It is curious how often the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are put into a kind of hierarchy of importance. The women going to the tomb to anoint his dead body are mentioned because they are, according to Matthew, chronologically the first to see the stone rolled away. Their meeting with the Risen Christ is noted (Matthew 28. 8–15), but the evangelist quickly passes on to the way in which the authorities of the day ‘squared’ the guards with a little judicious bribery. Tomorrow, when we read John’s account, we shall linger over Mary Magdalene’s meeting and its poignant detail, but not for long. By Wednesday we are on the road to Emmaus and an ambiguous encounter that reveals its full meaning only later; and by Thursday we are back with the men and their mission. From then on, women are less evident, appearing from time to time in the Acts or the Letters, but definitely in much more elusive roles.
It is unfortunate that this increasing invisibility of women has become a source of contention within the Church. It has led to anger and frustration and some very silly things being said and done on both sides. The fact that I write of ‘sides’ is an indication of how often the ministry of women has led to a loss of focus on Christ himself. Partly, I think that may be because a lot of preaching in the Catholic Church is done by men who are awkward around women. Personally, if I hear one more homily telling me that Mary is the model of holiness for women, I shall shriek. Male or female, Christ is our model. There can be no other. The Resurrection means that there is now no male, no female, no slave, no free, no Jew, no gentile, we are all one in Christ, as St Paul says. That is why the appearances to the women are important. It is not that they are incidental to the real business of the early Church and the evolving ministry of men. They are part of the mission of the whole Church to proclaim Christ, the whole Christ.
This morning, as we think about those women meeting Jesus as they come away from the tomb, it may be helpful to consider the obvious. They did not find Jesus where they expected to find him. They found him — or rather, he found them — where they did not expect, as they were coming away, disappointed at not being able to fulfil the task they had laid upon themselves. Sometimes we have to learn that what we think is important isn’t; that what God wills is ultimately best for us all; and that we shall meet God at a time and place of his choosing, not ours. We just have to be ready — and that is undoubtedly the hardest task of all.