John’s account of the resurrection is my favorite. I love its personal nature. I love that John points out three times that he beat Peter in a footrace to the tomb. I love the tenderness in Jesus’ words. I love the spotlight John puts on Mary. It’s fascinating to me that Mary got to the tomb first. After not finding a body, she went and told the disciples what she had seen. Peter and John raced to the tomb to validate Mary’s story. After seeing she was telling the truth, they left and Mary found herself at the tomb heartbroken and alone.

Jesus was present, but unrecognized by Mary until this sacred moment.

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:16-18)

Jesus commanded Mary to go and tell the brothers what she had seen. Could Jesus have revealed himself to Peter and John who were just at the tomb? Absolutely. But he chose to appear to Mary.

Why in the world would Jesus choose to appear to Mary instead of Peter and John? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that having a woman as the first witness to the resurrection was not a benefit to the validity of the message. Celsus, a 2nd-century Greek philosopher captured the sentiment when he wrote, “Christianity can’t be true because the written accounts of the resurrection are based on the testimony of women. We all know women are hysterical.” We all know women are hysterical. Wow! Now, we might conclude that Celsus’ comments are a bit extreme, but they capture the prevailing thought of his day nonetheless. Women weren’t even allowed to give testimony in a court of law because they were deemed unreliable witnesses.

In a garden tomb, Jesus is bringing about new life, but he’s also healing divisions and inequalities that human beings often create. He’s embedding within this new resurrected world the call to listen to and value women — something that wasn’t practiced in Jesus’ day. By entrusting women with the most important message of all time, Jesus gave them back their voices; voices that had been and often still are silenced. However, as Jesus’ followers, we have recorded for us in Holy Scripture the truth that it was a woman’s voice that first told the other disciples, “He is risen!” The fact that women were called to first carry the message of resurrection is a message in and of itself.

How does that message sit with you today?

Pastor Ryan Paulson

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