In all four of the New Testament gospels, women are the first to experience the resurrected Jesus. Mary, mother of Jesus, knew at his birth that generations would call her blessed. She was present throughout his crucifixion. Mary Magdalene's story from the Gospel of John is especially powerful: She talked with the risen Jesus as the rabbi who knew her personally.
Is the message of Easter different for women? The Herald-Leader asked faith bloggers and other female clergy for their response. Here are their edited remarks.
■ Carol Wade, Christ Church Episcopal: Mary Magdalene's encounter with the risen Jesus is the heart of the Easter message. Mary has only a moment of recognition, a voice — his voice — that rattles, shakes and turns her world upside down, as she realizes that the empty tomb, the place of death, has somehow been transformed into a place of life.
Mary Magdalene, along with Peter and John, are the first to find Christ's empty tomb. While the others at first remain silent, Mary's willingness to "go and tell" what she has seen and heard is a daring act of courage. She has no language or categories to explain what she has experienced, yet she becomes the first to reveal the promise of new life available through Christ's resurrection.
Mary Magdalene has served as a role model for generations who have hungered for men and women to reclaim their rightful place of authority and witness in the most significant story we Christians share for the life and healing of the world.
■ Melissa Bane Sevier, Versailles Presbyterian Church: I'm not sure the message of Easter is different for women, and that is exactly why many women and marginalized people find it compelling: The message is the same for all.
Jesus was counter-cultural in innumerable ways. He stepped over boundaries between genders, races and religions. What he did was to demonstrate the shocking egalitarianism of God.
Our challenge today is to reach out the way Jesus did, to all marginalized people — to treat one another with dignity, respect and equality.
■ Debra Glenn Monck, Lexington: It is significant that women were the first to see the resurrected Jesus. This shows how important these women were to Jesus. He understood their grief and sense of loss regarding his death. He also knew the joy they would experience upon the realization that he is alive.
Easter is about redemption. It symbolizes a new day, a new creation coming into the world. That women were the first to usher this new day in is incredibly encouraging to me as a female. Despite the struggles faced by women in the church throughout the centuries, we can rest assured that the risen Jesus extended grace and hope to women, first.
■ Karen Hartsfield, Second Presbyterian Church, Lexington: The message of God in Christ by Spirit is the same to all. How God connects with each individual varies; how an individual responds varies. God calls all people into loving, accountable relationship. Whether male or female, believers love God for loving humankind and creation unconditionally.
■ Pat Rohach, director of women's ministry, Northeast Christian Church, Lexington: There is a beauty in the message of Easter for women because until the time Jesus came to live on the earth, women had not been valued nor did they have any identify other than as wife or mother.
Jesus valued women in his ministry, which was a radical concept for the day. Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus after he was resurrected. It was this point in the history of women, that they became teachers and leaders in the church. Women now can experience the freedom, joy and relationship because of their identity in Jesus.
■ Therese Warrick, Sisters Road to Freedom, Lexington: Mary Magdalene was a witness and faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Even though the disciples (all men) did not believe what the women reported, they saw that indeed Jesus was no longer dead and the women did tell them the truth.
Women are effective witnesses and disciples of Jesus Christ the same way as men, and Jesus lives in us the same way he lives in men. The message of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection is one that women can tell with all confidence and joy because of Mary Magdalene and the other women who were there with Jesus every step of the way.
■ Heather McColl, Midway Christian Church: The message of Easter is universal and timeless. The message was just a bunch of words that I understood with my head, but not until the birth of my daughter did I really believe and understand them with my heart.
It was such a wonderful experience to feel life move and to know that I had a part in sharing that gift with her. I know that every time I look at her face, I experience the resurrection: the promise of new life, the hope of what is possible, and know that the light will always overcome darkness.
■ Mary Seeger Weese, Midway Presbyterian Church: The message of Easter is powerful for the marginalized. It says two things that women were the first to experience the resurrection and to preach the good news that Jesus had risen.
One, that God values people that the world does not value and speaks through those that the world doesn't normally listen to.
Two, the marginalized are the first to understand what resurrection is about. It's the second-class who are the first to understand hope and the pushed-aside who are the first to understand a blessing.
So what would that look like today? Maybe the first to understand the empty tomb would be a bunch of unrecognized people who work the graveyard shift, cleaning up after the rest of the world at 4 a.m. They'll be the first there on Easter morning.
■ Rachael Brooks, New Hope Church, Lexington: There is something to be commended about the faithful, grieving women who return to the tomb so early on Easter morning to lovingly care for the body of Jesus, but nowhere do the Gospels indicate that the resurrection or the resurrection message is tailored for a specific demographic.
The message of the resurrection is universal and twofold: First, Jesus is God and the resurrection is proof that he is who he says he is. Second, Jesus' bodily resurrection provides the model for the hope of all believers, no matter if they are male or female.
The resurrection promised to all believers is not some event of the past but is a present force for changing every life. God included women from the very beginning when he made them in his image.
Exclusion of women has been the domain of sinful humanity, not the intent of a perfect God, and the resurrection experience is no different. Perhaps though, God had a deep desire that women be the first witnesses because they are so much more adept at sharing the details of events and far more efficient at spreading good news.
■ Martina Ockerman, First United Methodist Church, Lexington: As Jesus breathed his last breath, the curtain on the temple was torn in two, the Scriptures tell us. The curtain was likely the one that divided the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary of the temple. Only the high priest was allowed behind this curtain on the Day of Atonement.
The death of Jesus for the sins of God's people would forever remove the need for the priest to be the pathway to forgiveness of sins.
This event opened up a whole new opportunity for women that today manifests itself through the ministry and ordination of women in the church.
The presence of women looking on at Jesus' crucifixion was from a distance. It would have been prohibited for women to have been in the temple and controversial for women to have been among Jesus' disciples.
Those of us who serve as women clergy are spiritual descendants of these women at the cross. If not for these women, we might still be followers from a distance, never to have broken that boundary that allowed us to experience the torn curtain.
■ Marian McClure Taylor, Kentucky Council of Churches: The Easter message has led to a steady march to bring down the barriers of prejudice. God's "new creation" comes through the transformation of minds to see what is of God in each and every person.
Women are among the many groups who benefit from being seen as God sees us — made in God's image, and redeemed by God's loving sacrifice for us all.
Women who see ourselves in this way have a dignity that cannot be taken away, a dignity that helps us resist oppression, fills us with gratitude and makes us want to help other people who may be vulnerable. This is one reason why so many women's groups have formed the backbone of social reform movements.