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Forever faithful: women at the cross

Happy Easter! As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let us aspire to be like the women at the cross, who loved Jesus wholeheartedly.

In our latest blog, Georgie takes a look at the role of women in the account of the resurrection.

As we celebrate this incredible day of hope, we look to the cross. Although the four gospels shed a light on different parts of the crucifixion and resurrection, it's undeniable that women played a truly significant role. The same women who had faithfully followed Jesus in life (Luke 8:1-3), also chose to follow him after his death. In the account of the crucifixion and resurrection we not only see Jesus restoring women to their rightful place, but women demonstrating how we should serve and love Christ.

Women at the cross

All the gospel accounts women report women being at a cross - some report women being nearby and others further away. Gospel writers Mark and Matthew report women watching from afar (Matthew 15:40-41, Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 23:49), whilst John reports the woman being near (John 19:25-27). Regardless of their proximity, there are several striking things about the presence and actions of women in comparison to the actions of the centurion and men guarding Jesus:

  1. Necessity: Whilst the guards were required to be there, the woman chose to be there. Likewise, we choose to follow Jesus.
  2. Lifetime commitment: Unlike the centurion, who only discovers Jesus at the very end, the woman has walked with him from Galilee. Luke reports whilst the rest of the witnesses went away the woman stayed loyal and remained.
  3. Common goal: It is significant that the gospel accounts mention the names of the women. This is because you can see how different they are but have come together for a common goal, namely following Jesus. A single woman, a daughter and mothers from varying degrees of status and wealth coming together to love and serve Jesus. The soldiers only role is to mock and belittle Jesus, whilst the women are pursuing their goal even when all looks lost.

Women at the tomb

As the narrative progresses and Jesus is buried in the tomb, the women still follow. Matthew 27:61, Luke 23:55 and Mark 15:47 note how the women saw where he was laid. It is significant to note the proximity to Jesus the women now have. Whilst at the cross they looked from a distance (apart from in John’s gospel), now they are up close and personal. They are unashamed to be known as a Jesus follower, even at a time where Jesus had just been sentenced to death by the authorities. This is not just a loving act but a courageous one as it risks their own personal safety. Likewise, we should take their fearless example and follow Jesus even when it may cost us.

Women as witnesses

Finally, and amazingly, the women are there to witness the resurrection. Before you look at the encounters of the women, it is important to look at the reason why they were in the right place at the right time. All the synoptic gospels attribute the women’s presence as down to them bringing herbs and spices to anoint Jesus’ body. Anointing the body before burial was a Jewish custom that helped purify and cleanse the body of the deceased. Luke’s account shows that as soon as they have seen the burial, they go home to prepare the spices. It is significant they only leave Jesus’ side so they can prepare to honour him further by anointing his body. This also suggests that they did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead, otherwise they wouldn’t have prepared to anoint his body.

The surprise therefore when they witness the risen Jesus can not be understated. Their reaction, whilst fearful, was full of joy, a reaction we can follow in our own understanding of the resurrection. Although the gospels tell different accounts, they allow us to see different aspects of the women's faithfulness.

In the accounts by Matthew, Luke and John, women are the first witnesses to the risen Jesus. In a patriarchal culture where women couldn’t testify in the court of law, this is no small feat. This not only adds to the credibility of the resurrection, but also allows us to see what a model of faith the women have. They stood up for their belief even in the face of unbelief from the disciples (Luke 24:12). It's a reminder that the stories of women are to be believed - for more on this, do have a read of this article by Amy Orr-Ewing about the resurrection and women speaking out about abuse.

John’s gospel goes a step further and tells a personal account of Mary weeping by the tomb, overcome with such emotion over her deceased Lord and then overcome with joy upon discovering the man talking to her is in fact Jesus. It's a beautiful story demonstrating Jesus' love for this woman and her love for Him.

Women as a model

Through the resurrection narrative we can clearly see that the women are as present and faithful in Jesus’ death as they were in his life, giving us a model of how we can serve and love Jesus more.

‘It was love for Jesus that prompted them to go what may have seemed a worthless extra mile... We should allow their devotion to challenge our devotion'.

As we celebrate his resurrection on this Easter day, let us aspire to be like the women at the cross who wholeheartedly loved Jesus in every circumstance and regardless of the cost.