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Why Jesus First Appeared to Women
April 15, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

LUKE 24:1-12

Women are constantly being picked on, teased for centuries. Bob Hope says he doubts if women will ever field a football team because once they get in the huddle, they won't start stop talking and come out. Sometimes women turn the tables. A policemen in Indianapolis, Indiana, stopped a woman and said, “You didn't signal at that corner back there when you turned.” She said, “Why should I signal? I turn there every day.” He was so flabbergasted, he forgot to give her a warning. 

Sometimes women get the upper hand and they certainly did on Easter. Little known or little mentioned is the fact that Jesus first appeared to women. All the Gospels agree on that fact. The gospels differ as to how many women there were, but they all agree that Mary Magdalene was one of the women and they all agree that the women were there first. Why did Jesus first appear to women? Remember that Jesus treated women with great respect, with great dignity. He was far ahead of his years. He was ahead of his time, of his culture. He treated women with great respect and dignity. He reinterpreted the divorce law so that it gave women more rights and more security. The divorce laws of that time were especially cruel and indifferent to women's rights. Jesus included women in his disciples, in his band, in his group. Jesus talked to women, like the woman of Samaria, who was prejudiced against and who was a loose woman. Jesus sought her out and talked to her. Jesus stood up for women. He protected the woman who was being stoned for adultery. Women were in leadership in the early church.They had high positions of leadership until the church became institutionalized in a man's world. 

And Jesus, first of all, appeared to women. The gospels agree that Jesus did first appear to women. Why? First of all, Jesus appeared to women because for the obvious fact—they were there. They had been at the cross and they were at the tomb. Many women were watching Jesus, waiting and standing there suffering, as you do when loved ones die. You wait, you watch, you're with them. And the women were with Jesus at the cross. The women followed the body to the tomb, the women waited outside the tomb, and the women went to prepare the body for burial in that day before morticians. The women were there. 

The men weren't there. Only the Gospel of John says that there was a man at the cross, one of the disciples. The other three gospels omit any such mention that there was any disciple there. If any other male disciples were there, if they had been there at the trial, and if they followed Jesus on that lonely walk to the cross, they were on the outer fringes of the crowd, because a complete stranger had to be conscripted by the soldiers to help Jesus carry the cross, a complete stranger. The men weren't there. And Peter publicly denied ever having known Jesus. He refused to identify himself as one of Jesus’ friends. The men were not there so, of course, they missed the resurrection. Of course, Jesus could not appear to them first. They were probably watching some game on television or bowling. Where they were, they were huddled in a room scared for their own lives, scared for their own safety. The men were so much out of it, they wouldn't even believe the women. Who would listen to a woman? They wouldn't believe the women when they told them that they had seen the resurrected Jesus. 

When Jesus finally did appear to them, he scolded them for their unbelief. The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus scolded them because they did not have faith and because they were too stubborn to believe those who had seen him alive. Jesus first appeared to women, because they were there. How can Jesus appear to any of us if we're not there? 

But, I believe there’s another reason why Jesus appeared to the women. Perhaps it was because the women were with him through his death. The women had participated in his death. The women were involved in that deep grieving and emotional experience. The Bible tells us they mourned, they lamented, and they wept. They dared to experience that whole event in depth. They recognized the deep feelings that accompany such events and they expressed them. All crises in our lives are accompanied by deep feelings— death of loved ones, the news of our own death, illness, family troubles, loss of job. All crises of life are accompanied by very deep feelings of sorrow, or anger, or bitterness, or depression, or fear. And the women expressed them, recognized them and dealt with them. They experienced the healing of the resurrection because they went through the crucifixion. Resurrection occurs on the other side of crucifixion.

John McDonald, the novelist, describes this process. He wrote,  “She squeezed at grief, miserly choking at grief. I could feel a terrible tension building in her, rising, and then it broke at last in a great yawning, loosened animal sob. All the wires had broken, and she could lose herself in it, throwing herself into each spasm, all softened and streaming.” Through the expression of grief, through releasing of all those feelings within us, through recognizing of those tensions and pent up emotions, and experiencing them, we find healing. 

Men, on the other hand, often miss out on the resurrection, often miss out on healing. Our culture tells men to be strong, to be macho. Our culture says men should stand up straight with their shoulders back, their chest out, their gut in, their chin up and their upper lip stiff. Now in such a position, you not only cannot express feelings, you can't even breathe. So the wonder is that all American males don't die of suffocation! And in such a position, we're told never to cry.  Men don't cry. Men don't weep. Don't be tender, don't be sympathetic. As a result of such an uptight position, men miss out on the resurrection. Jesus appeared to those who went through the crucifixion, who were with him and experienced the depth of that experience.  

The lesson here is to lean into pain. Don't run as did the disciples. Don't try to escape. Don't try to hide, don't take a pill, don't go to sleep, lean into the pain. Lean into the crisis, deal with it, face it courageously, and experience it. I understand there's a new therapy now for aches. If you have a headache, don't take an aspirin. Aspirin just disguises the symptoms. If you have a headache, meditate on the pain. Try to identify the pain. Where is it in the head? What does it look like? What shape is it? What color is it? Give the pain all the attention that it craves, that it wants. And then picture that pain shrinking until it disappears. I tried it and then I had to take an aspirin anyway! But the point is, lean in to the pain, face and deal directly, courageously. Experience the depths as did the woman at the cross and at the tomb. 

A woman wrote of her experience while visiting her son at the county jail for the very first time. Listen to this story as she learned how to lean into her pain and deal with it. She wrote, “Happy Mother's Day, I thought bitterly as I pushed open the heavy oak door. This was one place I had never thought of being on this day or any other—the visiting room of the county jail. The room was narrow and shabby, its chairs badly scratched. The windows were so encrusted with dirt and dead flies that very little light filtered through them. I felt so out of place. I wanted to shout, “I don't belong here. I'm a fine person. I'm a good mother. It's not my fault that my son is in this jail. How could Michael have been involved in a robbery? How could he have brought such shame on me?” 

I took my place at the end of the long check-in line and looked around. I could imagine from the very posture of the woman ahead of me that she must have been here many times. As she turned her round black face to look at me, her eyes seemed as lifeless as two black buttons. “Dear God,” I thought, “Don't ever let me get like that.” Finally I reached the desk and gave my name. The guard there didn't even glance up as he told me to take the elevator to the top of the building. “Look at me,” I wanted to say, “I'm not like these others. My son isn't a criminal. He's just a boy who got in with the wrong crowd.”

The elevator jerked to a stop and we were deposited into another waiting room, this one with no windows. We all sat down and waited for our names to be called. I was so tense, I couldn't breathe. I was close to panic when suddenly I felt a hand on my arm. I turned. It was the black woman I had seen in line ahead of me. She said, “This your first visit?” I nodded because I didn't trust my voice. She smiled and told me this was the first time for her too. The eyes that I thought so emotionless now shown with love when she spoke about her son, also in prison. “I just can't wait to see him,” she said, “and tell him it's okay. The family at home, all of us, we're ready to help any way we can.” Isn't that what families are for? And as she talked, a stunning realization swept over me. She was concerned for her son, while my concern had all been for myself, my feelings, my pride, my precious reputation. It was Michael who was in jail. 

I heard my name being called. I gave her hand a squeeze and headed toward a row of glass booths. Taking a seat, I waited. Suddenly Michael was there, so thin so tall, so young. He didn't look at me until he sat down and picked up his phone. Then he tried to smile, but his eyes filled with tears. He looks so much the way he did as a little boy, trying to be brave, not wanting me to know how scared he was. Now the thought struck me, “Did I have my values in the wrong places, and my concern for appearances and what the neighbors would think been greater than my concern for my son?” I remembered Michael’s long-haired friends hanging around the yard because I would not invite them inside. By closing the door to his friends, I also closed the door to him. For one brief moment, I thought of that other mother, the one I had just met. “Dear God, let me be as loving, as accepting as she,” I prayed. Michael and I began to talk. I don't remember what we said, but we were communicating, getting through to each other. That was six years ago. 

Today, Michael is married and attending college and the jail experience seems a long way behind us. I look back on it often, though, with gratitude, gratitude for the day when with help from another mother, I discovered what being a mother is really all about.” She leaned into her pain and dealt with it directly. 

I think of the Reverend Cho Hwah Soon who is a woman minister in South Korea where they are engaged in a valiant struggle against the government for democracy and for human rights. Especially the Christians of South Korea are involved in this struggle. This woman minister has been in jail many times because she's engaged in the struggle for better working conditions and fair wages for women in the garment industry. She says, “You can arrest me and imprison me as many times as you want, but I will not be silent. I will keep right on talking and acting.” No running, no hiding. She leans in to the pain and walks through to the resurrection—walking through the crucifixion, to the resurrection. 

The psalmist says, “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Walk through, not around, not over, not under, not in the other direction, but through. And there is Christ. Our mothers and our fathers in the faith back in the revival days, used the expression “to pray through”. When sinners were under conviction, they were told to pray through. They felt their sins keenly. They had the awareness of how they were living their lives. The realization of their shame and guilt would would fill them with such conviction that they would even shake and stutter, and the encouragement was, “Don't run, don't pretend, don't take an aspirin, pray through it.” 

And the conversion experience was one of great joy, light, victory and emotional as they sensed the power of Christ in their lives. Perhaps you and I don't feel deeply enough. Perhaps we don't care enough. Perhaps we're not aware of who and what we are, what we're doing with our lives, and our value system. Perhaps we need to experience more deeply what God gives us day by day, and to pray through to the resurrected power and brilliancy in the light of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus first appeared and Jesus still appears to those who face their lives directly, squarely and honestly. Lean in and walk through.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris