As I’m thinking and praying through Luke 24 for my sermon this morning, I’m again struck by courage and faithfulness of Jesus’ most loyal disciples—the women, not least his mother. Not only was Mary the first bearer of the Gospel, which God knit together in her womb, but she and only a handful of other women can be counted among those who truly witnessed the historic Gospel in all its fullness.
If the Gospel truly finds its irreducible summary in “Christ crucified,” as Paul believed (1 Cor. 1-2), then it’s no surprise the risen Christ should first appear to the women and charge them with the task of preaching the Gospel. How could the men bear witness to “Christ crucified” when they had not witnessed Christ crucified? They were long gone. The Shepherd had been struck and the men had sheepishly scattered. They indeed would become witnesses of the resurrection, as well they boasted (Acts 2:32; 4:33), but with regard to the crucifixion they, like the Samaritans in John 4, depended on the “testimony of the wom[e]n” (cf. Jn. 4:39). The women alone are history’s firsthand witnesses to the love of God broken and spilled out.
It strikes me that in my own life I too have depended on the testimony of women to understand the Gospel in all its fullness. I have witnessed many men who carry the message of Jesus like Zeus carries thunderbolts, filling entire stadiums with exactly half the Gospel. Many of those same men have not stayed loyal even to that half. It’s the women in my life who have shown me what Gospel loyalty looks like, who have shown me how to carry the message of Jesus like Jesus carried his cross, who have demonstrated what it means, as Paul described, to “carry in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:10). I suppose any mother could identify with these words more than even Paul himself could (probably a line he heard Priscilla use). Carrying the burden of life in the body always also means carrying the burden, the worry, of death.
Maybe it’s the nature of motherhood that trained the women in the Gospels and in my life in the kind of loyalty the Gospel demands, in sickness and in health, even in death never departing. Mothers learn how to carry crosses even if they don’t want to. Men can run away–they have a habit of doing so (Mt. 26:25; Mk. 14:50). Abortion clinics are filled with single women. It’s hard to carry two crosses on your own. Only Jesus, and every mother in history, has ever done so. So I guess it’s no surprise that the world would need to look to the women if they were going to see a full picture of the God-Man. The cross enters history and is carried throughout the ages cradled in the testimony of the women.
And indeed, it’s women who most exactly embody that testimony. I know I’ve seen the life of Jesus manifest in my own mother’s body. You know you’ve seen the life of Jesus in a person when you’ve witnessed a love for you that is greater than the love you have for yourself. That’s cross-bearing love, like the time my mother stayed awake all night at my bedside to listen to my strained breathing after a pill incident. She now sits at her father’s bedside like that, like the women in Luke 23. And I know of a time when my wife carried a little cross all the way to a misbegotten tomb. It wasn’t until her tears taught me how to grieve that I could help shoulder the weight of that disproportionately heavy cross–and my mother drove eight hours through the night that night to share the load with us. And day after day I continue to feel the very real presence of my wife coming up under the weight of my burdens, through her prayers and encouragement and help. She helps carry my whole life, nails and all, and so continues to teach me how to love Jesus with the women on Friday and not just with the men on Sunday. It’s whole Gospel loyalty, and if it weren’t for the women of this world we wouldn’t know the half of it.
So thank you to the women, the mothers, in my life for preaching the Gospel to me in word and in deed, from the sermons of Francis and the prayers of Hazel to the compassion and care of Kathy and the loyalty and fortitude of Vicki, from the piercing and prophetic words of Gaye to the incarnate and living words of Christi Anna (both preachers in their own right), from the welcome and warmth of my bonus mom, Donalyn, who shared her treasure with me and who is continually willing to let us share our burdens with her, to the daily demonstration of Gospel-centered love from my amazing and forbearing wife for an often hard-to-love husband and a sprawling circus quiver of childlike monkeys. And a special thanks to my mother, the living, breathing, walking, presence and image of Jesus that is Janice Pierce Spainhour.