by Rev. Elizabeth Zarell Turner 

The last image I have of Jesus on Good Friday is that of Michelangelo’s Pietà: his lifeless body cradled in his mother Mary’s lap. Mary would not have had much time for this heartbreaking farewell to her son—the sun was setting and his body had to be laid in Joseph of Arimathea’s donated tomb, and the tomb sealed with a stone, before the Sabbath. There was no time to anoint his body with spices, no time to lovingly prepare his body for a proper burial.

The gospel writers have little to say about the time between Jesus’s burial and his resurrection.  John says that the remaining eleven disciples were hiding behind locked doors, presumably out of fear that Jesus’s fate might soon be their own.  And although the four gospels differ on which women were the first witnesses of the resurrected Jesus, they all agree that as the sun rose on Sunday morning there were women at that tomb.

Matthew’s gospel says it was Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” who stayed to watch the stone rolled to the door of the tomb on Friday and that it was these same two women who were at the tomb as the day dawned. There was an earthquake and an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and rolled away the stone. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” The women left the tomb with both fear and joy and ran to tell the disciples.

"The Holy Women at Christ's Tomb, c.1597-8 (oil on canvas)" by Annibale Carracci; Original size (cm): 121x145.5; Location: Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

In Mark’s gospel it is Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome who arrive at the tomb with spices for a proper anointing of the body. In this account, the stone is already rolled away when they arrive, but the angel is there with the same message: “He has been raised; he is not here.”

In Luke’s gospel it is Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and “other women” who encounter not one but two angels at the empty tomb.

And in John’s gospel it was Mary Magdalene alone.  The gospel accounts may differ about which women were present that morning, but they all agree that the women saw an angel (or two), an empty tomb, and, most important of all, they saw and spoke to the resurrected Jesus. In each of the accounts, the women see Jesus.  In each of the accounts the women are the first witnesses to the resurrected Christ.

In 1947 the British writer Dorothy Sayers wrote a short essay entitled, “Are Women Human?” Sayers made an observation about women and Jesus. She wrote:

<i>Christ in the House of Mary and Martha</i> by Tintoretto c. 1571

Perhaps it is no wonder that women were the first at the Cradle and the last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as ‘the women, God help us’ or ‘the ladies, God bless them!’; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words or deeds of Jesus that there was anything ‘funny’ about woman’s nature.” Yes, it is no wonder that the women were first at cradle and cross.

This is the resurrected Jesus whom Christians, both women and men, will be celebrating on Easter Sunday.  On Easter Sunday the grief of Good Friday will be replaced with the joy of resurrection. As Easter day dawns, Christians will greet one another with the acclamation, “Alleluia, Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Rev. Elizabeth Zarelli Turner is the Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.