Sunday April 20th. 2014                                                                                        Charity registration No. SC 002876

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Easter Sunday Reflection  by Fr Timothy Radcliffe O.P.

The women who journeyed with Jesus during his Passion, Death and Resurrection

The drama of these final days begins ceremoniously when a woman anoints Jesus with pure nard. This act anticipates the end when the women come to anoint his body but find the tomb empty.

    These two events cradle the accounts of his Passion and death, which is largely the story of the violence or cowardice of men. Judas betrays him, Peter denies him and most of the other disciples run away. The religious authorities, all men, demand his death. Pilate and Herod collude in his condemnation. The soldiers mock him and take him away to be crucified and gamble for his clothes. The only men who have a positive role are Simon of Cyrene, probably unwillingly, the Good Thief in desperation, John, the Beloved Disciple, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

    During Holy Week we remember the solitude of Jesus as he approaches his death. Almost all of the male disciples have fled, but the women do not desert him. Why do they remain? Is it because in that society they were expected to have care for the dying and the dead? Or is it because this faithful, silent presence is deeply feminine? Is it primarily a matter of culture or gender?

    Never has it been so important to ask this question. Society is uncertain about the nature of sexual identity and gender. Also, the toughest issue that Pope Francis faces is the role of women in the Church. He does not believe that they can be ordained. He does not want to c1ericalise women, but rather to declericalise the Church. Francis wants women to have a full role in the Church, a participation in her government and a voice in her deliberations. To understand how this should be we need a new theology of women (and of men!). How can we recognise simultaneously the equality of men and women, and their difference? Does the story of Holy Week, which gives such a prominent place to women, give us any clues as to what this might mean?

Ideally, we should look at what each Gospel says about the role of women, but there is not the space for that. We must paint with broad brush strokes.

    Matthew and Mark do not name the woman who anoints the body of Jesus in preparation for his death. But Jesus says of her: "Truly, I say to you, wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Mk 14:9). In her we remember all those unrecognised women who tirelessly serve the life and mission of the Church.

    Two aspects of her love leap out. First, it is a love which is extravagant, counting not the cost. Judas, the Church's first treasurer, has calculated everything to the nearest penny—the oil was worth 300 denarii - just as the high priests will calculate the worth of Jesus's body: 30 pieces of silver. St Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: "All true love is without calculation  and nevertheless is instantly given its reward. In fact, it can receive its reward only when it is without calculation." Do we calculate who it is worth befriending and what they may give in return? Do we calculate how much time they are worth? Do we calculate how much to give God?

    Secondly, her love takes the form of anointing his body, like the women who come to the tomb on Easter morning. The pagan Romans were astonished by how Christians cared for the bodies of the sick and the dying. The Word came flesh and every human body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, to be treated with reverence. Women bring our bodies to birth and often care for us at the end. The daughters of Jerusalem are there, in Luke's Gospel, ritually lamenting a man doomed to die. They perform a pious duty traditionally done by women. Is it a coincidence that it is mainly women who show this care for the body of Jesus? (Though we must not forget Joseph of Arimathea, who asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and placed it in his own new tomb.)

During Jesus Passion, women are those who see what is really happening: the servant who recognises Peter in the high priest's courtyard and knows he is a disciple; the wife of Pilate who begs her husband to have nothing to do with the death of this innocent man. Above all, their presence is linked to the fertility of his death. They are the midwives of the new creation. At the foot of the Cross, Jesus gives the Beloved Disciple to his mother: "Woman, behold your son." And his mother to the disciple: "Behold your mother." At the moment of most sterile barrenness, when she loses the only fruit of her womb, she has a new child. More, she is "woman", the new Eve, the mother of a new humanity.

The women accompany a death which is like a birth. His side is opened and water and blood pour out. All sorts of references are possible : the side of Adam is opened for the birth of Eve, "rivers of  living water pour out" (In 7.38). St John Chrysostom gives Jesus a maternal role on the Cross:    >>>>>>>>