Mark 15:40-41

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. Mark 15:40-41

The first people mentioned after the death of Jesus, in all four gospels, are his female followers. That matters.

From the very beginning of the Jesus movement, women played a significant and central role. They were not simply by-standers, groupies, or domestic servants, they were leaders, role models, and beneficiaries of Jesus’ mission of freedom, justice, and inclusiveness. This is true for all four gospels – just read them and take note of what happens when Jesus engages with women.

So why is it that it took until 1970 for what was then two of the largest Lutheran bodies in the United States to ordain the first women to serve as pastors?

Plenty of people will quickly point out that, when Jesus initially chose the twelve disciples who would form his intimate circle, they were all male. From that they then conclude that all pastors should henceforth be required to be male. Simple. It was a simple argument that won the day for nearly two thousand years (as long you ignore the significant accomplishments and leadership demonstrated by women down through the ages.)

But those pesky Bible stories haven’t gone away. Here in Mark, the first of the four gospels to be written, women were very clearly the first witnesses to the resurrection. While the cast of characters varies among the gospels, they all agree that women were the first.

So why, given that women were the first witnesses, were they not allowed to stand in a pulpit and continue to bear witness to the resurrection down through the ages?

Power.

Patriarchy.

Sexism.

A very strong argument can be made that the revolutionary ministry of Jesus was, and continues to be, so radically counter-cultural that it naturally created a cultural backlash in which people immediately began to back-pedal on the implications of Jesus’ message for freedom, justice, and inclusiveness. That back-lash continues to this day.

This morning I am grateful for the witness of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, and all of the women who stand on their shoulders in courageously battling the powerful forces that seek to “keep women in their place.” Because all that is really at stake is the power that those forces refuse to relinquish – power that has nothing to do with the Gospel.

My bishop, Michael Rinehart, just posted a wonderfully well-written history of the ordination of women with a focus on the election of pastors who happen to be female to the role of bishop in our church. You can read it here (click to the link) – and you ought to.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for the continued efforts to draw forth the full implications of the power of your resurrection and the depth of your love for all people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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