Once upon a time there was a Germanic goddess of fertility named Eostre. Scholarship about Eostre is sparse and there are conflicting stories about her. Is her name linguistically related to the female hormone estrogen? Did she turn a colorful bird into a rabbit that laid colorful eggs?
No matter. Just as it is no accident that the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus falls at the time of the Winter Solstice, so the holiday commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus falls at the time of the Spring Equinox. Fertility, new growth, baby bunnies, eggs, colorful flowers and bonnets, eternal life.
Eostre was a female personification of the divine, common in ancient and contemporary pagan practices. But it is important to recall that even in the patriarchal religions that displaced those pagan holidays, there were women. Hidden. Down played. Disbelieved. But present as steadfast, loyal, and courageous players in the narratives o fJudaism and Christianity.
Take Shiph’rah and Pu’ah. The story of the Exodus begins with these chilling words: “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1: 8) This king was afraid of the Israelites. “Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens; and they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Ra-am’ses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they made the people of Israel serve with rigor, and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field; in all their work they made them serve with rigor. Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiph’rah and the other Pu’ah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birth stool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and grew very strong. (Exodus 1:9-21)
Without those good and God fearing midwives, there might not have been anybody left to follow Moses out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
And then there were the women who were the first eye-witnesses to the Resurrection. “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Mag’dalene and Jo-an’na and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24: 1-11)
The male disciples scattered in fear. The women stayed. And yet when they returned to the others and told them the good news (which became The Good News) the men did not believe them!
As we celebrate the return of spring, as we celebrate Passover and Easter, let’s take time to listen for the forgotten voices in the stories. They could be our role models. We can’t all be Moses, but perhaps Pu’ah? We can’t all be Peter, but perhaps Jo-ann’na?.
Happy Spring. Happy Easter, Good Pesach.