hen was the last time your congregation heard a woman preach on Easter?
If you take even a glance at the Easter morning Gospel accounts, you will find women everywhere. Matthew tells us Mary Magdalene and the other Mary arrived at dawn to look at the tomb (Matthew 28:1). Mark’s version of the story says that Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Salome brought spices to Jesus’s tomb when the Sabbath was over to anoint His body (Mark 16:1).
Luke’s account echoes the women’s early arrival with spices, but doesn’t tell us the names of the women who went to the tomb until Mary Magdalene; Joanna; Mary, the mother of James; and the other women with them declared to the apostles what they had seen and heard (Luke 24:10).
John focused on Mary Magdalene’s arrival in the dark, giving us more details of her encounter with the risen Lord than any of the other accounts (John 20:1).
Take your pick of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and you will find that the women were the first to arrive at the tomb on that Sunday morning. They were first to stumble upon the unlikely news of Jesus’s resurrection. The ground shook, the angel rolled away the stone, the guards were disarmed with fear, the linens that wrapped Jesus’s body lay folded in the tomb, and the angel announced, “Do not be afraid. Jesus who was crucified is not here; He has risen.”
This unfathomable turn of events filled them with fear and excitement. The resurrection also gave them work to do. Both the angels and the risen Jesus himself commissioned these women to go and tell the disciples.
The first Easter morning preachers, strangely, were all women. The message of the resurrection was the good news they were entrusted to announce. The angel in Matthew told them, “I am giving the message to you” (Matthew 28:7, CEB).
Male disciples also show up in the Easter story. The Gospels give us these details about them: They didn’t believe the women’s report (Mark 16:11); the women’s words struck them as nonsense, and they didn’t believe them (Luke 24:11); Peter ran to the tomb, saw the linen cloth, and wondered what happened (Luke 24:12); John went into the tomb with Peter, saw, and believed, but he and Peter didn’t yet understand from the scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead (John 20:8–10).
The men are mentioned in the early morning story, but the announcement of this new thing God was doing in the resurrection of Jesus was not placed on their lips until later.
The women were Easter’s peculiarly chosen preachers. Scholars often point out that women being the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection would have been culturally inconvenient for the early church, since in that time women weren’t seen to be reliable witnesses. Even Jesus’s own disciples didn’t believe them at first. But here they are in the all the Gospel accounts, because God defied cultural conventions.
Perhaps this can be seen most clearly when it comes to Mary Magdalene in John’s Gospel. She didn't figure into John’s account until he mentioned her standing near the cross as Jesus died. But when Jesus was resurrected, her place in the Gospel expanded. Mary Magdalene became the first apostle—an apostle to the apostles. She was the one who announced God’s powerful saving act to the brothers, and she became the first to see and to speak with the risen Jesus himself. The early morning announcement of good news belongs to women.
I don’t think any hard and fast rules can be concluded about Easter preaching from these passages. We shouldn’t see women as the only ones allowed to preach on Easter. Nor should we think that women should preach only on Easter. But what happens when, year after year, a man always steps into the pulpit on Easter Sunday? Are congregations hearing the resurrection message in all its fullness? Are they embodying the peculiar nature of our God, who gives important and holy tasks to those the world has deemed less likely or less important? Do they suppose they have found better resurrection preachers than the original ones, ones with less controversy attached and more respectability?
The resurrection of Jesus destroyed the old order to make room for life on God’s terms and under God’s power. It obliterates our human-drawn lines until we ref lect the redeemed creation. It overcomes our faithlessness with forgiveness and includes the least likely with open arms, entrusting them with holy work. A local congregation certainly can have men in the pulpit Easter after Easter, echoing the message these women first preached, but it doesn’t sound the same as hearing the message from a woman’s voice. At least part of the good news of Easter is that those who receive the good news are also commissioned to go and tell it. This is a reality made more explicit at Pentecost, but its presence is also seen at Easter.
Most congregations probably don’t give much thought to who steps into the pulpit on Easter Sunday. We have often made this decision by default. We think of Easter as one of our few big attendance Sundays and seek to impress those who gather as a way to add to our numbers. We go with the lead pastor, the regular preacher, or the shining star we can count on to dazzle all those visitors with a resurrection sermon.
But God didn’t go that direction on the first Easter Sunday morning. God opened Jesus’ tomb and let these women be the first to peer inside, sent them angelic messengers to make sense of what their brains couldn’t conceive, and then commissioned them to proclaim the good news.
“Go and tell my brothers,” Jesus said to these women. He didn’t wait for the men to hear it or to see Him first.
Our Easter morning texts reveal not only God’s love that defeats darkness and death, but also a God who picks preachers and empowers people in ways humans do not expect and cannot control. I wonder what would happen if our congregations intentionally considered the Easter preacher in light of the Easter story. What would happen if the long string of men preaching Easter sermons in a congregation was replaced this year by putting a woman in the pulpit? She might be a member of the pastoral staff, a preacher outside the congregation, or a lay woman whose gifts can be commissioned for that day.
If it has been a while since the church heard the Easter message from the lips of a woman, could it be time to follow God’s lead from that first Easter morning? How would it sound if a female voice echoes Mary Magdalene’s from your pulpit proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord”?