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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Bishop Will Willimon: A Faith Based on the Testimony of Women

April 20, 2009

When women went to the tomb in darkness, on the first Easter morning, they were disheartened by the thought of a large stone placed by the soldiers before the entrance of the tomb. To their surprise, the stone was rolled away. An angel, messenger of God, perched impudently upon the rock.

The angel preached the first Easter sermon: "Don't be afraid. You seek Jesus, who was crucified? He is risen! Come, look at where he once lay in the tomb." Then the angel commissioned the women to become Jesus' first preachers: "Go, tell the men that he has already gone back to Galilee. There you will meet him."

(How sad that there are still churches that continue, despite this clear witness of scripture, to deny the testimony of women and to prohibit them from preaching the gospel that God has given to them - but I digress.)

The women obeyed and sure enough out in Galilee the risen Christ encountered them. Why Galilee? Though all of Jesus' disciples came from there, Galilee is in the Judean outback, a dusty, rural sort of place. Jesus himself hailed from Galilee, from Nazareth, a cheerless town in a forlorn region. ("Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" asked Nathaniel, before he met Jesus.) Galilee was held in contempt by most Judeans. It was a notorious hotbed of Jewish resistance to Roman rule. So the risen Christ has returned, once again, to those who had so miserably forsaken and disappointed Jesus first time around.

It's emblematic of Jesus. Despite his disciples' betrayal, the first day of his resurrected life, there's Jesus, risen from the dead, with nothing more pressing than rapidly to return to the rag-tag group of Galilean losers who had the first time so failed him.

And what does Jesus say to them? His last words, at least as Matthew remembers, are - "You have all had a rough time lately. Settle down and snuggle in here in Galilee. After all, these are the good country folk with whom you are the most comfortable. Buy some real estate, build a church and enjoy one another's company in a sort of spiritual club." -- No! The risen Christ commands, "Go! Get out of here! Make me disciples, baptizing and teaching everything I've commanded you! And don't limit yourselves to Judea. Go to everybody. I'll stick with you until the end of time just to be sure you obey me."

How like Jesus not to allow his people rest and peace, not to encourage them to hunker down with their own kind, but rather to send forth on the most perilous of missions those who had so disappointed him. They were, in Jesus' name, to go, to take back the world that belonged to God. Here we encounter an implication of Jesus' peripatetic nature: there is no way to be with Jesus, to love Jesus, without obeying Jesus, venturing with Jesus to "Go! Make disciples!"

By the way, in that time and in that place, the testimony of women was suspect, inadmissible in a court of law, ridiculed as being worthless. So why would the early church have staked everything on the testimony of these women at the tomb? You can be sure that if the men (hunkered down back in Jerusalem, I remind you) could have told the story of Jesus' resurrection another way they would have - unless it happened exactly that way.

Let's give thanks that these first preachers, these first evangelists, despite any fears they may have felt, despite any resistance they encountered from the men, stood up and told the truth of what they had seen and heard. Happy Easter!

William H. Willimon

 


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