For the open day celebrating ‘Life and Lives Lived’ at All Saints’ Minstead, my father was asked to select a reflection on the sepulchre to leave out for people to read. He didn’t. Instead he was inspired to write this retelling of the Gospel which seems to echo something of what Rt Revd Steven Croft has said, and which concludes with what I pray may be a prophesy:
We had no rights. Our laws were strict. As girls we were under the control of our fathers. When we married, which was expected of us, control passed to our husband and we became his property.
As an eldest child we did not inherit our father’s estate; that would pass to our oldest brother. Single women, or those widowed, rarely got the respect they deserved. Women took no part in our religious ceremonies. The rite of membership, that of circumcision, was inscribed in one of our early scrolls, and so as women we were excluded. (Genesis 17:10)
This exclusion was accentuated at the Temple where we were confined to the Court of Women which was nineteen steps higher than the Court of Gentiles, but fifteen steps lower than the Court of Israel. We were still further excluded by Temple rules which viewed the rhythm of our feminine biological clocks as something unclean.
Some few of us made successful lives of our own and because we had not married, were sometimes classed together with the street women who plied their trade. We moved on era by era until we heard of a new prophet who was travelling around Galilee. He had healed several of us and also cured Simon’s mother of fever.
He told how he had been sent by his Father, our God, to fulfil the ancient scriptures. We believed, and so were given a new beginning to our lives as women. We came out from the shadow of the Temple and the old restrictive laws and became empowered to serve fully in the new freedom of his Church.
Our friend Luke recorded many of these wonderful times in his account of the life of this Jesus who had grown up in Nazareth, and you read them as Luke 8:
After this Jesus travelled from one town and village to another proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. They included Mary (called Magdalene), Joanna the wife of Cuza who was Herod’s steward, Susanna, Salome the wife of Zebedee, and many other women. These women helped support the men out of their own means.
This Jesus was both remote and yet intimately close; a presence like no other man. He spread the news that the Kingdom of God was among us, all were welcome and that we as women were fully part of it.
So many folk came to hear him and took to his new Way of living that the priests felt threatened and fabricated charges against him. We were at his ‘trial’, a mockery of justice.
They were afraid that the freedom, justice and equality Jesus preached as a fulfilment of Scripture would diminish their power base. The Roman governor Pilate could find no fault in him. He did not listen to his wife Claudia when she recounted her dream, but bowed to pressure from the priests and allowed our friend Jesus to be crucified.
A group of us stood there by his cross, totally bereft. With us were Mary his mother and her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Salome, and Mary Magdalene. The soldiers realised he had died and so we were spared the final agony of seeing his bones broken.
As the Day of Preparation drew to a close, Joseph from Arimathea gained Pilate’s permission to take Jesus’ body to the tomb he had bought for himself. Nicodemus had brought embalming spices and together they completed the rituals and sealed the tomb with a large rock.
We had lost him and were leaderless. We all feared were were being spied on, so observed the Passover; but before dawn the next day one of us went to the tomb and in amazement found the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty. She ran and told the others. Several of the men went back with her, looked and went away in great sadness not knowing what to believe. But she was drawn in her own grief to stay in the garden and find a closeness to him in that place where his body had rested.
Through her tears she saw a man she thought was the gardener who asked the reason for her grief. She could only reply, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know what they’ve done with him.” In a voice she never expected to hear again he spoke her name, “Mary,… tell the others I will meet them in Galilee.”
He had chosen one of us, his women companions, to carry to the world the message of his Resurrection. In that brief moment he confirmed that his Church was one without discrimination between the sexes. Years later his apostle Paul put it like this when he wrote to the Galatians:
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
But those fruitful years were short and generations of women were once more marginalised, until in your time a degree of enlightenment dawned and our sex can again live the Resurrection Day experience of being called by name to serve in his Church.
By the time you read this, the last barrier may have been removed, and we will have received his final blessing of complete equality with our fellow male believers.
Michael Clarke, 20th October 2012
He and I are supporting the Yes 2 Women Bishops Campaign. Can you?