One of my favourite theologians these days is David Hayward. After a lengthy career in ministry, he’s better known to many as The Naked Pastor, artist and creator of many insightful cartoons that challenge the status quo and encourage questions and dialogue. If you’re interested in knowing more - including why he calls himself that - check out the Six Ways From Sunday podcast. Ben Wilson interviewed him a few weeks ago. He’s Canadian, by the way.
He has a great Easter cartoon - which could easily be about the history of christianity in general - in which there’s a small group of women on the left and a large group of men on the right. The caption reads “So ladies, thanks for being the first to witness and report the resurrection and we’ll take it from here.”
In the days and weeks following the day of resurrection, let’s remember - and wonder at - a couple of really important things.
First, let’s stop talking about how Jesus went to the cross alone and abandoned. I think it’s true to say that the chosen twelve disciples left him. We can see that Judas would run off. Peter hangs around long enough to deny Jesus before he runs away. The gospel of John says “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was at the crucifixion, but we’re not really sure who that is and, well, it’s John, and that’s the later gospel that’s less of a narrative. But, for the most part, as far as we can tell, the twelve did desert him.
But the women stayed. They were at the cross. They saw Jesus placed in the tomb. They waited through the sabbath and were the first ones at the tomb Sunday morning. Mary is the first to see Jesus. And yes, they go and tell the men and the men don’t believe their “idle tale” (thanks for that, Luke’s gospel). Until they see Jesus themselves.
For these women, their understanding of Jesus’ resurrection is anchored in their experience of his suffering and death, the emptiness of waiting through the sabbath and the emptiness of the tomb. For them death has become truly a part of life.
So has the reality of doubt because, second, let’s stop talking about “doubting” Thomas as if he’s the only one who did. I’m not suggesting that Mary’s first response to the empty tomb was “I knew it!” It wasn’t. It was confusion and anxiety. But that was everyone’s response. The women wondered what had happened to Jesus body until they meet him or Mary meets him as the gardener and doesn’t recognize him at first (depends on the gospel). When Jesus appears to the disciples in a locked room, they need to touch him, just as Thomas will. The men on the road to Emmaus, the disciples by the sea, whatever story, no one recognizes Jesus because they aren’t expecting to see him “alive, just as he said.”
The point is, doubt’s okay. So is grief and fear. They’re part of the story. Also part of the story? Companionship. We aren’t alone. In our grief and brokenness, in our anxiety and fear, in our doubt, in our confusion, even in our joy, we aren’t alone. And Jesus, the one we would see as abandoned and alone in death and apart from us in resurrection, represents the very thing that binds us together: love.