The Gospel stories tell us that women were very near to Jesus when he died on the cross. They tell us that women prepared spices for his burial and women were the first witnesses to the events of Easter Day.
We may have grown accustomed to this depiction but in its day, it represented something profound and new.
These recollections were captured in the Gospels to ensure future generations would know the significance of Jesus' story and to help people understand their church.
The Gospels elevated and projected an equal status for children, women, and foreigners. As the church took shape, Saint Paul was moved to write "There is no such thing as Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Jesus Christ."
The Christian movement was radically different. Being shaped by the truth that Jesus died and rose again, Saint Paul writes, "Jesus was in the form of God, yet he laid no claim to equality with God, but emptied himself, assuming the form of slave, he humbled himself and was obedient to the point of death, death on a cross."
The early Christians wanted people to know of Jesus and to be like Jesus. Humility was a hallmark of Christian life which has been described as "making space for others". It's an action aimed at ensuring the best outcomes for another person. The early Christians saw humility as something for all people, in all places, and at all times. Saint Paul wrote to the entire church, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others."
The Gospels help us see that women as well as men were the bearers and messengers of this new way. They demand that we look at the discipleship of women so that we might understand what is expected of Christians.
Saint Anselm of Canterbury reflected on the feminine qualities of Jesus, praying, "Jesus as a mother you gather your people to you: you are gentle with us as a mother with her children".
Through women, the good news of God's action in changing the world was proclaimed.
I am part of a Christian and Anglican movement that strongly affirms the contribution of women in every aspect of church life and leadership.
Over and over, we have seen the blessing that comes from empowering people to make their contribution to human flourishing through Christian community. And, while this seems like a new movement for some Christians, we link it to the foundational actions of women on Good Friday and Easter Day.
Through women, the good news of God's action in changing the world was proclaimed. The early Christians built a counter-cultural community in which women were valued as equally as men. Every person whether child or visitor, free or constrained, had a contribution to make to human flourishing.
The gifts of each person were vital to enabling the common good. The community affirmed the vital importance of hearing and responding to the voice of women.
In recent weeks we have been rightly confronted about our failures to afford every person dignity and respect. The voices of women have been echoing through our media demanding us to consider better ways of living. Patterns of power that enable harm are rightly being challenged. Australians are being called to more respectful human encounters.
As the Easter story unfolds, we see that the close companions of Jesus were locked away afraid. They feared for their lives. They did not know or imagine what might be possible. It would have been beyond their imagination that billions of people across thousands of years might be changed by the events encircling their lives.
They were yet to learn the extent of the power that comes from love; to discover the impact of new hope finding a place in their hearts.
The women were first to tell the story, and then the men, they told it to their children and grandchildren. It has found its way to us. We have heard that God emptied himself to take on an enslaved human form in order that we might know his love for all humanity and the cosmos. We have been invited to embrace the way of transforming the world that is centred on humility and making space for others.
My prayer is that each of us helps build a better world by finding a humbler way of living this Easter.
Dr Peter Stuart
Anglican Bishop of Newcastle
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