The Women of Holy Week

Women as witnesses, mourners, helpers, and disciples. Women with tender feelings, bold actions and powerful testimonies.

While people often comment on the lack of women in scripture, the reality is many many women are not only mentioned but play pivotal roles. This is especially true during Holy Week.

Scriptural accounts clearly record women are involved in key events of the last week of the Savior’s life. Women were with Jesus on the six day journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. They welcomed him in Bethpage and Bethany. A woman anointed Jesus with costly ointment as a token for his burial. A maid by the fire and Pilate’s wife are witness to some of the events surrounding the trial.   Many women stand by the cross witnessing his suffering and Jesus specifically addresses his mother.  When Jesus’ body is removed from the cross women follow to see where he was buried. Women were the first to arrive at  the tomb Easter morning to discover it was empty!  On that glorious occasion they saw angels and were the first to hear the joyful words, “He is not here, for he is risen as he said.” They were charged to be the first to proclaim the good news and a few of them were the first physical witnesses of the Jesus’ resurrection!

During the last week of his life women sought to care for Him and be close to Him. Similarly, many women today choose to witness of Him and support His work.  Millions of modern Christian women preach of Christ and follow Christ.  We can find strength in each other as fellow followers of Jesus as we do our part to spread His gospel.

Women of Holy Week in roughly chronological order:

Women on the journey from Galilee and before entering Jerusalem

Women follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.  (Luke 23:49) They were women which “ministered to unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:3).

Mourning Martha and Mary declare their faith at Lazarus’ tomb in Bethany before Jesus enters Jerusalem (John 11:17-46). Martha testifies that Jesus is the Son of God.  They rejoice when Jesus miraculously raises their brother Lazarus from the dead, after he had been dead for four days!

At least five women depicted at Lazarus’ tomb, likely the case. From scripture we know there were at least two.

Women on Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday

Just days (likely two) prior to the Passover, fulfilling prophecy, a woman anoints Jesus’ head with expensive ointment as a token of  his burial.  Jesus declares that wherever the gospel is preached what this woman did should be told as well  (Matthew 26: 6-13).  

Mark 14:9 Jesus declares, “Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

Although, Palm Sunday  with Jesus’  Triumphal entry, Monday when Jesus cleanses the temple, Wednesday when Jesus teaches through parables, and Thursday’s last supper meal don’t particularly mention women, it is almost certain they were there. Not only were they at least present, but likely helping, witnessing, praising, and remembering the doctrine taught.   A few of the parables and teachings this week highlight women. For example, the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25); the signs of the second coming that “two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one taken and the other left;” and teachings on marriage (Matthew 22).

Triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. Notice the women depicted on both sides of Jesus.

Women at the Last Supper

See this post for scriptural evidence of why it is possible women were at the Last Supper.

Women At the Time of the Trial

Pilates’ wife tried to intervene.

After having a dream about Jesus, Pilates’ wife plead with Pilate to not have anything to do with him. (Matthew 27:19)

A woman stood near Peter outside the palace where Jesus was tried.

“At the palace of the high priest  a maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him and said, This man also was with him. And he denied saying Women I know him not.”  (Luke 22:56-57)

Women Before, During and After the Crucifixion

As Jesus carried the cross to Calvary women followed him lamenting him and Jesus turned and spoke to them warning them of the hard times ahead (Luke 23:27-31). (The artwork of this event is pictured at the beginning of this post.)

Four  women at the cross are mentioned in John: “Now there stood by the cross  of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25). Mark adds one additional named women and writes of many other women beholding the death of Jesus:  “There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and Joses, and Salome; who also when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him; and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.” (Mark 15: 40-41) While it is impossible to know what number “many” implies, it certainly isn’t a couple (two) or a few (three).  Interestingly, much of the artwork of these events, illustrate “many” as between eight and eleven, however it could have been more.

Jesus looks to the needs of his mother, in his final hour on the cross. (John 19:26-27)

Women were there when Jesus’ body was taken off the cross and laid in the sepulchre.  “And the women also, which came from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned,  and prepared  spices  and ointments; and rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment” (Luke 23:55-56). Look at how many women are in the following art!

At least five women depicted here at the burial, easily identified because their heads are covered.

Beholding the burial six women’s faces are shown plus about five more but we just see the tops of their head coverings. This piece is a part of a large mosaic mural in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

At least five women depicted here inside the tomb.

Women Easter Sunday Morning

Very early Sunday morning women run to the tomb. Three women discover the empty tomb in Mark (Mark 16:1), two women in Matthew (Matthew 28:1), a large group of women–more than 5–in Luke (Luke 24:10) and one woman in John (John 20:1).

Easter morning the women came to the sepulchre, found it empty and saw and heard angels declaring Christ was risen. They returned to tell the disciples. Specific women mentioned are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them. (Luke 24: 1-11) Salome is also mentioned in Mark (Mark 16:1).

In Matthew’s account both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary see Jesus as they left the tomb. “And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, “Jesus met them, saying All hail. And they came and held him by the feet and worshiped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: Go tell thy brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.”  (Matthew 28:8-10)

In the gospel of John, Mary is the first to the empty tomb.   After returning with Peter to the empty tomb she lingers and sees the angels and then the resurrected Jesus (John 20: 11-19).

Can Knowing about the Women of Holy Week help us Today?

Women today can remember Jesus more as they focus on the events of Holy Week and the women in those events. Like these ancient women, we can be women who want to be where Christ is, who witness miracles, are a part of miracles and who raise our voices in joyful praise and testimony of the Savior of the World.  What would happen if we spoke of these scriptural women of Holy Week more? Would we appreciate their discipleship, sacrifice and dedication more? Would reflecting on their faith increase our own? Let us recognize the good they did, the vital role they played, the love and compassion they possessed, the work, thought and effort they engaged in, the fearless faith they fostered, the tenderness they exhibited, the joy they experienced, and then let us go and do likewise. 

Especially during Holy Week and as we extend the Easter season we can follow the example of the women of Holy Week, by  giving glory to Jesus, remembering Him and finding  joy and peace in His glorious gospel.  His gospel truly is the good news.  I know He is the Son of God, and the Savior of the World. I have felt His power and love in my life and I have seen His power and love change other’s lives. More times than I can count I have felt the witness of the Spirit clearly say Jesus is who He says He is. He is the Resurrection and the Life. His way is the path of happiness and peace.

Thank you women of Holy Week and the Christian women of today who proclaim this good news! He is risen! Indeed He is!