It is after Easter, when there are glimmers of resurrection, and whispers that perhaps the traumatic ending will not last forever. We are also getting to the point of the coronavirus pandemic when we are asking what it will mean. There is pleading (please, let this terrifying collective experience mean something of value) and warnings (we are in for some serious gas-lighting as advertisers and politicians try to lull us back into consumer mode). But other than asking the questions, lamenting or worrying about it, how do we actually move forward as if we believe resurrection matters?
Will resurrection actually change anything? Look to the women; we have so much practice insisting that resurrection matters, even when nothing seems to have changed. The women are the first in every Gospel account to meet the risen Jesus, because they arrived to fulfill their final care-giving duties. None of us can just move on, without the last possible chance to say goodbye. Caring for those we’ve loved is integral to who we are. So we show up, in whatever ways we still can, for those we love. Care-giving may lead to discovering the possibility of resurrection. It does for Mary and Mary Magdalene and Salome.
What women also know deeply, no matter how much hope we have that THIS, FINALLY, will be the wake-up call we all need, is that resurrection is not a one-time event. Jesus rose from the dead, yet his followers only apply that truth in fits and starts to how they behave as his Body in the world. Resurrection should change everything – and it does – but not immediately. After the women run from the tomb, meet Jesus on the way, and tell the male disciples he is alive, they are not believed until the men see Jesus for themselves. So little has changed.
Women were leaders in the early church, marginalized as mystics, and had to fight even in living memory to be accepted for ordination. We have been pushing against post-resurrection disappointment for a very long time. My denomination began ordaining women 50 years ago, and like resurrection, the Body of Christ became more alive, more responsive to some of us. To be precise, though, that milestone was only for the ordination of white, hetero-sexual women. The first African-American Lutheran woman pastor was ordained 40 years ago, and the first lesbian woman was ordained 10 years ago. So, hooray – 50 or 40 or 10 years of official authority! We have a female presiding bishop now, and yet we know we are not anywhere near praising the unique gifts of women for leadership, to point the Church in a new direction, towards the resurrection it desperately needs.
When I become weary of preaching and living in the “already/not yet” of God’s promises to change our reality, to birth a new creation, I look to the women. Jesus knew what women were capable of, even when the rest did not, or do not still. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the eleven (male) disciples met Jesus at the mountain where they were directed to meet him, and then they worshiped him but some doubted. And Jesus gave the great commission to them there. Why not to the women? My working theory is because the women were already doing the work of ministry. They did not need to be instructed and sent beyond sending them from the tomb, because they did exactly what Jesus told them to do, the first time. Even though their voices and authority were not trusted.
Women in ministry embody how resurrection changes lives, against all odds. Against persistent, deadly patriarchy, we do not give up, or shut up. We know that the call of Jesus to “go and tell” is on our lives because the way we are able to carry the news is the only way some people will hear it (and I’m not just referring to “women’s ministries”).
During the stay-at-home orders and the struggle to “flatten the curve,”: behold the clergy women. Yes, clergy women who are parents are tearing our hair out as much as women in other career fields, now suddenly trying to work from home while also caring for babies or toddlers, guiding distance learning for school-aged children or responding to the social or mental health needs of older children.
Clergy women can now see ourselves in the screen while recording or live-streaming, and our own ingrained self-criticism rivals the number of comments about our appearance made even on digital platforms. For some of us who are in ministry for the care-giving, our skills are even less obvious now than ever before, because the only time people can witness us interacting with others is that worship service online. Yet we remain steadfast in believing that resurrection means change:
Change for the ways the Body of Christ exhausts and demeans some of our members
Change for the hope we have to make a difference in the world each day that we open our eyes
Change to attitudes until others will finally agree that not only can God use anyone to proclaim the Gospel, but women too are chosen and set apart for this task
Look to how the clergy women are responding, turning exhaustion and frustration into new possibilities. We are reaching out to each other for help. We have always known that we are not a one-man show, in any sense of the term. We need our other Mary or Salome to go with us into these heart-breaking experiences, to process it together, before we share it with everyone else. Our colleague groups are key to any new life emerging from this tomb.
Women preachers like Mary Magdalene tend to tell the story with Jesus at the center, not ourselves. In our eagerness to tell about him, we might embarrass ourselves – admitting at first that we thought he was the gardener – on the way to declaring that Jesus is alive so this changes everything, right?! Decorum is not what is needed, but enthusiasm, a trait Jesus praised in another Mary before his crucifixion.
Congregations were already changing before COVID-19 hit, and certainly some will not survive financially if we have to be physically shut down for months. But if I’ve learned one thing from the women “apostles to the apostles” and my contemporary clergy women colleagues, it must be that resurrection only becomes reality when we break with precedent and innovate, lovingly living into whatever new reality Jesus will send us into next. I will keep my eye on them to see how Jesus’ resurrection breathes new life into the Church in this post-resurrection moment.
Photo by Karl Magnuson on Unsplash