was redundant. Love had brought these remarkable women back to the tomb that first Easter morning, but now, in the midst of their confusion, they ran and said nothing.
Except, of course, at some point they must have stopped running and told their story. “He has been raised,” the women were told. And eventually it is that good news that filters through to them, and renews their courage. Jesus was not where they expected because he is alive, victor over death and sin, and he’s gone ahead to where he promised, to be with us always. The women did tell their story, and so we know that the risen Jesus is the completion of God’s love and that “perfect love casts out fear”.
Today the courage of these women is replicated around the world by those continuing to face persecution and violence in the peaceful practice of their faith. This Easter, in honour of these women and those who follow their example, let us be loving and courageous in telling our stories of God’s love at work in our lives, especially perhaps when we too have known grief or pain, anxiety or guilt, anger, disappointment or fear; and then let us, after the example of these women, embody that love in action.
The Right Reverend Libby Lane is the Bishop of Stockport in the United Kingdom