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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

"Celebrating" Christ Crucified

I want to leave the Reform comment on the Church of England celebrating 20 years of women as priests in the Church of England. Not comment further on it, per se. I've done that. 
But I was inspired by this question. Not to attack it, or the view behind it  Just to kind of riff off  it, if I may.
"We don’t seem to be celebrating Christ crucified so what are we celebrating?"
Let's assume "celebrating" is a reasonable word for how we regard Christ crucified. I wouldn't use it myself. But let's assume we mean we are entering into the benefits of  it, and those benefits - that unlimited, amazing love - can be celebrated. Which begs the question - is women now being priests, something which derives from Christ crucified?

Tricky. Some religions have women in places of equal authority. Pagans, for instance. Though I wouldn't want to generalise. You know how pagans are. They're all different. Apart from the one who isn't. But pagans have priestesses. My friend the Stroppy Rabbit, for one.  And some liberal Jews have female ministers. I wish I knew a stroppy rabbi as well.   So it's not like the Church of England, or even the Anglican communion, is doing anything radical in the context of worldwide non-Christian religions. Let's face it, Beaker Folk are so egalitarian we don't even let men be Archdruids. So I'm not going to claim that having women as religious ministers is something that sets that particular strangely-balanced part of the worldwide church, the C of E, apart from anything that could have arisen elsewhere for other reasons.

So instead let's go back to the strand of world faith from which the Church of England, by some circuitous route, derives.

In Jesus's day, the Jewish priests were men and so (as far as I'm aware) were the rabbis. In those days men were real men, rabbis were real rabbis, and ransacking Roman soldiers were real ransacking Roman soldiers. To be a Jewish priest, you had to be from the priestly line - a sub-set of the Levite tribe. And a man. And there was, we are told, a veil across the Holy of Holies which only the High Priest could go through once a year. We're not told, as far as I'm aware, who had to replace that veil when it got a bit battered, or whether it had to be taken down like curtains and washed occasionally, and what theological problems this caused. But I digress.

And when Jesus died, the veil across the Holy of Holies was ripped in two. And after that, the Church discovered, you didn't need to have high priests anymore. In fact, the word "priest" that is used for modern-day Christian ministers in English is descended from the word "Presbyter" - which means "elder". A priest - old sense - was needed for sacrifices, and you didn't need no more sacrifices. There was just one, massive, eternal sacrifice - which echoed through the ages and can be brought into the present by the Church by one simple act, whenever it wants to.

And the Church discovered that its leaders - or "elders" if you prefer - didn't have to be Kohanim any more. They didn't have to be Levites. They didn't even have to be Jewish. They could be men of any race. Through Christ crucified, all nations became part of a holy priesthood.

And there it stopped. Which, to me, seems a bit odd. And, I reckon what happened is that the Church, which has always got inculturation, got inculturated. Living among people who thought men should be in charge and women should make the soup, it stopped once all the important people - Roman and Greek men - had got the right to lead a church. And it developed a rule whereby only those chosen leaders could do the thing that made those "elders" into "priests".

But I reckon that when Peter stood up on the Day of Pentecost and announced that the blessings of Christ crucified extended to all nations, and he quoted that bit about the Spirit being poured out on all nations and "men and women" - I reckon what he said was wider than he probably imagined. I mean, let's face it. He took long enough to learn to apply that piece from Joel to uncircumcised males, without going beyond that to people without the relevant appendages at all.

And I reckon that it's only since the Church has lived in the modern world - a world that has come about through the Church's views on men and women (and also over its dead body occasionally) that the Church, or parts of it, is able to move on further than the early Church, interlocked with the Roman state as it ended up, could. Has the move for women to be leaders in parts of the church - pastors; presbyters; ministers; priests (but not in the old way); bishops - come about because the world has changed? Yes of course. But then, if the Roman Empire hadn't co-opted the Church, would we have ended up with the Nicene Creed? I reckon God has a way of working through all these things. And God's got a lot of patience, has God. God would have. God has a lot of time on God's hands. God can afford to play the long game.

So if the question is "We don’t seem to be celebrating Christ crucified so what are we celebrating?" then this is my answer. We are celebrating because the Church of England furthered the Kingdom of God when it ordained women as priests. And though "celebrating" is an odd word to use regarding Christ being crucified, we are celebrating something that is an outworking of Christ crucified. Because by making us all free, he has set us all free to serve in the way the Spirit calls us.

1 comment :

  1. I salute you Archdruid - or whatever the correct liturgical response happens to be in your neck of the woods. Well said, well written, well posted and blessings upon you.

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