Some opposition to women priests appears to centre on the fact that Jesus was a man, and possibly also on the “Fatherhood” of God. The argument assumes that representing Christ at the Eucharist requires a male person. I doubt whether Jesus would have supported the line of reasoning. Matthew 22.23-33 has a story in which Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection ask, mockingly, about who will be married at the resurrection to a woman who has had seven husbands on earth. Jesus’ reply is “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
Artists have traditionally followed this guidance by depicting angelic beings without beards or breasts, with no (female) head covering and with clothing which does not denote the sex of the wearer. Depictions of cherubs, sometimes with all the sexuality of the Roman god Cupid, owe more to classical taste than to scripture. Portraying sexuality in angels is mistaken.
Thus Orthodox ikons of the Trinity, which illustrate the appearance of God to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18) show three angels with wings. The angels look like triplets. They are beardless. The three persons are distinguished mainly by the green robe of the Holy Spirit, and the deacon’s stole on the shoulder of Christ, denoting that he “took the form of a servant”.
Western pictures by contrast might show an old man with a long beard, the young man on the cross, and a dove somewhere between them, with no discernable relationship between the three persons. No doubt it is this somewhat dysfunctional looking image which provides preachers with such a difficult task on Trinity Sunday.
The Orthodox show three beings in fellowship, and the relationship between the persons is devoid of any sexual expression. Christ sits behind a table which clearly also represents an altar on which the Eucharist is presented. He wears his humanity in the deacon’s stole over one shoulder, but the masculinity of Jesus during his life on earth has given way to a depiction in which he is “like the angels in heaven” who “neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
One might then argue that whilst the priest represents the humanity of Christ, what is represented is not just the Jesus of Nazareth who died on the Cross, who was male. Rather, the priest must also represent the risen Christ of the upper room, of Emmaus and of the shore of Galilee, who is “like the angels in heaven” and, mysteriously, difficult even for his closest followers to recognise.
The sex of the priest who represents Christ our great high priest at the Eucharist is then immaterial. The priestly function is not a sexual one, but, in representing Christ who is risen, “neither male nor female”.