Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, in his Easter message this year, remarked that the resurrection of Christ calls us to be midwives of hope. That’s a metaphor worth reflecting on. It is interesting to notice that the pre-resurrection ministry of Jesus has men as its principal actors. Men are the ones who are called to be his apostles and men are the ones most directly associated with his ministry. Women are always there, helping in less visible ways – important, but behind the scenes. A significant shift occurs with the resurrection. In all the Gospels, Christ first appears to women. They are the ones first entrusted with the newness of the resurrection. They are also the ones who are the first to be sent out to tell others about the resurrection.
Recent feminist literature has highlighted this fact. However, they have not, to my mind, fully enough, developed the significance of it. Women were the first to be entrusted with the reality of the resurrection because, among other things, they were, then, normally, the midwives. Christ’s resurrection is, precisely, a birth and our subsequent vocation is to help deliver this new life. But this needs explanation:
From the time of creation until the time of the resurrection, death was final. The rhythm of nature, birth-growth-decline-death, held no exceptions. Whenever something died, it remained dead. There was no basis for hope beyond the limits of this life with its constant losses, blemishings, aging, and breakdown.
Then Christ rose from the dead and something radically new entered history. The very structure of the physical universe changed. Death is no longer terminal, now it is paschal. There is new basis for hope because a new birth canal has been opened. When a baby is born, normally the head emerges first from the birth canal, opening the way for the body to follow.
Christ, as Scripture tells us, is our head. He has already emerged from death. He has been, in the real sense, born again. We, his body, are meant to follow through the birth canal which he opened. It is here where midwives are needed. The vocation of a midwife is to help pull someone through a door, the birth canal, to new life. The resurrection of Christ offers us new life and new hope, beyond the too-small world of our limited biology and our limited human possibilities. But, just as we needed help, from a midwife, at our biological birth, so, even more so, do we need a midwife to help draw us into the new life of faith.
Belief in the resurrection of Jesus sends us out to help pull each other through the birth canal of faith. Scripture tells us that the experience of the resurrection brings with it, as part of the experience itself, the vocation to go out and try to bring others to a vision of this new life. The post-resurrection vocation is that of being midwife. However, when we look at history and see the lives of those who have been midwives of faith and hope, we see that this vocation is prophetic and painful.
The early Christians, starting with the women to whom Christ first appeared, rushed out to try to pull others through the door to this new life. They met with ridicule, opposition, apathy, meager results, and very often, were themselves martyred. They also came to realize, very quickly, that it would take a long time to pull others to new birth. Fifty years after the resurrection of Christ, less than 1 per cent of the population was converted. Labor pains are long, birth happens painfully.
This has been the experience of all the midwives of hope in history: Those who helped give birth to self-government; those who helped give birth to the emancipation of slaves; those who helped give birth to just wages and more humane working conditions; those who helped give birth to the vote for women; all of these met with ridicule, meager results, and various forms of martyrdom.
None of them lived to actually see the full child of their midwifery. But they pulled a lot of others through the birth canal. When enough were born, the world changed. We need, today, midwives of hope, people who believe in the reality of the resurrection and who will help pull others out of the womb of simple biology, with all its demands; out of the womb of woundedness, neuroses, paranoia, and lost innocence; out of the womb of resignation to mediocrity, broken relationships, non-forgiveness, injustice, and war; out of the sense that a deep life of prayer is not possible, to a new hope and vision which does not say: “That’s the way things are, that’s the way they’ve always been, and that’s the way they will always be!”
After the resurrection, nothing need ever be inevitable again. The old physics of death is broken. Christ, our head, has opened the birth canal that leads from death to new life. But we need to impregnate each other with resurrection hope and, then, help draw each other though the birth canal.