I have been thinking about the women leaving the tomb on the first Easter Sunday; there is a recent push to remind people that these women were the first Christian preachers, apostles, and evangelists. The goal of most who make mention of this fact is to remind the Church that far from banning women from ministry in the Church, Jesus celebrated them. This point is not lost on me, but this week I have been thinking about how little the women would have processed about the events they had witnessed. These women knew very little about what was going on in the hours after they had found the tomb empty. Had Peter and the rest stopped to question them I doubt they would have been able to provide satisfactory answers to the group. But of course, Peter and the rest would not have stopped to question these women. Why not, because of the relationship which existed between the women and the rest of the group. The more I think about this fact the more I think the stories of the women leaving the tomb are applicable to how we reach out to the community around us today.
The women did not try to tell a story they did not know; they simply told their own story. So often I meet Christians who are hesitant to share the Gospel with others because they do not know what to say. These well-meaning people do not want to say something stupid or wrong and so harm the message of Jesus, and so they remain quiet. The truth is we do not have to know all the answers to the questions people raise. We simply have to know what we have experienced. Sharing the Gospel needs to be less of an intellectual achievement and more telling a story, the story of what we have experienced through Jesus. This is why passing out tracks rarely works, cold detached peeks into the Bible are less likely to change people than an honest heartfelt story of an individual’s encounter with Jesus.
The women told their story (rather than a story) and they told it to friends. We are always influenced by the way our friends see the world. Whether we want it or not, we are shaped by those with whom we have relationships. This is why Jesus consistently ate with sinners. He was developing relationships so that his words would grow more believable to their ears. The message the women told on that Easter Sunday morning was more believable because they had a relationship with those who heard them speak. Christians, for fear of being negatively influenced, often stay in their own circles. But we must develop relationships with those outside the Church so that our witness will be believable. I doubt many in Jerusalem would have believed the story the women told about Jesus’ body being gone and angels appearing to them; however, those who knew them did believe them and checked out their claims. I do not want people to see this as an excuse for not speaking (I don’t know that person so she will not believe me), rather it must be our reminder to grow an ever increasing circle network of friends.
The last lesson I see in the women’s testimony echos something I have heard Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury) say, we do not have to take people the whole way, just to the next step. Sometimes Christians act like our job is to make sinners into saints in an hour, but that is not at all true. Our responsibility is to meet people where they are and help them move slightly closer to Jesus. If the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step our job is simply to help a person take a step. The women did not convince the entire group Jesus was raised from the dead– Luke 24 gives a description of confused disciples who do not know what happened but are open to Jesus– that is what we are about. People are not going to be able to understand Jesus all at once, Christianity is too foreign a concept to be grasped in a day. Our focus should be on helping people to be slightly closer to Jesus after they have encountered us than they were before.
Sharing the Gospel message with others can be intimidating, but it is necessary and it is the responsibility of everyone in the Church. Hopefully, if we take the lessons of the first witnesses to heart we will find it easier to spread the Good News of Jesus to the world.