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    Last at the Cross

    The women of Easter. March 31, 2021
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    Feature
    Many women played a vital role in Jesus’ life and ministry. They travelled with him, provided for him out of their own resources and stood by him to the end. Here are five women whose lives were shaped by Easter.

    Mary of Bethany

    by Lieutenant Olivia Campbell-Sweet

    Pushing open the door, Mary was aware that she was unwelcome in this space. Aware that her actions would stir the chatter and emotions in the room. Aware of the necessity of this moment.

    Approaching Jesus at the table, she bowed down, fiddling with the jar of perfume in her pocket. She sat at his feet and broke open the alabaster jar. The fragrant, thick oil flowed out and over Jesus’ feet, spilling onto the ground in abundance.

    While some would later say that she wept or even used her hair to wipe his feet as she anointed him, there is no doubt of the disciples’ disdain.

    Their anger was causing the room to vibrate. Voices that began as whispers—What is she doing? Why is she wasting that oil?—grew louder. Bodies once seated in chairs now loomed above her, and the hostility erupted with aggressive accusations and disapproval at Mary herself—What are YOU doing? Why are YOU wasting that oil?

    Then came another voice. Thank you. The peace and gratefulness in Jesus’ voice obliterated the shame lingering in the room. This shame, directed at Mary, shattered as Jesus declared the goodness of her simple but extravagant act. A teacher to the end, Jesus allowed Mary to be an example of devotion and discipleship to all in the room. This was good, Mary. They will remember you. In a room full of his closest friends, she was the one who saw him.

    Today, we remember Mary as the one who anointed Jesus before his death and burial, who poured out honour in the midst of scorn. How does our remembrance of her move us into action? We must ask ourselves, How am I honouring Jesus in this season?

    Lieutenant Olivia Campbell-Sweet is the corps officer at Trail Corps, B.C. 

    Joanna
    by Lieutenant Kassie Cain


    We know little about Joanna, other than that she was the wife of Chuza, the manager of King Herod’s household (see Luke 8:3). There are no accounts of her visiting with Jesus, no vignettes of her learning at his feet, no anecdotes of her miraculous rescue. She is simply a name in a list of women present at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (see Luke 8:1-3,) and at the discovery of his Resurrection (see Luke 24:10). And yet one thing I can say with confidence is that Joanna’s story was shaped by good news.

    Photo of Jesus smiling with Mary MagdaleneLuke 8 tells us that Joanna—and “many others”—were with Jesus as he travelled from village to village, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. They not only heard good news, they saw it, as the sick were healed, the poor were fed, the captives were freed. And they were welcomed as disciples and partners, fully engaged in the work of the kingdom.

    Perhaps this is why Joanna and the others followed Jesus and provided for him, out of their own means—despite the consequences of doing something so culturally scandalous. Although it most certainly came at a cost, the good news would have made the journey worth it.

    But then the journey ended in Jerusalem. Joanna and the other women suddenly found themselves at Jesus’ tomb (see Luke 23:55). The teaching and the miracles were gone, with only silence and death left in their place. The good news had disappeared. Yet in their faithfulness, Joanna and the others went to the tomb, ready to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. There, in the place of silence, they heard the news: “He is not here, he has risen!” And instead of a body, they saw an empty tomb. Good news!

    As a follower of Jesus, Joanna witnessed and experienced good news, even when it seemed like “good” was impossible. Easter reminds us that this is our reality. My prayer is that we, like the women, will have ears to hear and eyes to see all that Jesus is doing around us, as he brings good news to our weary world.

    Lieutenant Kassie Cain is the corps officer at High Point Community Church in Victoria.

    Pilate’s Wife
    by Lieutenant Renée McFadden


    There was one woman in Scripture who knew Jesus was innocent and dared to give that message to the man in charge. Before Jesus’ trial, before his beating, before his Crucifixion, the wife of Pontius Pilate sent a message to her husband to have nothing to do with this man. His innocence had been revealed to her in a dream.

    The Apostle’s Creed states that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” Pilate, the governor of Judea, is portrayed as the bad guy. Although a woman’s testimony was not valid evidence in a court of law, it seems Pilate, under stress and in the judgment seat, may have trusted his wife’s insight. Ultimately, he refused to rule in favour of releasing Jesus even though he could find no fault with him. Pilate bent to the will of the clamouring crowd, trying to cast the responsibility of Jesus’ fate on them, then proceeding to wash his hands of the entire situation—but tradition still considers him guilty.

    His wife knew better. Although her identity is not revealed alongside her story in Matthew 27:19, tradition hints her name was Claudia Procula, a God-fearer or convert to Judaism, who may have become a believer after the Resurrection, ensuring that the early church would have learned about her dream in retrospect. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Procula and her responsive declaration is celebrated annually.

    How fascinating to find a woman so spiritually receptive in the most unexpected place! Many people in the first century believed that the God of Israel could speak to them through dreams and Pilate’s wife knew she had to speak up. In the face of the jeering crowds and zealous religious leaders, a bold message from a Roman woman spoke truth to power.

    Pilate’s wife takes her place in a long line of women, named and unnamed, who, full of grace, truth and courage, glimpsed Christ’s full identity. Like Pilate, the church has often struggled—and in many areas still struggles—to accept God speaking through women. But God has done so, and God continues to do so.

    Lieutenant Renée McFadden is the corps officer at The Willows—A Community Church of The Salvation Army in Langley, B.C.

    Mary of Nazareth
    by Lieutenant Kam Robinson

    The agony of helplessly standing to the side while someone you love deeply is going through something extremely painful defies description. The reserve with which the Gospel of John articulates the presence of women at the Crucifixion is remarkable (see John 19:25- 27). All we are given is a simple, factual account: they stood near the cross.

    Matthew tells us that “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs” (Matthew 27:55). They were caregivers, a category of the most loving, overworked, under-appreciated, selfless and grace-filled people in any culture or historical period.

    Mary, the mother of Jesus, had been caring for her precious son since before he was born. She loved him with a mother’s heart, a love that had tenderly wrapped him as an infant, soothed him and rocked him in her arms. Those that knew and believed Jesus also had many hope-filled expectations, but Mary probably had the most. He was her miracle and her firstborn son. What must she have been feeling as she watched him die in this awful way? I wonder if the words of Simeon from so long ago were ringing in her ears: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).

    Perhaps this gets the closest at articulating what it is like to watch helplessly as someone you love suffers—it is soul-piercing. There is nothing left to be done but grieve. It feels like an empty place where words fail.

    It’s a place known too well, by too many, in recent times. Nurses standing at a bedside. A spouse cradling a phone instead of a hand after receiving terrible news. Family struggling to accept that the one they saw not too long ago is now gone. No goodbyes. For many, this pandemic has been soul-piercing and has left us in an empty place.

    But it is not final. The Easter story does not end at soul-piercing—it ends with soul-soaring. Mary will see her son once more, more alive than ever. He will defy and exceed all expectations, including her own. Mary’s Saviour is ours, too. Mary’s history is our story, too. It’s already been beautifully described by God, our caregiver, with all the fullness of hope.

    Lieutenant Kam Robinson is the community ministries officer, South Muskoka Ministries—Bracebridge and Gravenhurst, Ont.

    Mary Magdalene
    by Captain Sharon Tidd


    Photo of Mary Magdalene meeting the Risen JesusSeven demons possessed Mary Magdalene’s body, controlled her thoughts and dictated her words. She was powerless against them, until Jesus came into her life and restored her. With that restoration came a desire to be his faithful disciple. Her deliverance was his invitation. Drawn to Jesus’ goodness and the hope that his kingdom message proclaimed, she chose to follow.

    Mary Magdalene showed herself to be a woman of deep faith and dedication. She journeyed with Jesus and committed her resources to minister to his needs. She was with Jesus as he fed the thousands, healed the sick and taught the truths of the kingdom of God. But hers was not just a passing interest. She remained near when the masses turned and his disciples fled, as he was arrested and tried, and as he was crucified. She heard his final words, witnessed his final breath. And she stayed, even as his lifeless body was placed in a nearby tomb.

    With a heart set on anointing him, Mary returned to that tomb after the Sabbath, but to her utter despair, his body was not there. After running to tell the disciples, she returned and stayed near the tomb, overwhelmed by sorrow. Then Jesus came to her, in that burial place. At first, she didn’t recognize him, but he lovingly whispered her name, “Mary,” and her eyes were opened.

    Mary was the first to see the risen Lord, and she (the one whose voice had been stolen for years) was the first commissioned by him to go and tell! Was this coincidence? Certainly not! By God’s grace, Mary had been transformed into a magdala (Aramaic for “tower”) of faith as she walked with Jesus. Whom else would he choose to be his vessel of proclamation? On Resurrection Sunday, Mary’s voice found its truest message: “I have seen the Lord! He is risen!”

    All who call Jesus “Lord” have found release and restoration through him. You and I are his vessels of proclamation in our day. Are we faithful magdalas, using our voices to boldly share gospel truth? He is risen! He is risen indeed!

    Captain Sharon Tidd is the area commander—corps, British Columbia Division.

    Photos: LUMO-The Gospels for the visual age/Lightstock.com

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