Real New Life

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

We are in the season of Easter still, the season of resurrection. But we sometimes forget that resurrection is not bringing back to the same old life but taking us on to new life. Jesus was different after the resurrection. We, too, are different when we have died and been raised with Christ in this life, let alone whatever comes next. This new life is experienced differently, lived differently, as if from a different angle. It is, at its best, life in all its fullness.

I was reminded of this last Saturday, the 3rd May, when I had the great privilege of being one of a thousand people, mainly women wearing dog collars, who marched from Westminster Abbey to St Paul’s Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving for twenty years of women’s priestly ministry. It was in 1994 that dioceses across the country first ordained women as priests and I was one of them, ordained at St Paul’s Cathedral on the 16th April of that year.

It was a particular pleasure and privilege to have presiding over our Eucharist at St Paul’s, the Canon Treasurer of the cathedral, Philippa Boardman. I first knew Philippa when she was a member of the youth group in the church I attended, where I taught Sunday School. We were both lay people, of course, and young! Assisting Philippa at the Eucharist as deacon was the Archbishop of Canterbury and this was a particularly moving and powerful statement of shared ministry but also a vivid reminder that we are called to be servants – all of us, lay and ordained.

Philippa was there fighting for the rights of women to be ordained priest right from the beginning. It was her photograph that was splashed all over the front page of many of the newspapers the morning after the vote to ordain women was passed in General Synod in November 1992 – a happy, laughing face of joy. But, lest you think that Philippa is simply a political woman, in the past twenty years she has worked as parish priest in some of the very poorest and toughest areas of London. New life – yes! Twenty years ago Philippa could not have imagined that one day she would celebrate the Eucharist with the Archbishop at her side on the twentieth anniversary of women’s ordination to the priesthood. I am sure the life God has given her to lead in between has been exhilarating and tough, joyful and dismaying, life enhancing and exhausting. I am pretty sure there have been times when she has wanted to give it all up. It goes with the territory. But it is all real life.

But, as the Archbishop reminded us in his very simple but very incisive message in the cathedral, in the end, we are called not simply to celebrate (although that day a party was in full swing – and quite right, too!) We are called, lay and ordained, to follow Christ and dare to minister wherever the need is. Women’s priesthood simply makes whole that offering of the fullness of the image of God spoken of in the Creation story. In 1994 that was recognised more fully and women were given authority to lead, but more importantly to serve because a priest never stops being a deacon, and deacon and priest together express the authority that has service as its core value; in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ who knelt to wash his disciples feet.