Summers are difficult for me because when my kids are out of school, I don’t have a regular rhythm for my work, writing, and alone time, which I desperately crave. Even though my kids are teenagers, they still need things like food and rides to various places all times of the day. Often in summer my schedule and to-do list come last, making me angry and impatient. Then I feel like a terrible mom and a poor steward of my time and resources. And now that I’m training to become a spiritual director, I wonder if I’m cut out for that role. Do spiritual directors get frustrated with their kids? Do they yell at their kids?
I recently read Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels by Richard Bauckham. My favorite section of the book is the final section: The Women and the Resurrection: The Credibility of Their Stories. Baukham does a whole lot in this section, but one of his points is that the women who witnessed the empty tomb were unique witnesses in a way that no one else could replicate—they were the first to know that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
Baukham writes: For Matthew and Luke, as also for Mark, the women have a unique qualification as witnesses to the empty tomb: they were also present at the cross when Jesus died and at the tomb when his body was laid in it. They know both that Jesus was dead when laid in the tomb and that the tomb in which he was buried was the same tomb they found empty on Easter Sunday morning. The guards in Matthew’s story presumably also know this, but, since Matthew provides no indication that their story became known to anyone except the Jewish authorities, they do not function as witnesses in the way that the women do. The women’s witness to the empty tomb and the angelic message was and therefore remains uniquely theirs. No other visitor to the tomb, not even a male disciple, could reproduce it. Hence the Gospel stories of the empty tomb perpetuate the women’s witness: all readers of them are confronted with their distinctive witness.
What I’ve been pondering for the past few days is how these women remained witnesses to the empty tomb throughout the rest of their lives and beyond, thanks to the Bible. I wish I had realized this on my own, but it took reading this book for me to understand that the people mentioned in the Bible (not only the women who witnessed the empty tomb) had full lives. What’s mentioned of everyone in Scripture is just a glimpse into their stories. When we read the Bible, we only read a sliver of the whole.
So, the women who arrived at Jesus’s tomb expecting to find a dead body not only told the 11 what they found (or didn’t find), they surely told others when it was time to do so. After Jesus commissioned his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20a), the women told their stories over and over. How many people did they tell personally? How many people heard from someone else who had heard from one of the women? How many people’s lives were turned upside down during the days, weeks, months, and years after the Resurrection because of these women’s witness? And how many people have read of their particular experiences in the Bible and been impacted, knowing what the women saw and heard on that particular morning in that particular place shows Jesus’s death on the cross was not the end of the story?
Because we know only a sliver of the stories of their lives, I can’t help but imagine how this event impacted each of them moving forward. Which details of that initial scene did they remember with vivid specificity? Did the memory of the voice and tone of the angel burn their ears until their deaths? Did that first moment of realization that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead infuse their lives with a sort of faith that never faltered?
I doubt it.
While the women who witnessed the Resurrection did experience a very crucial piece of the gospel in real life in real time, they were still human. I want to think this kind of up close and personal interaction would create saints who never again doubted or questioned or sinned, but I know too much about human nature to believe that to be the case. Were they changed forever after that morning? I’m sure. Did they still struggle with anger, envy, impatience, pride, and more? Most likely.
Thinking realistically about these women and the rest of their lives moving forward helps me receive God’s grace when I think about some of the works of God I have witnessed in my life, in my kids’ lives, and in the lives of others. I have witnessed God calling people to himself through their conversions to Christianity. I have witnessed dead marriages gain new life. I have witnessed hearts of stone turn into hearts of flesh. I know our Triune God is real. I know Christ is risen. Yet I still struggle with anger, envy, impatience, pride, and more.
And this is why the Resurrection matters. No matter what we’ve witnessed, we are still in need of a Lord and Savior. We are still in need of the grace and mercy of God who calls us his beloved children. So, when I feel overwhelmed by my summer sins, I can remember the grace and mercy of God, the stories he’s unfolded in my life, and hope for the stories that are still unfolding.