I often break the ice with people who meet me for the first time by telling them I think I am the only Anglican minister who has ever sat a bra fitting exam and gained 100%. It breaks down expectations of who and what an Anglican minister might be. And yet as I reflect on Easter this year I realise the depth behind that one liner. For many women shaped by feminism the idea of a male saviour is a disconnect. I myself wrestled with this disconnect and understand it. It has forced me to think deeply about Easter and the man Jesus at its centre. Do I sell out women by my faith in him?
Yet, even as I type the statement “a male saviour” I know I am replacing the offer of real relationship with a statement of category. I know in my own experience what this is like. So often I am described as a “female minister”. Whilst I value the particularity my femaleness brings to my ministry I sometimes baulk against being categorised rather than known. This categorisation allows people to think they know who I am, what I think theologically and how I will behave in any given situation because of their expectations around the feminine. The problem for me is everyone I meet has different expectations of the feminine! This often leads me to disappoint and sometimes even offend when the particularity of ‘who I am’ conflicts with expectations. Knowing me allows a better basis for assessment – I may still offend or disappoint! In the same way this ‘male saviour’ invites us to know him. His name is Jesus Christ.
Christ is, of course, not a surname but a title. Christ comes from the Greek word Christos meaning anointed one. In the old Testament prophet’s, priest’s and Kings were anointed with oil to signify that they were called by God to a particular task. Instead of a crown fragrant oil was poured on their heads. As they fulfilled their task they would be the fragrance of God amongst his people. God choose particular people to act and speak on his behalf. The Bible describes a God who intervenes in his world and works through the ‘particular’. He reveals himself in and through the lives of humans. This tells us something extraordinary about him. He is the creator God who knows us in our very selves, in our particularness and can work through humans without removing their agency or particularity.
This God stands in stark contrast to the universal principle envisaged by the Early Greek Philosophers known as Logos. Heraclitus who lived in 6 BC is credited with some of the earliest comment on this idea. Heraclitus wrote
“This Logos holds always but humans always prove unable to understand it, both before hearing it and when they have first heard it. For though all things come to be in accordance with this Logos, humans are like the inexperienced when they experience such words and deeds as I set out …(DK 22B1)
Heraclitus and those who followed him argued from the existence of human reason and the order seen in the universe that there was an active rational principle that penetrates all of reality. I have deep respect for Heraclitus. He looked at his world he saw order in the apparent chaos and that led him to postulate that there was a greater order behind it. Yet more than this, Heraclitus, showed a deep humility that humans could ever claim to know this principle. That is right isn’t it, how could we who are particularised in time and space ever claim to know or understand the greatness of who or what stands behind it.
I think many of my friends perceive that if there is a God he is much like that envisaged by Heraclitus. Existing yet unknowable, probably not one to intervene in our world but because of this safely rescued from claims of misogyny. Convenient but I wonder if this is truly satisfying. Satisfying enough for the top of the roller coaster moments when your whoops of delight are matched with that sudden deep sense that all this wonderfulness must have a deep explanation. Satisfying enough for the gutter moments when you heart calls out no this cannot be all there is. The God who reveals himself by walking the earth as Jesus is one who will risk the taunts of misogyny to be known. By narrowing the description of Jesus Christ to ‘male saviour’ we ignore the enormity of God’s act. It is to swipe left without bothering to, actually, know who he is. And enables us to ignore the way Jesus, actually, engaged with women.
Jesus Christ is God entering our particular. All those who had been anointed before, tasked in perfume for God’s work, whether prophet priest or king had not lived up to their task. They in the end could only ever partially reveal God. The promise made was that one day God would send an anointed one who would fully reveal his character as prophet, priest and King. 1 Chronicles 17 reads
“‘I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’”
Right in the centre of a promise focused on Kingdom and Kingship comes the words “I will be his father and he will be my Son.” A statement of relationship. This is the task Jesus is anointed for – to reveal not a universal principle but the God who is love, who knows and is known, who is relationship. This God is not a universal principle, not a statement of category but an offerer of relationship. Without the particular, we are left with categories. Categories like ‘female minister’. Those who know me do not call me this. Their knowledge is too deep to accept such simplicity. God’s knowledge of us is deeper than we could ever imagine and in Jesus he invites us to know him. In the particularity of Jesus; wrongdoing is held to account at the cross. God is in the gutter. In the particularity of Jesus; death is overturned at the tomb. God whoops with delight. This God will risk our claims of misogyny for our sake. Jesus was never anointed by the religious leaders of his day. They never acknowledged that he would be the fragrance of God amongst his people. In fact when Pilate instructed that a sign be fastened on Jesus cross saying “The King of the Jews” they objected saying write “this man claimed to be the King of the Jews”. (John 19:21) Yet each of the biographies of Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record women anointing Jesus with perfume. Over and over again women are tasked by God with a role the religious leaders failed to fulfil. They publicly acknowledge who Jesus is. In a world where the place of woman at the temple was in the outer court, where sitting at the feet of a great teacher was a privilege reserved for men, where a woman’s word held lesser weight than a man’s it is women who anoint Jesus for his task. Jesus disappoints and offends when he allows this. On lookers are angered, the disciples are indignant and Judas and Simon the Pharisee are disgusted. Whilst the term “male saviour’ might create a disconnect or allow the claim of misogyny the particularity of Jesus Christ speaks a different truth. Speaks a different hope. It is this Jesus who has brought me hope though the decades.
In my 20’s the one, this Jesus, who rose again at Easter taught me that starving myself to fit the expectations of femininity was a fools game when there was a God who had made me, knew me and gave me a body not designed to be an object looked upon but a body which could be worn out in doing good and one day be raised again to new life.
In my 30’s the one, this Jesus, who rose again at Easter knew me in the quite grief of babies lost and whispered “I know them even though you didn’t”. How extraordinary that the God of the universe had once resided in a woman’s womb. I imagine Jesus quietly in the corner the day the interviewer quite illegally and in a roundabout way asked whether I would interrupt working by becoming pregnant. I see the anger and disappointment stretched across his brow. You see Jesus knew what the interviewer did not. Babies were unlikely for me but God is the kind of God who tasks women to do things because of their bodies not despite them.
In my 40’s the one, this Jesus, who rose again at Easter delights me. In the middle years of growing work opportunity and the sudden realisation that women younger than me think I know something worth listening too. Jesus says speak up for me and for them. To stay silent is to block our noses with false claims of misogyny when those ancient women who went before me recognised with beautiful fragrance the God who longs to know and be known.
At 50… well it’s yet to come and by now I do not dare to imagine.
Rev Jenni Stoddart is the Chaplain at Abbotsleigh, an Anglican school for girls. She is an Anglican Deacon who has worked in Sydney Parish's for 20 years focussed on youth, children and families. She loves preaching Gods word whether the hearer is 5, 15, 25 or 75 and even more when all the generations are in together. Jenni is the chair of the board of Anglican Deaconess Ministries.