Sunday marks Palm Sunday and the Christian world’s entry into Holy Week. As a global people we will mark the last week of Jesus’ life, the Last Supper and the birth of our practice of communion, Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, death … and glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. Whoa… it’s a big week.
For the last six months I have been studying scripture through the stories of Biblical women with my dear friend Amy. No formal “study” – just scripture. Over the last few weeks we have been studying Mary Magdalene, and what I have learned from her is staggering to me. I thought I knew her story… but there was so much I did not see before.
Mary’s story is one of complete healing, a transformed life, faithful devotion to Jesus, and ultimate honor when she comes face to face with a risen Christ. Her experience, with “many other women,” during Jesus’ last week on earth looks starkly different than the male disciple’s experience which is the usual focus during Holy week. We know all about the triumphant entry, Jesus’ betrayal, denying Peter, and hiding fearful disciples. I am grateful for those stories, because I see myself in Peter’s lies, and Judas’ betrayal and ALL of their hiding and shame. But this year I want to encourage you to travel through Holy week with the women. Look at their roles and postures, their activity and rest. It is inspiring and perhaps exactly what we need right about now. Here are five lessons I have learned.
The Women are practical.
Mary Magdalene and others are noted in Luke 8:1-3 as financially supporting Jesus’ ministry through their own means. In Mark 15:40-41, we read that these women followed Jesus to Jerusalem to “care for His needs.” They financed the ministry possibly including the lodging and food of the large sums of followers who traveled with Jesus. They did what was practically needed to care for Jesus (and most likely His disciples). Any woman can make a potential list of what that might have included… arranging for, or doing, the laundry, planning for, or cooking meals. We see these practical women all around us today. They are the moms that make sure shin guards get to soccer practice, and coffee is made for Sunday School. They are also the women who fund burgeoning non-profits and global micro-loans to lift others from poverty.
The irony of course is that Jesus was fully God. He did not need to rely on these women for food or money. We have scriptural evidence He could provide both. So why did He use these women in this way? Perhaps because it was a way to include them, to show them ways they could advance the ministry long after He left them. Perhaps to set an example for us today, to look for practical ways to support the Kingdom in our own life. To use our money, and organizational skills, and practical knowledge, and elbow grease to get done what needs to be done for the Gospel to advance.
The Women are unflinching
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John place a group of women at the cross watching the gruesome death of their beloved Rabbi. Only John is indicated in his Gospel account of being nearby. The common understanding from the texts is that the men had fled. The women are unflinching in the face of the cruelest form of torture and death of their time.
That is a lesson for all of us. They endured the trauma of witnessing their government brutalize three men to death, and they did not leave. In John’s account the women are close enough to hear Jesus speak to them. They drew close to His suffering. They did not hide to emotionally or physically protect themselves.
There was undeniable risk to being associated with Jesus, yet they stayed by His side until He was laid in the tomb. They had given their lives to be followers of Jesus, and in the darkest hours they did not turn away from their devotion to Him. What strength! Many of us are facing difficult times. The weight of this year is suffocating. There are lessons for us to learn from these unflinching women, who did not turn away from God in the darkness.
The Women stood publicly against the corrupt religious leaders of their time.
The women listed by name at the cross are Jewish women. While the male disciples are not listed at the cross, Jewish religious leaders are noted. The very religious leaders who had corruptly brought false charges leading to Jesus’ death came to the cross to watch Him suffer and die. Mark 15:31 records that the chief priests and teachers of the law came to the cross to mock Jesus while He died. Whoa… that is some corrupted hearts. Jesus’ female followers at the cross stood face to face with their own religious leaders and did not back away or leave. They stood witness to who Jesus truly is. There is a strong lesson for us all this Holy Week. Corrupt Christian leaders and pastors abound. Manipulation of Jesus’ message and God’s very character abound. If we desire to be steadfast followers of Christ, we can learn from these women this Holy Week, to stand, and be publicly seen and heard on the correct side of the Gospel.
The Women rest in accordance to God’s law.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the women’s behavior throughout Holy Week is that they rested in accordance with Sabbath law after Jesus’ death. My busy, fixer attitude would have really struggled to do that. Why wait to prepare Jesus’ body for burial? Let’s get done what has to be done! But they did not. They rested, in accordance with God’s command. I imagine in their resting, they cried out to God, they lamented, they sought comfort from the Great Comforter for the brokenness of their hearts and dreams.
In the hours of that rest, God was raging eternal battle for their souls… for our souls.
Their rest was required by God, to reveal the greatest miracle of all. If I am honest, I probably would have felt I knew better than God’s law and I would have gone to the tomb and tried to just prepare Jesus for burial…. Oh my lack of trusting God can lead to some big errors! In a society that worships busy, and a year women have been asked to bear more than ever, may we be comforted to know we can rest, God is working on our behalf!
The Women receive the greatest news of all time
As we enter Resurrection Sunday, let’s keep following the women. It is only through the women we find a resurrected Jesus. He appears to them at the tomb, calling Mary by name, (so beautiful) and revealing that He Is RISEN! Death is defeated, our sin is gone, Christ is triumphant! These faithful, strong, enduring, women receive the greatest news of all time. While the gospel of John records that upon seeing the empty tomb Peter and John do not understand, it also records Mary Magdalene confidently announcing the news “I have seen the Lord!” John 20:18
Through traveling Holy week through the eyes of Jesus’ female followers, we see a starkly different narrative than the traditional Holy Week viewpoint of the male disciples. Through the women we see an example of Christ-following that exemplifies service, faithfulness, bravery, endurance, rest, and ultimately God Himself. What rich spiritual lessons for us all.
If you would like to study scripture this week following the women, here are some verses to examine specifically following Mary Magdalene… but note she is not alone, there are always a group of women with her.
Matthew 27 and 28
Mark 15: 42-60
John 19: 17-27
John 20: 1-18
Mark 16: 1-9
Luke 24: 1-12
As we remember the ancient stories this coming week, may God reveal fresh insight to you of His great love for you this Easter season!
Christ is Risen
Christ is Risen
Christ is Risen
He is Risen Indeed.