Great Canadian Bible Study 2024
The Women at the Foot of the Cross
Written by Rev. Sandra Sutherland
for Canadian Baptist Women
Rev. Sandra (Sandy) Sutherland, a retired Pastor with the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. During her retirement, Sandy published a book called “Children on the Trail: A Child’s Spiritual Formation Guide for Churches and Parents” and trained to become a Spiritual Director. She is married to the Rev. Dr. Gordon Sutherland. They have two adult children and one grandchild.
Additional content, editing, and layout by Renee James, communications director with Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec.
Several months ago, I saw a painting of three woman who could have been among the women who watched Jesus die on the cross. The painting made me think about the Gospel accounts of the women at the foot of the cross and how little I knew about them.
When we read about Jesus’ death on the cross, we understandably focus on Jesus, not on the onlookers in the crowd. Furthermore, other than Jesus’ instructions to John about his mother, references in the texts to the women at the foot of the cross are marginal and their presence diminished by the fact that they “watched at a distance.” The women at the foot of the cross don’t really come into their own until the resurrection. But when I saw the painting of these women huddled together and braced against unbelievable heartache, I began to wonder how God wanted to speak to me through them.
WHO ARE THESE WOMEN AT THE CROSS?
a) Divide into four smaller groups. Give each group one of the following Scripture
passages to read:
Group One - Matthew 27: 55-56
Group Two - Mark 15: 40-41
Group Three- Luke 23: 26 - 31, 49, 55-56 and Luke 24: 1, 9-10
Group Four - John 19:25.
b) Ask each group to list the women who are mentioned in their assigned verses. You
might want to write the names on a whiteboard or easel paper as they are called out.
Add only the names or references that aren’t already on your list.
c) Eliminate i.e. cross through multiple references to the same women as follows:
Historical records/research show that
the mother of Zebedee’s sons (Matthew) = Salome (Mark)
Mary, the mother of James (the younger) and Joses (Matthew & Mark) = Mary, wife of Clopas (John)
Jesus’ mother’s sister (John) = Salome (Mark)
READ Luke 8: 1-3
Group activity: Put a checkmark beside the names of women on your easel or white board who are mentioned in this Luke passage.
Commentaries suggest that at least some of the women who cared for Jesus were wealthy and had the means to look after His physical needs and the physical needs of His disciples.
What would it have been like for the women at the foot of the cross to leave their homes, travel with Jesus, and help Jesus and His disciples in material ways?
How important to God’s eternal purposes was the more hidden and very practical ministry these women had?
What would have motivated them to live and serve this way?
What motivates you to serve others?
How important to God’s eternal purposes are hospitality and other practical things we do to care for others? Why?
AT A DISTANCE
READ Matthew 27:55, Mark 15:40 and Luke 23:49
Why were the women watching/standing at a distance?
At that time and in that culture, women were largely ignored. The very fact that they were women was a mark of disgrace or discredit. Sadly, these women who were so devoted to Jesus, were stigmatized because of their gender. According to the Oxford Dictionary, to be stigmatized is to be marked by a wound.
How else would some of these women at the cross have been stigmatized or marked by their wounds? (Read Mary Magdalene’s story in Luke 8:1-3 to get started.)
Jesus was, and is forever, removing the stigmas people are made to bear. He spent time loving, healing and being with people who were demon-possessed, lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, children (who were thought to be unimportant), and women (who were thought to be second class citizens).
Indeed, the way Jesus died marked Him with wounds that were physical (the marks the nails and spears made in His body), emotional (He was bullied and mocked) and social (only criminals died by crucifixion).
How do you think Jesus’ pain of being wounded, shamed, and abandoned on the cross affected the women who were watching?
How does it affect you?
REFLECTION EXERCISE #1: AT THE CROSS
Ask the women in your group to imagine themselves standing at the foot of the cross with the three Mary’s and the other women. Tell them that you will invite them to enter deeply into the account of Jesus’ death through a series of prompts, pausing after each prompt to give them space to imagine and reflect.
Begin with a moment of silence.
Slowly READ Matthew 27:35 - 56 (use the NLT)
Say: As you step into this scene, let the crackling tension, confusion, fear, and overwhelming sadness engulf you. (Pause)
Say: Notice the gray sky above and the rough incline beneath your feet. (Pause)
Say: Glance at your friends and see how lost and panicked they all feel. (Pause)
Say: Let yourself feel the emotions that well up inside you. (Pause)
After a moment or two of silence, and as the women in your group continue to imagine themselves at the foot of the cross,…
What was that experience like for you?
What do you think the women at the foot of the cross were thinking and feeling as they watched Jesus die?
How would watching Jesus suffer and die on the cross affect the women’s own experiences with suffering?
How does it affect yours?
STAYING & RETURNING TOGETHER
READ Matthew 27:61 - 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-10; Luke 23:55-56 & 24:1-10; John 20:1-18
Why did Mary Magdalene and the other Mary stay to watch Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus?
Why did they and Salome return to the tomb after Sabbath?
Why do you think they continued to care for Jesus after he’d died?
What could have deterred them from staying with Jesus after His death?
How was their devotion rewarded?
What are some of the things that either motivate or disrupt your devotion to the Lord?
REFLECTION EXERCISE #2: AT THE TOMB
Ask the women to prayerfully hear what happens next as Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and some of the women at the cross, return to Jesus’ tomb. Tell them that this prayer exercise will involve listening to Luke’s account several times and listening to the prompts you will share with them. These prompts will help them discern what God will be saying to them specifically from the passage.
READ the passage from Luke 23:49 – 56 followed by Luke 24:1-10
Say: I invite you to be still before the Lord.
Silence – 20 seconds
Say: Now as we read the passage a second time, pay attention to a word or phrase, or something in the passage that you feel the Spirit speaking to you.
Read the passage
Say: What word or phrase stood out for you? How might this word or phrase speak into your life?
Silence – 20 seconds
Say: Now as we read the passage a third time, listen for God’s invitation: He is always inviting us in some way…to let go of something, or to take up something. To do something or be something…
Read the passage
Say: Listen for how God is calling you to respond.
Silence – 20 seconds
Say: In this final reading of the passage we are simply invited to be with the Lord and rest in His Presence.
Read the passage
Allow some moments of silence while women reflect.
What was that experience of listening like for you?
Would anyone like to share what word or phrase stood out or how God is calling you to respond to what you just heard?
Each of the women at the cross had her unique relationship with Jesus. Yet it would have been incredibly lonely and difficult for them to live out their experience of Jesus on their own.
How were these women better together before the cross? At the cross? After the cross?
How are we better together?
What are some of the issues that tend to keep us apart?
What does God want to say to us about these challenges?
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