I had been blessed from my curacy to have at least one member of the congregation so artistically gifted that we did not have to rely on commercially produced symbols on the Paschal Candle. For some years these were posted on the parish website.
Back to the year in question: the candle duly delivered in good time, the artist that year announced at a relatively late stage of Lent that the candle was broken. A replacement was couriered over, given to the painter and we waited for the scene on the St Matthew’s candle to arrive in due course. Usually this was delivered before Palm Sunday.
On Good Friday, the candle was handed over and we noted that the paint (pastel rather than the usual gloss) was still moist. By early Sunday morning, resurrection or no resurrection, things had not improved. At this point creativity, urged on by a certain amount of holy panic, set in and I sat down to adapt our liturgy to a candle that could neither be removed from its stand nor processed during the festivities.
The current incumbent, The Revd Erin Clark, on the feast of St Mary Magdalene, in 2020, was gracious enough to recall that she had inherited a particular rite for Easter Sunday. She champions its use. While neither Easter nor St Mary Magdalene’s day, I offer the rite and some thoughts on women in the leadership of the Church.
St Mary Magdalene, pray for us.
THE RITE OF MARY MAGDALENE
(The Gospel of John)
We gather in front of the church around the fire.
Each has an unlit candle.
In church the Paschal Candle is already lit.
President: My sisters and brothers, we gather here to recall the wonder of our Lord’s resurrection. For his followers the days after his death were ones of fear and sadness. So much that they had hoped for had failed to come true. Or so they thought.
In the gospel of John we hear of how, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb where Jesus had been laid and saw that the stone covering the entrance had been removed. She ran to tell the other disciples. Simon Peter and the disciple Jesus loved ran to the tomb where they saw linen wrappings and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head rolled up in a place by itself. They then returned to their homes. John goes on to say:
One of the congregation goes into the church, and proceeds and stands by the Paschal Candle.
Reader 1: But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her,
Angels: Woman, why are you weeping?
Reader 2: She said to them,
Mary: They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.
Reader 1: When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her,
Jesus (The President): Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?
Reader 2: Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him,
Mary: Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.
Reader 1: Jesus said to her,
Reader 2: She turned and said to him in Hebrew,
Reader 2: (which means Teacher)
She lights a candle from the Paschal Candle, slowly returning to the congregation.
Reader 1: Jesus said to her,
Jesus: Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
Member of the congregation returns with her lighted candle and calls:
Congregant + Mary: I have seen the Lord!
The faithful move into the church singing New English Hymnal 110
(Jesus Christ is risen today)
When the congregation are in the their seats:
The President: Gloria in excelsis deo!
We sing the Gloria
The mass continues as normal
Liturgy, of course, does not convince all people—part of me thinks more the pity. However, some time back I also had some thoughts about women in leadership in the Church (as the neologists like to call things) and I felt moved to offer these thoughts. It would be great to say they won the day, but...
An alternative Biblical view
In much argument about whether or not churches should proceed to consecrate women as bishops, there is the seemingly attractive Biblical authority to oppose it.
However, I believe there is a Biblical imperative to allow this development to occur. Quite simply, to insist on male headship and reserve the ordained ministry to men is a sign of the fall. How can this be?
First, the mark of God’s first created order was one of total equality. In the first account of creation in Genesis, God creates humanity, male and female, on the same day.
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’. (Genesis 1:27-28)
This is a shared dominion in which there is neither headship nor subjugation. There is, of course, an alternative creation story which gives man precedence over his helpmeet. It is not surprising that many ‘Biblicists’ skate over the first creation story. The hierarchy, they argue, is in the created order.
The fall of humanity, when the wily ways of the serpent succeed in an astonishing round of finger-pointing – the man blames the woman, the woman blames the serpent – leads to the expulsion from paradise. It is in that action that the Almighty creates a distinction which leads to what can be oppressive views of gender.
In God’s address to creation in Genesis 3, harmony is banished and the sign of the fall is in rivalry between humanity and the serpent and between men and women. As Phyllis Tribble has argued, God’s wrath led to an inequality that had not existed before.
In the atoning actions of God in Jesus, we find the great reconciliation. Before this, Jesus called his followers, both female and male, but chose to represent the new order of the twelve tribes of Israel in the traditional male model.
It is in the action of the resurrection that Jesus replaces this temporal order. In all the resurrection stories, the primary witness is Mary Magdalene. In John’s gospel it is personal. Jesus chooses to reveal himself to Mary in the garden. He then her to tell the disciples, proclaiming restoration in heaven and earth. But he warns that the human perspective is both temporal and partial:
Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John20.17-18)
In the gospel of Mark this commission is secondary. An angel gives Mary Magdalene the message to give to the disciples. In this Mary Magdalene is both made preacher and evangelist. To withhold women from preaching is to undercut this commission.
I believe it is both biblical and catholic for women to be ordained, to be consecrated to the episcopate and to exercise a full ministry in leadership. To hold onto headship and male only orders is to fail to see that which has been overcome, vanquished and restored.
All in all, I offer this for others’ consideration.