It has become commonplace for the Sunday of the Myrrh bearing women to evoke the prominence of women in the Gospel mission. And how fitting that this year in North America we celebrate Mother’s Day on this same day. Although it is nice to have specific days of appreciation, it is also ironic that both these illuminations of women appear in contexts that privilege men and persistently devalue the women’s roles that are being celebrated.
Perhaps the time has come for us, once again, to examine the role of the Myrrh bearers, but this time to hear their call to action. It is critical that we recognize these women in their historical context in order to relate to them today.
The very presence of women in the Gospel accounts of Jesus alerts us to their significance in Christ’s message. Biblical scholars attest that early Christian communities strove to emulate Christ in their relationships and social structures. Thus, as Paul explains, there was neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor freeman, man nor woman . . .
That Jesus spoke to women as His equals was a radical act, worthy of recording. Therefore, women in Early Christian communities exercised leadership roles alongside their brothers in faith. Eventually, as the Church flourished, Rome sought to destroy the Christians, using them as scapegoats for its neglectful and destructive policies. Christian communities sought acceptance in the mainstream, thereby gradually eroding Christ’s revolutionary equality and inclusivity. Despite women disciples, prophets, martyrs and saints, as the Church entered the mainstream, the role of women in the Church began to mirror its patriarchal society rather than the astonishing equality demonstrated by Christ.
Today, as we reflect on the Gospel message, we can see how Christian living demands openness. Love is dynamic; it does not stagnate. Therefore, even as Church, we do not act simply because “that’s how it’s always been.” We must always be open to the fresh possibilities of sharing love. This is a choice we make with support and deliberation.
Females are not biologically programmed to love more than males. Love in humans is nurtured from the womb. Women, having the potential to give birth have developed a social position as nurturers not only of humans, but of all life. We look to the Myrrh bearers and, indeed, to the mother of God as choosing to live God’s love. They have said yes to God, to Christ—despite the danger, fear, and undermining of norms.
Imagine the disciples, men and women, hiding away at Passover—their dear Jesus in the tomb. Imagine the courage it would take to leave the room, knowing that followers of Jesus are at risk of the same treatment He received. They were afraid—as any sensible person would be. Nevertheless, they went to the tomb. They risked their lives to honour the death of their friend in the customary practice of their Tradition. They chose to show their love, more than their fear. These women were the first to know the news of salvation, the first to know the Resurrection, the first to tell the others. Imagine, the fear. Imagine the courage.
Today, as we honour this event together with mothers in our life, let’s look to the astounding courage of our own mothers who have said “yes” to love, teaching us how to love others, our culture, our Church. Let’s acknowledge the courage of the women of Ukraine, feeding others, caring for others, working to preserve the dignity and integrity of Ukraine and its people. Let’s work to recognize and stop the sexism all around us that devalues women on a daily basis. We look to the Myrrh bearers and all caring women to learn the courage, honesty and generosity of life lived in love.
With gratitude to our mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters whose loving lives bring hope to our world.