Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Fallen Women

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
07 February 2021
Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

My attention was drawn to a headline in the last fortnight about the so called “Magdalen Laundries” in Ireland

Magdalene laundries were institutions run across Ireland by the Roman Catholic Church for so called “fallen women”

The definition of “fallen women” was astonishingly wide – ranging from prostitutes to women who had simply became pregnant out of wedlock

Often such women were, clandestinely, taken to these Homes by the local priest

In 1993, a mass grave was uncovered in the grounds of one of the Laundries

A formal state apology was issued by the Irish Government in 2013 and, earlier this year, the Government in Northern Ireland launched its own official inquiry

We still don’t know the full horror of these homes for so called “fallen women”

But it is remarkable that the last Magdalen Laundry was closed in 1990

In the light of this horrific story, it was rather prescient that our Old Testament reading this morning is from the Garden of Eden

We all know the story

Eve tempted Adam into eating the forbidden fruit and, as a result, mankind fell from grace and was expelled from the garden

It is called “The Fall”

And, as a result Eve is punished by God

As we have heard, God tells her

 “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”

It is fair to say that Eve does not get off to a flying start

We learn that Adam is made from the dust whereas Eve is made from Adam’s rib

It is Adam who names all living creatures and it is Eve who is designated as his helper

Eve is told that “your husband shall rule over you”

And, not surprisingly, in the Old Testament, women occupy a largely subordinate position

Even with the radical departure of the New Testament, things get little better

St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells wives to

submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church

Eve may not have been framed – as claimed by some – but she is most certainly blamed

For nearly two millennia, Christian thinkers have drawn on these accounts to shape their world

We are heirs to this tradition – and can read it in our newspapers today

But this subjugation of women has continued, in more subtle ways, down the centuries and even to our present day

In the first month of 2021 there was another headline in the press which read

“Pope changes law so women are allowed to perform tasks in mass”

At the beginning of the year, the Pope changed Canon Law to allow women to perform tasks during Mass

The Pope said that he made the decision after theological reflection and responding to the “needs of the time”

This news makes for depressing reading, particularly, if you are a woman

However, it must be remembered that it was only at the beginning of this millennium that women could be ordained in the Church of England

Women were first ordained in 1997 and Libby Lane, the first female Bishop, was consecrated in 2015

I took my children to welcome the newly consecrated female Bishop of Sherborne in 2016

They did not realise how seismic this event was

But it is only fair to acknowledge that we too stand alongside our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church

Heirs to two thousand years of the subjugation

The Catholic feminist theologian Rosemary Reuther wrote

“Within history, a woman’s subjugation is both the reflection of her inferior nature and the

punishment for her responsibility for sin.”

As a consequence, patriarchy is believed to be “the natural order” or “the will of God.”

But she sought to transcend this view of the world

First she looked to liberation theology which rose to prominence in the 1960’s

It sought to look at theology “from the underside of history” and throw off all forms of social, political and economic oppression

Arguing instead for the for the equal rights of all human beings regardless of gender

And who could blame her?

But most compellingly, in my view, she argues for an eschatological approach to the Church

Instead of living by the social rules of this world, the Church should anticipate the final redemption of humanity

Where mankind will be restored to its original equality before the Fall

And who could argue with that?

But the final point I wish to make this morning is the inter relationship between the Old and the New Testament readings this morning

Both, in a sense, are about The Fall

The Fall of mankind and the fall of seed onto stony ground

But when Jesus speaks about the receipt of the Word of God in his parable this morning, nowhere is gender mentioned

This parable is not about the sex of the recipient -it is irrelevant – because all that matters is the worthiness

His Word can fall anywhere and bear fruit regardless

And if God’s Holy Word is not concerned with gender, then nor should we be either

Perhaps our Churches would do well to take heed of Christ’s words this morning

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

In the name etc