Easter, cultural misogyny and the voice of the divine

30 MARCH 2021

Easter, cultural misogyny and the voice of the divine

That first Easter told in the voice of a woman …

By Reverend Dr Cathy Thomson (pictured, inset), lecturer in systematic theology in the Charles Sturt University School of Theology and Principal of St Barnabas College in Adelaide.

Jesus released me from seven demons. You would call it mental illness now, and you would rightly treat it clinically with medication alongside other holistic forms of support.

In my case it was love that was the remedy ─ pure, unconditional love. The sort that only divinity truly knows and that only God in Christ is able to locate inside the human heart and offer to the human condition.

The fact that this was given to me is perhaps the greatest miracle of my life.

And I, Mary Magdalene, was transformed from a frightened woman oppressed by my own internal pain and afraid of shadows, into a holy woman of God, with a prodigious love in my heart and a remarkable story to tell.

I signed up immediately. There seemed no better pathway to self-respect and fulfilment.

It was a joy to listen to the Scriptures and have Jesus encourage their interpretation. It felt like I was learning a new and authentic way of being.

I became friends with a group of fine women and men who recognised that Jesus was Immanuel, God with us, and who wanted to help him transform people’s hearts, so that the reign of God might be realised in our midst.

I got to know the 12, Peter, Andrew, James and John to mention the leaders, as well as the group of courageous women.

My friends were Mary, known for being the mother of James and Joses, and another Mary wife of Cleopas, Joanna and Salome. We with Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Jesus’ aunt, were close.

We used to laugh at our patrilineal identifications; mother of, sister to, wife of … when we had our own perfectly articulated women’s names.

A few of the group were wealthy and we were all resourceful, able to support this Galilean ministry, and to offer generous hospitality to Jesus and his disciples.

But there have been times when I have raged.

There is no basis in fact, no reference in any of the writings of the Bible that suggest that I am, or ever was, a so-called ‘fallen woman’.

But somehow the early Church styled me thus, and those outside the Church caught the rumour. Clearly, ‘slut-shaming’ was alive and well long before the advent of social media!

Our group of women were all present and were witnesses to the events of that first Easter.

We stayed throughout Jesus’s crucifixion, which was the most horrendous and unrelenting torture.

We remained, unwilling to leave Jesus to suffer alone. You will find all our names (and patrilineal identifiers) in the stories recorded in scripture.

We watched, grief-stricken, as Jesus’ body was removed from the cross, and we followed as he was transported and placed into a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a good friend to our community.

Mary and I marked in our minds the position of that grave, as we intended coming back with spices once the Sabbath was over, to anoint Jesus’ body according to the burial rites of our people.

There are four separate accounts of the resurrection, three quite alike where remembrance and the act of re-telling over and over again did not seriously diminish similarity in the written versions.

You may not have noticed but in all four accounts it is a woman, or women, who are the first to be entrusted with the news that Jesus had risen, who are first to discern the sacred presences of elusive messengers, and of Jesus himself, close to the empty tomb.

It was these same women who were charged with the responsibility to bear witness to this great mystery to Jesus’ closest friends and companions and to give them Jesus’ instructions about where to head to next.

One story has the women being too afraid to tell anyone, paralysed by the fear and uncertainty that for aeons have conditioned women to accept the suppression of their voices, the silencing of their stories and experiences. Yes, for some that reticence would have prevailed.

But I remember it slightly differently. We, after all, were women who had been liberated by the transformative love of God.

So, unsurprisingly three of the stories beg to differ, each confirming, however disappointingly, that when these prophetic women did witness to what they had seen and heard, they were not listened to, and not believed.

The suppression of women’s voices through conditioning, through forgetfulness, through patriarchalism (and its apparently benign derivative paternalism), has led to abusive cultures and violence, and regrettably, these are front-of-mind in the Australian media and the Australian community this Easter two thousand years on.

From within the great paradox of a liberative faith, itself marked by the exigencies of cultural misogyny, I nevertheless heard Christ’s voice, the voice of the divinity, clearly articulated.

And its gift to me was freedom to configure my own voice, discover my own authenticity, and live into that integrity.

“He is not here, he is risen … ”.

God give us strength this Easter to rise with him into the dawning of a new day, a new chapter, a new conception of possibility, and a new community of faithfulness and respect for all.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Rev Dr Cathy Thomson contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or news@csu.edu.au

The Charles Sturt University School of Theology has four Australian teaching sites and an international campus in Hong Kong. On-campus classes are offered at St Barnabas College in Adelaide, St Francis’ Theological College in Brisbane, St Mark’s Theological College in Canberra, United Theological College in Sydney, and HKSKH Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong. Online delivery of subjects is available primarily through the Canberra campus of the School.

The School offers a range of courses from the undergraduate Bachelor of Theology to postgraduate awards in theology, ministry, pastoral counselling, and ageing and pastoral studies. In each of these areas, students are able to progress to higher degrees by research: Doctor of Philosophy, or Doctor of Ministry.

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