Sunday, March 27, 2016

Patriarchy is Starting to Crumble

Happy Easter

I have commented a few times this year that “It doesn’t feel like Easter”. Perhaps, that is because we had no Easter break from school so the weekend is consumed with all the normal end of week/preparing for next week tasks.

Yet, it set me wondering about what is Easter supposed to feel like? Indeed, is it supposed to “feel” like anything at all? We are two thousand years removed from the event but it is a significant part our faith stories. I’m not sure we can even begin to emulate the feelings of those early disciples so at Eastertime we re-capture the significance of the event in a way that is relevant to our personal lives and histories.

Easter has always been a time of new beginnings. Regardless of how the date fell, Easter always felt like the half way point between Christmas and summer. A new season beginning, nature starting to bloom, coming to life reflected everywhere we look. New life is always a joyous occasion, a time for rejoicing and celebration. Easter is depicted with eggs, baby bunnies and spring flowers all signs of new beginnings.

Today’s lectionary reading is John 20:1-18. The passage tells the story of the empty tomb discovered by Mary. Within those eighteen verses a woman who must have experienced a myriad of feelings is portrayed. I can imagine shock and horror, on the discovery of an empty tomb, followed by deep sadness, confusion, unbelief, then as she lingered at the tomb, hope followed by elation, wonder and unbridled joy.

Take a moment to savour Mary’s role. In earlier blogs I have talked about the very important roles given to women in the gospel of John. Mary, his mother, announcing to her son that it was time for the public ministry to begin, the woman wanting healing for her child who revealed to Jesus that the ministry was not only for the Jewish nation but was for all and Mary who anointed Jesus for death. Significant moments.

In this passage a woman is used to reveal another significant event. Mary announces the resurrection. Patriarchy is starting to crumble. One of the most significant seasons in the church’s calendar is announced by a woman. Sadly, patriarchy quickly re-established itself to such an extend that women were largely excluded for the next two thousand years. But this passage does give a glimmer of hope in the words, “Mary announced”. Thankfully, the significance of women’s roles words in the gospels are now often appreciated.

In the text, Mary made two journeys and two announcements. Firstly, she discovered the empty tomb. She ran to find the other disciples. I’m sure this journey would have been full of shock and sadness. She announced to the disciples that the body had gone. They ran to see for themselves, found Mary’s words were true and returned home. Mary lingered at the tomb and grieved. Perhaps there is a lesson in that for when one is facing hardships, not to run away from the grief but to linger a while and see if the situation changes. It did for Mary in an amazing way. She saw a heavenly vision. She spoke to the risen Christ. Her sorrow changed to joy.

She made her second journey. She ran back to the disciples this time with quite a different message. I can imagine the difference in those two journeys. I can imagine the lightness and joy Mary felt as she ran to announce she had seen the Christ. It was a new beginning. New life was shinning through. To announce the change in seasons was a privilege granted to a woman in a time when the testimony of women was not accepted in the courts. In this one woman’s witness patriarchy started to crumble. Good news indeed.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Wasted Women!

Spring seems to have come early to New York state. As I write this in the early morning the sun is already shining through my window although it is still rather chilly. Yesterday we took the pugs for a long walk in the mild weather. Winter has been short this year. The grass is green. Tiny shoots can be seen at ground level . . . the anticipation of what is to come.

Today’s lectionary reading is full of anticipation. Mary anoints Jesus in anticipation of his death. Once again the author of John has portrayed a woman in a strong, prophetic role.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Mary, the mother of Jesus, being used in a prophetic role. In that story, of the wedding in Cana, Mary revealed to Jesus that it was time for the public ministry to begin. It was a significant moment.

Here is another significant moment. Another Mary. This time revealing that the journey to death was starting. It wasn’t portrayed as a rash or careless moment. Jesus recognized that it was a planned moment, it was a prophetic moment: “She bought it so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” Jesus knew, this was the beginning of the journey to death.

So another women playing a key, prophetic role in the story of Jesus. A women anointed Jesus for his death. A women anointed. Let those words reverberate today . . . a women anointed. This is a key phrase, a key verse, a key happening, a blow to male domination in the patriarchal society of the day.

Yet, if the story is unpacked the significance is even more startling. Not only did Mary anoint but she understood what was about to happen. The disciples who had been Jesus’ companions still did not understand. In the gospel of John this is represented by Judas question, “should the nard not have been sold and given to the poor”. In the gospel of Matthew, Judas is not singled out, the text comments that the disciples were angry and said, “Why this waste?”

It is quite sad, that what should have been an amazing and poignant moment was belittled by the male disciples. I wonder if it would have read differently if it had been John or Peter who had done the anointing. I wonder if a male name would have made the action more acceptable to the disciples.

Read it again, note the male bias in the text, Lazarus’ house, Martha served.

However, I want to focus mainly how making John anoint Jesus changes the story. (Certainly brings it in line with the Old Testament where male prophets anointed kings)

Try reading the story this way . . .

Six days before the Passover Jesus, came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. The disciple, John, took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with his own hair.

So here are some hypothetical questions to ponder.

How does the insertion of John’s name change the story?
Would the other disciples have still cried, “Why this waste?”
Or would they have recognised it for what it was . . . a prophetic anointing signifying the beginning of Jesus’ journey to death.

Maybe the comment “Why this waste” should not be applied to the anointing oil, but applied to the centuries of women who have been ignored and bypassed in their communities of faith.

Nard (or muskroot) is an amber-coloured essential oil which is derived from a plant (pictured above) found in the Himalayas in Nepal, China and India.