(Photo of the eight living members of the "Philadelphia Eleven" from The Lead)
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’
I have to admit, I like that the anniversary of the "irregular" ordination of what the Episcopal Church has come to call "The Philadelphia Eleven" (the first women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church) falls on the feast day of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. I always secretly wonder if that day was chosen on purpose or it was just an accident of fate.
From "The Lead":
The first women were ordained priests in the Episcopal Church on July 29, 1974, though General Convention had not yet passed a resolution. The "Philadelphia 11," Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield Fleisher, Jeannette Piccard, Betty Bone Schiess, Katrina Martha Swanson, and Nancy Hatch Wittig, were ordained by Bishops Daniel Corrigan, Robert L. DeWitt, Edward R. Welles, assisted by Antonio Ramos. On September 7, 1975, four more women, Eleanor Lee McGee, Alison Palmer, Betty Powell, and Diane Tickell, were ordained by retired Bishop George W. Barrett. The 1976, General Convention, which approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, voted to "regularize" the 15 forerunners.
Until 1976, the canons regarding ordination were assumed to say that "men" meant male persons though according to common usage of the day "men" was the inclusive term for humankind. The women and the bishops went ahead with the ordinations before General Convention could clarify this. Elsewhere in the canons "men" and "man" was interpreted to mean "people" or a "person."
The John text for the feast day of Mary, Martha and Lazarus focuses on the resurrection of Lazarus. The passage is rich with emotion--we find grief, anger, and frustration in Martha's words. We find loyalty and fidelity in Mary's gift of simply staying home and being present. We find liberation in Lazarus arising and being unbound. (I always wonder if his first thought upon awakening was, "Huh? Whaaaaa?") We find a Jesus who trusts that God hears him. (I particularly like the Matthew version, where we see a Jesus who cries alongside us.)
I believe all of these same emotions had to be present in the events leading to the ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven, as well. There had to be so many tears shed--both before and after. There had to be anger--anger aimed square at the Church from many directions. There had to be frustration for these women. There had to be a sense of duty for the three bishops who ordained them just as intense as what Jesus felt when he set out to see Lazarus. There had to be an undercurrent of loyalty, faith, and fidelity for these eleven women to stay the course. These emotions did not end at their ordinations.
The last few days have been rather disheartening ones for me on about four different fronts. It culminated last night in having a discussion of something I had made a conscious decision to stop talking about to a person I swore I'd never talk to about it. But as it happened, I came to realize something had changed in me. I had shut myself up about this story because it became a story of my woundedness, my obsessive-compulsive nature, and the sickness that ensues because it linked too strongly to a time in my life that I was reminded of a person I had to become just to survive. It used to be a story of my shame that I could temporarily be that person again.
But I realized when I hung up the phone last night, I was telling the facts of that story, but I was telling it from a way different place--as a piece of a recovery story. It was no longer the icky stuff in the story that made me cry. It was the recognition of the subsequent miracles that came later. I was shown I was in a different place--a resurrected place, an unbound place.
I was following a Facebook thread on the ordination of the Philadelphia eleven today, and I heard a great line about holiness: "Irregular is the essence of the holy."
I do believe it is. Not just in the ordination of these eleven women, but in my own life, as I yearn to live out the full height and depth of it.