Astounding Women, Rev. Christi O. Brown

Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:13-24
Luke 24:25-35

It would be hard not to realize that today is Mother’s Day. Inundated this week with advertisements for specials on flowers, jewelry, balloons, brunches, gift and greeting cards, it would be hard to miss it. 

I dug up a little history and found that in the United States this holiday began with a campaign led by Anna Jarvis in the early 1900′s. Anna was a young lady who wanted to honor her deceased mother. It turns out her mother had founded Mothers’ Day Work Clubs, where mothers of all backgrounds would join forces and come together to improve sanitary and health conditions within their cities. During the Civil War, it was this band of mothers who saw beyond the gray and blue—medically treating, feeding and clothing both Union and Confederate soldiers with neutrality. Anna promoted the adoption of this national holiday for over 6 years until President Woodrow Wilson (a Presbyterian, I might add) made it an official national holiday in 1914. 1

However, no sooner than the holiday had become official, it became commercialized—turning into one that was all about cards and candy, and not about the service day of mothers working together and honoring one another for which Anna had dreamed. She was so disgusted with this distortion of Mother’s Day that less than 10 years after its inception she began campaigning against the very holiday she had helped establish.

Today in the Reformed church, Mother’s Day is not an official church holiday. It is not a season or a sanctioned occasion or celebration on the church’s liturgical calendar, yet it is acknowledged that both mothers and women in general have played a tremendous part in our Judeo-Christian faith.

From Eve in Genesis to Mary in the Gospels, from Miriam in Exodus to Phoebe in Romans, from Deborah in Judges to Apphia in Philemon. The list goes on: Ester, Ruth, Naomi, Rebekah, Leah, Hannah… and many more, including those who played large roles in our faith but remained unnamed by the historians and scribes.

Today in the account of the Road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke, we run across disciples of Christ who have been astounded by women. The original Greek word for astounded is not very different from our current English word in that it can carry both positive and negative connotations—meaning everything from amazed to flabbergasted. Were these disciples in awe of the women’s bravery in going to the tomb of their Savior? Were they stunned that the women were the first to know of the resurrection? Were they unbelieving of the women’s account of the empty tomb?

In the preceding passage, Luke recounts the scene earlier that Easter morning. Armed with aromatic spices, a group of all women went to the tomb of Jesus, prepared to properly bury their Rabbi, friend and Lord. The women were actually so prominent in the narrative that Luke was comfortable identifying this group as a generic “they” six times before even revealing that it was a group of women 2, because he assumed the readers would know precisely who he was referring to without that specification. After all, the women were the ones who stood by Jesus when he was crucified as well as attended the burial when his body to rest in the tomb. They had been beside Jesus every step of the way.

So it was this motley crew of women who were the first to learn the news of Jesus’ resurrection. One had co-habitated with seven demons, two were wives of fishing entrepreneurs and honored in their village, one was the wife of a top official in Herod’s household, and others had sufficient money to hire servants to do their household chores while they wandered with Jesus and the twelve. Not one of them was biologically related to Jesus, and yet embalming was normally the task of the blood relatives. 3 Jesus was family to them, and God chose these women to be the first bearers of the momentous event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

These women were perplexed by the empty tomb until the angels reminded them of Jesus? very own words that he would rise from the dead on the third day. They were immediately enlightened and moved into full clarity of the gravity of the meaning of the empty tomb. Elated, they rushed from the tomb to share this joyous news with the apostles that Jesus was alive!

As commentator Joel Green noted, “Luke [even] underscores the faithfulness of their testimony by noting that [the women] announced ‘all these things’—what they had observed, been told, and the new significance they attributed to Jesus’ passion and the absence of his corpse.”4 And yet, after all this, Luke reports that the men just dismissed the women’s account as an idle tale and did not believe them. One man, namely Peter—still not fully believing but curious enough by their report—decided to walk to the tomb to check it out for himself. But it seems all the others just continued to stay where they were and wallow in their grief. The women had full clarity while the others continued to lack full recognition.

It was at this moment that Jesus meets two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus joins them on their walk and begins talking to them but they do not recognize him. They provide Jesus with a summary of the Gospel, recounting his very own life to him, including the momentous events of the last several days, as well as the astounding news from the women of the empty tomb that morning. But to this seeming stranger to whom they had the amazing opportunity to evangelize, they missed the point. They ended his very own story with sadness and unbelief, not with the glory of his resurrection.

Quite frustrated, Jesus (in a loving tone I’m sure) called them foolish, and quickly realized an intervention was needed for their unbelief. He began by first opening the Scriptures to them as he spoke on the road, and finally by opening their eyes as he broke bread with them that evening. After their communion when their eyes were opened, Jesus mysteriously vanished as quickly as he had appeared. The disciples immediately walked the seven miles back to Jerusalem to proclaim to the apostles the exact same news the women had shared that very morning, “Friends, the Lord has risen indeed!”

Can you imagine the women, probably sitting in the back of the room, shaking their heads, rolling their eyes, throwing their hands in the air, and saying, “Guys, this is exactly what we told you this very morning! Why didn’t you believe us then?”

Having studied a fair amount of women’s history, there are far too many times when women’s voices have not been believed or even heard. I cannot imagine how many un-recorded scenes of women’s hands being thrown up the air have occurred over the last several thousand years. But today, on this Mother’s Day, we celebrate and recognize the voices of astounding women—those saints who have come before us and formed our faith, and those who walk and serve among us now, proclaiming that Christ is risen indeed, and inspiring us to live into who God created each one of us to be.

I do think it is important to acknowledge that Mother’s Day is not a bright and cheery day full of celebration for everyone. There are some who have recently lost their mothers or children to illness and death, some who have never had an easy relationship with their mothers or children, some who long to be mothers but struggle with fertility or finding the right mate, and some who have chosen not to be mothers. This can be a day of extreme celebrations for some while a time of extreme loneliness for others. This is one reason I have appreciated Pastor Betty’s Mother’s Day sermons the last several years when she has talked about not only mothers but strong women in general.

The truth is, there are many women in our lives who are not our mothers, but who inspire us in a motherly way. Even in Biblical times you did not have to experience childbirth to be considered a mother. Deborah was a great strong judge who was deemed the “mother of Israel” even though there is no mention of any children of her own.

Strong women surround us. We have female church members who are builders, doctors, nurses, project managers, partners, teachers, executives, volunteer extraordinaires and more. But these women are so much more than their professions—they are inspirational pillars in our church and community, walking side-by-side in friendship with Jesus, just as the astounding women in the Scripture passage today did. And despite the commercialism of Mother’s Day, today is the perfect opportunity for us to celebrate and tell the inspirational women in our lives how much we appreciate them.

Just as it would be hard not to realize that today is Mothers’ Day, so it would have been hard not to bring into worship this morning thoughts of the news that has been plastered in every media outlet this week. In the midst of ads for flowers, brunches, and greeting cards, there were contrasting banner headlines, breaking news alerts, Facebook and Twitter fervor over the death of Osama bin Laden. Emails were flying and deep conversations were had with pastoral colleagues around the question, “How can we faithfully respond to the news of his death?” Though many of us were relieved that the unnecessary deaths of so many innocent people might now be curtailed, we simultaneously grieved the responses of those who cheered on the death of a fellow human being. As Christians, how could vitriol and violence, death and destruction ever be the ultimate answer? Just as Jesus responded to the disciples in the passage today who missed the point of the story, would he also lovingly call us foolish?

One of the most helpful pieces quoted in the aftermath of the news an introduction by a 24-year old graduate student followed by a quote from The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.5 Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. 6

The lyrics of a popular song from several years ago also kept ringing in my mind this week:

Just look out around us, people fightin’ their wars. They think they’ll be happy when they’ve settled their scores. Let’s lay down our weapons that hold us apart, be still for just a minute, try to open our hearts. More love, I can hear our hearts cryin’ more love, I know that’s all we need. More love, to flow in between us, to take us and hold us and lift us above. If there’s ever an answer it’s more love.7

I believe if there is a proper response to the news of this week, or any week for that matter, that this is it: more love. More love starting with those we encounter every day and spreading out. More love (and likely grace and patience too) with our families. More love to our neighbors, our coworkers, our cashiers and waitresses, and yes, even more love (as Jesus taught us) to our enemies. For if we do not model a posture of love starting in our own lives, then how will we ever expect our enemies to change?

It was, after all, out of love that God sent God?s only son to die for our sins. And this son, Jesus the Christ, proclaimed that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:27-39). It is what the resurrected Lord opened the disciples? eyes to when he broke bread with him. It is what our eyes are opened to every time we take communion. It is what those astounding women believed when they saw the empty tomb.

It is what many first time mothers experience. I will never forget feeling this remarkable love in the hospital last Thanksgiving weekend as Kelan held our precious baby girl—barely a day old—while Lettie?s birthmother and I held a long, trembling embrace, each thanking the other for the gift we had been given.

One of the most amazing women of our time, aptly named Mother Teresa, also believed in more love. She proclaimed that:

Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand. Love begins by taking care of the closest ones—the ones at home. It is not how much we do, but rather how much love we put into each action. Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier, [for it is not] our work [that is] our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus. 8

Friends, like those on the road to Emmaus, may our eyes be opened to the beauty of the resurrection of Christ, to the promise of the empty tomb, to the proclamations of the astounding women, so that we may live out this vocation of more love—perhaps beginning by sharing it with the inspirational women we celebrate today, until the love of Christ emanates out to all whom we meet. For if there’s ever an answer, it’s more love.

All praise and glory to the Lord our God.

  1. “Anna Jarvis.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Jarvis
  2. Cradock, Fred. Interpretation: Luke. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 281. 
  3. Saunders, Ross. Outrageous Women Outrageous God: Women in the First Two Generations of Christianity. (Australia, E.J. Dwyer, 1996), 65. 
  4. Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Copany, 1997), 839. 
  5. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504943_162-20059425-10391715.html?tag=mncol;lst;1 
  6. http://www.drmartinlutherkingjr.com/mlkquotes.htm 
  7. Dixie Chicks (recording), “More Love,” http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/dixiechicks/morelove.html. Gary Nicholson, Tim O’Brien (writers), 2002, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_%28Dixie_Chicks_album%29
  8. “Mother Teresa Quotes,” http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mother_teresa_2.html