Happy Easter everyone. He is risen and the world is changed as a result. I thought I'd share with you what I'll be saying at church later thgis morning in our family Easter celebration. It focuses on one of the key witnesses of the events of that first Easter:
Joanna stuck to her guns. She had to. The men didn’t believe her.
She told the story again, even explaining it’s significance in the light of what they’d all been told a while back, when they were in Galilee.
Eventually Peter and John cottoned on and went to look for themselves.
No wonder Paul describes her as ‘outstanding among the apostles’. For she was one of the women who came with the news that the tomb of Jesus was empty on that first Easter Day and the first explanation of its significance.
Joanna had grown up with everything a little girl could dream of; she was rich and privileged, a proper Jewish princess. Then she married a wealthy and powerful man. She was part of the Judean elite, that small circle who enjoyed influence and power in Herod’s domain.
But one day her son became ill and desperate for him to get well, her husband had sought out Jesus, a wandering preacher who was gaining a reputation as a healer. The moment he spoke, her son recovered.
She had to find out more. So she joined the ramshackle band of disciples, became part of that group of women who met the financial needs of the group as they travelled proclaiming the good news, not caring that she was providing the lion’s share.
She heard Jesus’ parables, listened to his explanations over countless meals, watched him heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, unstop deaf ears and even bring his dead friend Lazarus back to life.
And she watched as he was betrayed and deserted by his friends, denied by those closest to him, rejected by his own people, arrested, tried and crucified by the Romans.
Jesus had said to them that there would be those who’d not taste death until they saw his kingship in all its glory. Is this really what he’d meant – being enthroned on a cross of wood, under an angry sky?
Heart-broken, shattered but faithful to the last, she’d gone to the tomb on the day after the Sabbath to do what friends do for the dead, only to find the grave empty and Jesus gone.
Awe-struck and terrified in equal measure, she and the other women met two men who reminded them of what Jesus had said while they were on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem:
That he’d be handed over and crucified and on the third day rise again.
She was entrusted with this message: he is not here; he is risen! Go, tell his friends (even Peter) that this has happened and that he is going to meet them.
It was a life changing moment.
Yes, she’d been amazed at Jesus’ teaching; yes, her eyes popped at some of the healings – not least that of her son; yes, she’d given her resources to help fund Jesus’ movement…
But here as the sun rose on that first Easter Day, and the angels’ words sank in, she knew the world had changed; that something old had been crumpled up like wrapping paper, torn away to reveal something new.
And later that evening, she saw for herself as Jesus came to them, spoke peace and opened the scriptures.
In rising from death, Joanna saw that Jesus was right when he said that she would see his kingship in glory. She had truly seen without fully realising it on Good Friday as he was enthroned over sin and death, as he embraced and absorbed all the pain and darkness of the world, so that on this bright new morning, he might burst from the grave and make all things new.
And if this amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing news was true, then everyone had to know – the disciples, her neighbours, people in the villages up the road, those who lived in Rome; everyone.
So, now with her husband, she leads a congregation of Jesus followers in the capital of the empire, a privileged Jewish princess, bringing the gospel to craft workers, dockers, slaves and the like in the back streets of Rome itself, watching the risen Jesus change despair to hope, darkness to light, death to life for all kinds of people – just as he had for her.
He did it when he healed her son, when he told his stories and drew her into his circle; he did it as he hung on the cross on Good Friday; and most emphatically, he did it when he met her in his risen glory on that first Easter evening.
And what Joanna wants more than anything else, is that he’ll do it for you. That’s why she’s travelled, suffered, even done time in jail with Paul. If Jesus is alive, then everyone needs to hear about it, everyone needs to be drawn into the new way of living she’s found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Everyone. Including you and me.
[This story is reconstructed from Luke 8:1-3; 24:1-12; John 4:43-54 and Romans 16:7. It takes account of the fact that followers of Jesus were often only identified by one of their given names to protect their security and that Jewish people often had both Jewish and Roman names. For a full explanation see Richard Bauckham ‘Joanna the apostle’ in his Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (T&T Clark, 2002) Pp109-202]
May you all know the joy of the risen Lord this Easter