I am part of a circle of women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others. I am one of the others. I am not wealthy, like Joanna, who has supported Jesus’ ministry financially. I am not bold like Mary Magdalene, do not have a son in Jesus’ inner circle. I am just an ordinary woman. I serve God with my hands. All my life I have served with my hands. I have cooked countless meals, washed countless feet, scrubbed countless tunics. I was taught as a girl that I was to be seen, not heard, never heard. So I am quiet.
I was quiet when my back began to hurt. I just bent over a little to relieve the pain. Then it hurt more and I bent more. This continued, year after year, until I was completely bent over, unable to stand up straight. It didn’t change my work—I could still wash and serve. I stayed quiet, as I was taught, and I served God with my hands.
But over time, I changed in other people’s eyes. Or maybe I simply ceased to exist for them. It was painful to lift my head to look people in the eye, so I stopped doing it. And then people stopped seeing me. That’s how I became not just quiet, but practically invisible. They carried on conversations over my head as if I was a piece of furniture.
Then one Sabbath day I went to the synagogue, and Jesus was there. I had heard all about Jesus, of course. I didn’t speak much, but I listened! I never would have gone to him myself, never would have spoken to him. But Jesus saw me—actually saw me!—and called me over to him. He didn’t ask for anything, didn’t even ask if I believed in him. He just said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” I almost laughed, until I realized he was right! For the first time in years, I could stand straight and tall. I wanted to shout the news! Of course I didn’t! And I wouldn’t have found the words anyway. Later that day I noticed that my shoulders were bending again, and I found myself hunching over. My first thought was to wonder if the healing had been temporary. Then I realized my muscles were just tired. Since Jesus healed me, I could stand up—I just couldn’t hold it very long. I had to train myself to stand straight again, to look people in the eye again . . .which made me feel oddly exposed. But I also got to see the stars again, and moonlight in the trees, and birds in flight.
I started following Jesus. I joined the circle of women that travelled with Jesus and his disciples. They needed someone like me—someone who serves with her hands, who cooks meals and washes feet and scrubs tunics. I stayed quiet. It was not my place to speak of the wondrous deeds Jesus had done. I was there to serve. And I did, faithfully, right to the end.
I will not speak of the events of that day, but I will tell you that I watched. If Jesus could see me, in all my pain, when I was invisible to the rest of the world, then surely I owed him the same. So I watched and wept and forced myself not to look away. When they took his body down, it was almost the Sabbath so they laid him in a tomb and rolled a large stone in front of the entrance. We would have to come back after the Sabbath to attend to his body so we went home and prepared the spices and ointments. This is usually the work of the family, but in many ways, we were Jesus’ family. And so we, the circle of women, would do this work. We overdid it. We prepared way more than we needed, but we couldn’t seem to stop ourselves. It was our last way of saying “thank you,” my final opportunity to serve him.
Early the next morning we all carried our bundles of spices, the work of our hands, the work of our hearts. But when we got there, something was wrong. The stone covering the tomb had already been rolled away. We went inside and the tomb was empty. We were confused. It is not unheard of for a body to be stolen, but that is usually for the sake of the expensive spices—which of course we hadn’t wrapped him in yet. Did someone take the body out of spite or revenge? Nobody Jewish would do such a thing, not even to an enemy. And then suddenly we saw them—men in robes so dazzling white we knew they had to be angels. We were terrified, and we all bowed down in fear. And suddenly it felt so natural to be bent over again. My body felt the way it had for years before Jesus came along. I had the irrational thought that maybe my grief would steal my miracle, and I would go back to a life of looking at feet, a life of being invisible. Well, at least I knew how to live that life. I knew how to be quiet and invisible. But I sure didn’t want to live that way again. Then one of the angels asked us, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember, he told you this would happen.” I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember hearing him say that—or if I did hear it, I didn’t understand it. You can’t really blame us. In a world defined by death, nobody expects resurrection!
We hurried back to tell the disciples the wonderful news of what had happened. I kept quiet, of course. Mary and Joanna told the story. But the men didn’t believe us! They thought it was an idle tale. As if we women are ever idle?! As if these hands have ever been idle?! One of them asked if we actually saw Jesus. No, we didn’t see Jesus. We saw an empty tomb. They didn’t seem to understand the significance. The stone hadn’t been rolled away to let Jesus out. If God could bring Jesus back to life, God could have just (poof) set him outside the tomb. The stone was moved not so that Jesus could get out, but so that we could get in, so we could see how emptiness can make space for hope to grow, for faith to come alive.
Sure, I would have loved to see Jesus with my own eyes, but that’s not what I got. And it’s not what you get either. We get the story. We get the message. We get to see the emptiness and know that the empty places can bring forth life. And we get a purpose. All my life I’d been taught to be quiet, to be silent, to serve God with my hands. But God doesn’t need just my hands. God also needs my voice. You see, I live in a world where the poor are blamed for being poor. I live in a world where those on the margins are told to be thankful for the crumbs tossed their way. I live in a world where all lives don’t matter equally. I live in a world where children can be ripped from their parents. I live in a world where greed is rewarded and compassion is ridiculed. If you lived in such a world, wouldn’t you raise your voice?!
I spent most of my life bent over, unseen and unheard. But I was made for more than that! Because of Jesus, I stand tall. Because of the resurrection, I stand for all. I will lay down the burden of other people’s definitions of me, and I will raise my voice. A voice of justice. A voice of mercy. A voice of challenge. A voice of praise. I’m here today to tell you: Lay down your burdens. Lay down whatever it is that weighs you down, that keeps you bent over. It may take some practice to stand tall. You may have to build up your muscles. But oh, the view when you do! Lay down your burdens and lift up your voice. Speak words of hope, the hope for new life in empty places. Sing songs of justice, where all get to live free. Shout the good news of resurrection for those who believe only in death.
Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.