A commentary on Christ-Christa language by Dr. June C. Goudey, August 4, 2010
Recently at the parliament of the World’s Religion in Toronto, I had an occasion to talk about Christa language. Although I am retired from parish ministry, I still consider this to be a testimony of my current faith journey and very much a work in progress. If you should like to engage me in conversation on this language, I would welcome the opportunity to think more deeply about our common faith.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the early Christian Church as the Body of Christ – a community called out to witness to God’s resurrecting energy alive in the world following the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Anyone who is “in Christ,” Paul proclaimed, meaning anyone who lives in the spirit of Christ and by the teachings of Jesus, “is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Greek term for Christ, Christos, translates the Hebrew word Messiah. Christos is not Jesus’ last name but a symbol. It refers to the anointed one. Although the phrase Jesus Christ is quite common, the truer translation is Jesus the Christ; in other words Jesus the anointed one. When scholars speak of the Easter event, they acknowledge the “Jesus of history” as pre-Easter and the “Christ of faith” as post Easter. In other words, before the resurrection, there was no Christos associated with Jesus. Even though the term Christos is found in the Gospels, these are all post Easter texts, texts created by the community that experienced Jesus as resurrected. The same is true of writings attributed to Paul. The community who followed Jesus proclaimed him as the Christ. Simply put: The resurrection created Christ.
Jesus was called “the Christ” because he was deemed to be anointed by the Spirit. In his own words recorded in Luke 4: 18-19 Jesus confirms this:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
When we allow the spirit of love to lead us deeper into authentic living we experience Christic power; power that manifests itself as love. Jesus honored the ministry of women and men and so do we. We honor women and men as equal in our midst; not just as Christ but as Christa. By using Christ language for men and Christa language to designate women’s inclusion in the Body of Christ we celebrate the fullness of God’s healing Spirit in our midst. Christa language does nothing to change our understanding of the male Jesus. What it does is change our understanding of who we are as followers of Jesus. As Jesus is the light of the world, so he reminds his disciples they we too are the light of the world. As Jesus lived a life anointed by the spirit’s presence, so too he calls us to live lives anointed by the spirit’s presence.
Living by the power of Christ/Christa means we live as men and women fully open to God’s unconditional love. St Cyril of Jerusalem taught in the 4th century that in baptism, when anointed with water and the Holy Spirit, we become “Christs.” The Greek he used is plural, not possessive; thus Cyril acknowledges that every baptized human being is a Christ, a Christos, an anointed one fully capable of being an icon of generosity – a window – to God’s graciousness.
While some would argue that Christ is a universal term encompassing male and female in the one body of Christ, this argument is undercut by the Latin phrase “in persona Christi” which means, in the person of Christ. When a bishop or priest says “This is my body”, “this is my blood” during the celebration of the Eucharist in the Roman Mass, they are deemed to be acting as “Christ”. Moreover, the Roman Catholic Church has been unequivocal in teaching that only male priests can act “in persona Christi” and have consistently used this as a reason to deny women entry into the priesthood. Christ is therefore not a universal concept.
A community willing to embrace the imagery of Christ/Christa is a community where the equality of women and men thrives, where justice is served and where well-being is honored. Well-being does not mean living a pain free existence; it means living with and actively practicing the healing power of love.
When God’s healing spirit is unleashed within us, we become healing healers (rather than wounded healers), people on the move, people who say goodbye to the past and hello to the future. People who say yes to life, and let go of childhood fear. People who live with hope, not hopelessness are people who allow our imaginations to be guided by images of love, acceptance, and communal well-being. Communal well-being is present when men and women actively cultivate communities of love, communities where God still speaks words of welcome, words of forgiveness and words of healing.
Why does this matter? To be a healing healer you start with what you know – pain, fear, hopelessness – and you begin to let it go. You take a step in the direction of wellness and you seek out every opportunity to let your pain go. You breathe, “Yes”; you breathe, “Hope”; you breathe, “Resurrection”. It is my hope that as you become more fully yourself in this Christ/Christa community, you will come to fully claim your God-given potential to be fully human and fully alive in the spirit of love. That is what Jesus calls us to embody when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. [They] will do even greater things than these … [John 14:12]
If you wonder where you are on the journey, ask yourself these questions. If you can answer yes to any or all of these then you are well on your way to understanding what it means to become Christs by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.
Do you believe in a power greater than yourself that loves all people unconditionally?
Do you believe this power seeks the flourishing of all life?
Do you believe this power has many names Father-Mother; Creator, Spirit?
Have you experienced the presence of this power in your life? Do you believe you are one with this power?
Are you open to believing that Jesus is divine and that you are too?
Do you believe Jesus’ life teachings can heal your life?
Have you experienced the power of love in action and has it changed your life through forgiveness and reconciliation?