Easter 4 letter

 To my fellow pilgrims on the path of resurrection life 

This week sees a wonderful celebration of women with:
~ the story of Dorcas, the dressmaker, as one of our lectionary readings in this time of Eastertide,
~ the induction of Reverend Janice McWhinney at Wesley on Saturday morning,
~ and, of course, affirming and praying for the treasures that we name “Mother” in our family and community.

These moments are of special significance to me as a mother, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, and woman in ministry for – despite gradual and intentional changes – the language and power hierarchies within human relationships are still very much masculine.

Imagine what it must have been like to be a woman in Dorcas’s time! 

Yet, in a patriarchal world and an emerging church led exclusively by a cadre of male disciples, Dorcas sews together far more than pretty garments:

  • Within her home, she drew together members of both the Jewish and Greek communities – note her two names – in a radical act of inclusion. 
  • Through her charitable acts, she helped those who had a little to offer to recognise their ties to the most vulnerable and poor within the city of Joppa – not by putting money in a plate but by making by hand something that would provide warmth and care for those in need. 
  • In the public square she wove into the understanding of Christian discipleship the colours of gentleness, compassion, and the desire to repair the world.  

William Willimon notes:

“When the story of the rising of Dorcas is told by the church, the social system of paralysis and death is rendered null and void. The church comes out and speaks the evangelical and prophetic ‘Rise!’ and nothing is ever quite the same.”

As we tell the story this week of a woman who brought the rising of hope to the vulnerable, alienated, oppressed cast-offs of her community; a new minister who will share in the work of repairing the world in this place; and the women who have carried us in their wombs – and their hearts, may we hear again the invitation to “Come to life!” and rise in the name of
~ our Labouring God who held us in the hidden depths of God’s own heart before bringing us into being,
~ our Accompanying God who draws near day after day with outstretched hand to walk and talk and work with us,
~ and our Affirming God who declares the goodness of each Word-birthed, Spirit-breathed man and woman.

And may God bless in this time of remembrance and celebration every woman who is and was and will be a living expression of God’s labouring, affirming, accompanying nature. 

Infuse them with Your wisdom,
encircle them with Your love,
empower them with Your presence,
that they may know in the very depths of their being,
their beauty and belovedness.
Amen. 

Yours in Christ
Yvonne 

Eastertide: Come to Life

Excerpts from Eastertide for lay preachers and worship leaders.

The word “Easter” brings many things to mind from the “Hosannas!” of Palm Sunday, to toasted hot cross buns and colourful eggs, to the more sombre cross of Christ and the Tenebrae services in which we recognise the deepening darkness, to a time of rest and renewal as we enjoy holidays with family and friends.

As the world around us changes colour from orange and gold to the red, white and blue of Anzac Day, to the bleak grey of winter, within the Church we move through Scripture –
from the cross to the empty tomb,
to Christ’s ascension into heaven,
to that wonderful celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples.

Often in this time, we hear stories of Jesus’s post-resurrection encounters with his disciples: how doubting Thomas received the proof he needed to believe, how Peter’s threefold denial was transformed into a call to care for Christ’s sheep, how those on the road to Emmaus felt their hearts burning with hope.

In the space between, something new – unknown – is happening:
the Church is coming to life!

I’ve never been much of a history student but, as a mom who loves to watch superhero movies with her teenage boys, I have begun to appreciate the “origin” stories of our faith in a new way. Not only do they graft us into the continuity of God’s great reconciling love enacted in generation after generation, but they also inform our imaginings of who we might be as Church in the future as we journey along the way today. 

In this year’s lectionary readings I have been struck by the real people who show us what real faith looks like as their lives are touched by resurrection news. 

Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Peter, Saul who becomes Paul, Lydia, and Dorcas are all changed from the inside out as they encounter the power of the resurrected Jesus. Their faith, their transformation, their testimony is vital to others coming “to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

There are two elements that I particularly appreciate about this lectionary cycle:

  1. Its portrayal of our clear need for Christ and the change that occurs when we are truly open to an encounter with the Living Lord: Thomas who stubbornly refuses to believe what he has not seen is sought out like a little lost sheep; Saul is converted through an encounter with God on the road to Damascus; Dorcas is brought back from the dead; Peter receives a vision that transforms his relationship with the Gentiles; Lydia and her household are baptised after the Lord opens her heart and ears to the Good News; and Paul and Silas are miraculously freed from prison.
  2. The inclusion of women who played an often-overlooked part in the growth of the early church: Dorcas (or Tabitha) who was well known for her devotion to caring for the vulnerable, and Lydia who was also know to be a worshipper of God and generously offered the hospitality of her home to Paul on his travels. I love that their stories are told against the backdrop of cloth – the garments that Dorcas was making for the poor and the purple fabric for the rich in which Lydia dealt – and have a picture in my head of the Gospel weaving together people of different genders, socioeconomic status, ethnicity etc.  

Real people.

Real faith.

As Christ comes to life, the Church is born. And as we come to Christ, so too do we come to Life – full and free and eternal. This is the message that transforms us and the witness we have to bear. Eastertide is a good time for us to remember!

A call to come to life …

As Autumn’s umber fades away
into winter’s deepening, dark decay;
Christ breaks the confines of his tomb –
defying death, dispelling gloom.

Hope gleams with the rising sun:
sin is dead and love has won.
Though today may bring its share of strife,
we heed Christ’s call and come to life!

God of the “thrust-out”

I’ve been studying the feminist church later, particularly, the “church in the round” as a modern understanding of what it means to be Christian community. At the same time, I’ve been reading Rachel Held Evan’s book “Inspired.” As I looked at the lectionary readings this week these two influences together moved me from an academic discussion on divorce or how we enter the kingdom of heaven as little children to the times when I have felt kept at arms-length by hard-hearted laws and even well-intentioned disciples of Jesus because of my femininity. In my imagination, Sarai and Samuel were born ….

Based on Mark 10:2-16 and Psalm 26 

Sarai turns over the loaf of bread in her hands, oblivious to how soft it feels in comparison to what she and her son, Samuel, have just had for breakfast. She has no coin to pay for it in any case; for anything, really. She has only come, again, to the marketplace for a glimpse of the man who was – up until a few weeks ago – her husband. 

As he and his rabbi join another group of men, she sidles closer to hear the heated argument that is taking place.  “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” one sneers. “Yes,” her heart moans over the quiet reply, “it is lawful for a man to put his wife and child out on the street simply because she over-seasoned his dinner.”

Lost in her anger, her shame, her pain, she nearly walks away until the unexpected, inexplicable words root her to the spot. “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

The words that hold her fast have less to do with divorce than they do with the radical hospitality of the one who utters them.

Never before – not even amongst the most progressive of her husband’s friends – has she heard that, as woman, she is equal in the eyes of God: equal in God’s desire for her to have a blessed life, equal in responsibility for the state of her marriage, equal in the ability to demand that the one who has treated her so shamefully should be put aside.

She is “gerushah” – “a woman thrust out.” There is no masculine equivalent in her language, in her community, or in her experience. 

And yet, this man – the one called Jesus – who is known for his powerful teachings and miraculous signs – speaks of the sending away of one’s husband as if it is as natural as the sending away of one’s wife.

She shakes her head in disbelief; then smiles as she looks around the group and lists to herself all of the reasons that she has heard over the years as valid grounds for divorce:

“Oh, he can’t keep his hands to himself. Put him aside!”
“Ha, I saw him spinning around on the street just yesterday like a fool. Throw him out!
“And him! He’s far too noisy. Send him back to his mother!”

The smile swells into a giggle; the giggle into the first true joy she’s felt for many years; and both bread and hard-hearted husband are forgotten as she sets off to share what she has heard.

Later that day, Sarai returns to the place with Samuel in tow, as well as a few of the other discarded women with whom they had shared bread and light-hearted laughter and curiosity about the one who would dare say such things to the Pharisees. 

As Sarai points him out, the women began to jostle their little ones forward, to cry out for a blessing from the one who had seen them, who had proclaimed them equal.

This time it is not the law that keeps them at a distance; on the margins, as always, where the unwanted and the weak and the discarded seem destined to live. It is Jesus’s own followers with their coarse manners and rude rebukes that send the children scurrying back towards their mamas with tear-stained cheeks.

Unbidden, the words of an old song flow from her tired, wounded, angry heart; words her mother used to sing to her when life seemed unfair; words apparently penned by David himself during the terrible time of persecution when Saul was still king and resentful of the young shepherd and his harp:  

God, You be my judge and declare me innocent!

Clear my name, for I have tried my best to keep your laws
and to trust you without wavering.

Lord, you can scrutinise me.
Refine my heart and probe my every thought.
Put me to the test and you’ll find it’s true.

I will never lose sight of your love for me.
Your faithfulness has steadied my steps.

I won’t keep company with tricky, two-faced men,
nor will I go the way of those who defraud with hidden motives.

I despise the sinner’s hangouts, refusing to even enter them.
You won’t find me walking among the wicked.

When I come before you, I’ll come clean,
approaching your altar with songs of thanksgiving,
singing the songs of your mighty miracles.

Lord, I love your home, this place of dazzling glory,
bathed in the splendour and light of your presence!

Don’t treat me as one of these scheming sinners
who plot violence against the innocent.
Look how they devise their wicked plans,
holding the innocent hostage for ransom.

I’m not like them, Lord—not at all.
Save me, redeem me with your mercy,
for I have chosen to walk only in what is right.

I will proclaim it publicly in every congregation,
and because of you, Lord,
I will take my stand on righteousness alone!

With these last words she squares her shoulders, sets her chin high, and steps forward to challenge those who stand in her way …

… just as an indignant cry comes from Jesus: “Why are you getting in the way of these little children? Do you not know that my kingdom belongs to such like these? That they show you the way to enter my shalom, my peace?” 

And gently, lovingly, patiently, he takes each one in turn into his arms, wipes away their tears, asks about their family, and murmurs a blessing over them until dusk approaches and the noise of the marketplace dissipates as families head home for the evening meal.

Sarai and Samuel stroll home together in happy silence, their hearts full of wonder:

  • who is this Jesus who challenges the teachers of the law as easily as he does his own disciples?
  • how could he know of God’s intentions at the beginning of creation and suggest that the law was written by hard hearts instead of loving hands?
  • but above all, where is this kingdom in which women have equal rights and children are treasured heirs and how could they get there?

Am I being unfair to you?

* a meditation for the Women’s World Day of Prayer based on Numbers 27:1-11*

To be born woman within this world – has been and continues to be – a social and economic disadvantage.

We bear the bulk of the household burdens. And, when we do go out to work, we earn less on average than our male counterparts.

We are underrepresented – in media, in government, even in our local church leadership.

We are more likely to face rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment, and to be told after enduring such ordeals that we deserved it, asked for it; that it’s our fault.

We are trafficked like animals, treated like slaves.

We are more likely to live under the poverty line – especially after retirement.

We are regarded in some cultures and religious to have no soul; and in many countries to have no rights – regardless of what the law of the land might say.

We are shamed into silence; threatened when we question our legal and familial status; labelled as feminists or witches or bitches when we refuse to back down from the burgeoning belief that we were made for more than the ever constant struggle for survival in a man’s world – even nearly a century after women received the right to vote.

To listen to a woman’s story is to immerse yourself in inconceivable and, oftentimes horrific, instances of abuse, neglect, persecution, and injustice by simple virtue of the fact that from the beginning the nature of creator, of companion was woven into her purpose, into her spirit, into her DNA.

The question asked by our Filipino sisters on this day, “Am I being unfair to you?” is best answered by whimpering Woman, by bleeding Africa, by groaning Earth: “When have you ever been fair to me – the one who carried the heavy burden of your weight within my belly, who – in blood and pain – gave birth to you, who nourished you at my breast though at times they were cracked and sore, who watched over your first steps, who wept at your broken heart and wiped your tears away, who rejoiced at the bittersweet moment of you independence, who encouraged you to dance and dream and live when my own life was given up moment by moment and piece by piece … for you?”

Yet, in asking the question, we are invited this day to move beyond the lament of women through countless generations to connect with the unexpected power and resilience that women have found in all of life’s unfairness to hold our heads up high, to claim an equal footing, to birth a new narrative of the full life for which we were created that is to be lived in respectful relation to God, that upholds the dignity of every human being, that builds caring communities, and that nurtures all of nature.

In our reading from Numbers 27:1-11, “am I being unfair to you?” becomes a catalyst for change.

The daughters of Zelophehad lived, like women in many African cultures, in a patrilineal society which meant that only the males in the family were entitled to an inheritance. As women, they were only recognized through their relationships with males as daughters, mothers or wives. The death of their father meant that his name would disappear from the clan and his property would be divided among more distant male relatives – leaving his daughters’ survival and prosperity entirely dependent upon the mercy of the men of Israel who they would marry.

Because they, like many women in patriarchal societies throughout the world, were dependent on men for access to land and income, they found themselves in an extremely vulnerable and powerless position which they found extremely unfair.

But instead of weeping and wailing over their plight and then settling into the situation, they went to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, to the leaders of Israel and the whole assembly of people with a challenge: “Why are you being unfair to us? Why should our father’s name disappear because of a legal requirement? Why shouldn’t we receive his inheritance when he has no son?”

And God says, “They’re right. It is only fair that they as Zelophehad’s direct descendants receive his inheritance.” And the whole law regarding the distribution of property is altered because these five sisters dared to stand up for what was right, for what was fair.

Through their story, we find three lifelines for thriving, rather than surviving, in a world that treats us unfairly:

  1. Our rightful place is provided for by our Creator. Many of us have heard over and over again that because we have wombs that make us capable of child-bearing, our rightful place is at home as nurturer. Many of us have been told that because Scripture says we were fashioned as companion, as helpmate, from Adam’s rib, we exist to support and serve the men in our lives. Many of us have not only borne but perpetuated gender stereotypes and cultural norms that men are stronger, better, smarter. It was even written into Israel’s law that if a man passed away and had no sons, then his property and possessions should be distributed among his male relatives and they would take care of his daughters. The insidious subtext is that women could not look after themselves; that they would not put an inheritance to good use and prosper. And for centuries, that was the practice until five sisters challenged the status quo. And guess what?!? God was on their side. In proclaiming that they were right and changing the law, God affirms their capacity and their strength and they are elevated from their status as dependants to that of landowners. It is a magnificent coup; a victorious challenge of the status quo; a long-overdue broadening of tightly defined gender roles and restrictions. We are just as capable of running a business, looking after the land, taking care of ourselves and our families, standing up for our rights, influencing policy, changing society, but …
  2. We need to stand in solidarity with one another. One of the most common complaints among women today is that women are far worse than men in terms of name-calling, ostracizing, and persecuting those who speak up or stand out or long to separate themselves from traditional practices. The power of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah is that their shared experience of such unfairness united their voices in protest and it was their combined petition that had power to sway the assembly, to get God’s attention. In the same way, our shared experiences of pain, of injustice, of victimization should unite us in an attempt to bring about positive change rather than divide us against one another.
  3. Let change begin with Church. We often forget that much of Scripture is rooted in patriarchal practices and that the inclusion of women into the Good News is an almost subversive act by God, especially in the person of Jesus. Ruth, Rachel, Esther, Deborah, Mary, the Samaritan woman at the well – God wove them into the unfolding story of God’s all-embracing, all-saving love. It’s ironic that even among God’s chosen people, unjust practices which lowered the status of women in society were upheld by the law. The petition of these five sisters for fairness was a subversive act. It was not just a plea to Israel’s priests and leaders but an appeal to God for a fundamental change in the religious, economic, legal, and social order of the day. Similarly, today God seeks to weave us into the continuation of God’s story through His Bride, the Church. It is even more ironic to me that with such a feminine image and a predominantly female-constitution, the Church continues to be dominated by men in terms of its leadership and vision and, for the most part, we seem to be okay with that. But if we want transformation to occur at the social, economic and legal levels of society, we have to begin by embracing a spirituality that speaks to our mutuality, equality and interdependence.

On this Women’s World Day of Prayer, let us not lose ourselves in lamenting the struggles and pain inherent in our stories, but allow the obvious answer that the world is often an unfair place for us to become a catalyst for change: helping us to claim the rightful place that our Creator has provided for us, holding us together in a powerful sisterhood made stronger through our struggles, and urging us to begin right here, right now, in God’s church so that the future becomes brighter – not just for ourselves, but for the many generations of women who will follow in our footsteps.

Through Woman’s Eyes

It’s Spring Day. The first of September.

And the first day after Women’s Month which – having seen how rapidly the hype over the 60 year anniversary of 20 000 women of all races standing in solidarity against the evil of Apartheid, and 40 years of the Ordination of Women in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and the powerful political speeches about the struggles that women still face in our patriarchal South African society shrivelled away – really only burgeoned for a day.

And I’m not done. In fact, I feel like I’ve hardly begun to appreciate fully the remarkable gift of Woman that has emerged in my conversations with women over the last few weeks.

Truly, to talk heart to heart with a woman is to be fully open to stories of unfathomable struggle and pain … and then to be amazed at how she has managed to carry on – often with such dignity and hopefulness and grace.

I have heard how God’s Word has been used to humiliate and oppress: how some men have taken from the Creation story a mandate to dominate and subdue the “helper,” the “second-born” shaped from his rib, the “afterthought” fashioned to serve his needs; how Eve’s error points to the inherent wickedness of women and our hidden desire to lead men into depravity and sin; how Solomon’s many wives and God’s promise to Abraham of many offspring condones the cultural practice of polygamy and justifies having children out of wedlock; how Paul’s admonitions to women on what to wear and how to behave honourably in the brand new Christian community indicate that they are unfit for positions of leadership within God’s church – even today.

I have grieved at stories of how women have turned on one another – forsaking solidarity and sisterhood in the quest for promotion, love and/or lust, and validation of their worth; how some single women have considered married men fair game and jilted women have responded with venom and viciousness, exonerating their men of all blame; how those looking for love have been preyed upon and manipulated by users and abusers without a word of warning from those who have witnessed their behaviour before; how married women and mothers have insensitively told unwed women and women without children (by virtue or biology or choice) that God is obviously unhappy with them.

I have railed against a society in which women must sacrifice or downsize parts of themselves in order to meet a narrow ideal of beauty or significance or perfection; in which the pressure to perform (and the punishment for under- or out-performing) a dozen roles leaves little time for dreaming, let alone breathing; in which a thousand insecurities and irrational beliefs worm into our psyche and self-image in the way that we are socialised, educated, spoken to, and treated.

Yet, through it all, I have encountered a God who has written us into Life’s Unending Story:

  • who, in our forming, wove into us the capacity for creating, for nurturing, for self-sacrificing;
  • who reminds us in every act of provision and protection in Scripture that we are living expressions of God’s image, God’s very being;
  • who affirms rather than beauty and charm our independence and our wisdom, our strength and our influence and commands that others affirm it too;
  • who takes the vulnerable and the outcast like Rahab and Ruth and Tamar and makes them part of God’s family, a necessary heroine in the incarnation of the Messiah;
  • who comes to us not as a fully grown, powerful man but is bound through the intimacy and humility of umbilical cord and a woman’s breast;
  • who overthrows cultural traditions and religious laws to heal she-who-is-bowed-over-in-need and defend she-who-is-accused-of-improper-conduct;
  • who appears first to the women at the tomb with good news of resurrection and new life – and tells them to preach and proclaim the truth to those still living in the shadows of loss and fear;
  • who is pleased to name the church the “Bride,” sacrificially and lovingly chosen – truly wanted and worthy.

So I give thanks to the God who names me “Beautiful. Beloved.” And I celebrate the women who have drawn me closer to who God is and who I am in God through their sharing and self-offering over this time.

And I pray for eyes that will help me see the God-bearers who I will meet upon Life’s Way, and hands that will hold theirs in friendship and support, and a voice that will speak truth about their true significance and worth – not just in Women’s Month, but every day.

A Woman’s Creed

In preparing for my last session in our “From Queens to Prostitutes” course in Women’s Month, I came across this powerful and moving creed by Rachel C. Wahlberg from Prayers & Poems, Songs & Stories Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity With Women. May it help you to draw closer to the God who created you as “Beautiful beloved” as it has me.

***

I BELIEVE IN GOD
who created woman and man in God’s
own image
who created the world
and gave both sexes
the care of the earth.

I BELIEVE IN JESUS
child of God
chosen of God
born of the woman Mary
who listened to women and liked them
who stayed in their homes
who discussed justice with them
who was followed and financed
by woman disciples.

I BELIEVE IN JESUS
who discussed theology with a woman
at a well
and first confided in her
his messiahship
who motivated her to go and tell
her great news to the city.

I BELIEVE IN JESUS
who received anointing from a woman
who rebuked the men guests who scorned her
I believe in Jesus
who said this woman will be remembered
for what she did
minister of Jesus.

I BELIEVE IN JESUS
who healed a woman on the Sabbath
and made her whole
because she was
a human being.
I believe in Jesus
who spoke of God
as a woman seeking the lost coin
as a woman who swept
seeking the lost.

I BELIEVE IN JESUS
who thought of pregnancy and birth
with reverence
not as punishment
but as wrenching event
a metaphor for transformation
born again
anguish-into-joy.

I BELIEVE IN JESUS
who spoke of himself
as a mother hen
who would gather her chicks
under her wing.

I BELIEVE IN JESUS
who appeared first to Mary Magdalene
who sent her with the bursting
message GO AND TELL.

I BELIEVE IN THE WHOLENESS
OF THE SAVIOR
in whom there is neither
Jew nor Greek
slave nor free
male nor female
for we are all one
in salvation.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
as she moves over the waters
of creation
and over the earth.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
the woman spirit of God
who like a hen
created us
and gave us birth
and covers us
with her wings.

 

Suggestions for Celebrating Women

On the 9th of August in South Africa we remember more than 20 000 South African women of all races who, in 1956, marched peacefully to the Union Buildings in protest against the tyranny of apartheid – many with children upon their backs.

Celebrating their nobility, bravery and solidarity becomes a profound moment of acknowledging the feminine image of God who creates and nurtures and transforms, of affirming the part that each woman plays in God’s unfolding salvation story, and praying for those who bring us into life – often in the most difficult of circumstances.

Below are some Scripture suggestions and prayers written specifically for a service that longs to emphasise the power and place of women – God’s beautiful beloved.

Call to Worship – Psalm 131 – God, our mother
Lord, my heart is not proud;
I don’t look down on others.
I don’t do great things,
and I can’t do miracles.

But I am calm and quiet,
like a baby with its mother.
I am at peace, like a baby with its mother.

People of Israel, put your hope in the Lord
now and forever.

Prayers of praise, presence and confession
O labouring God who held us in the hidden depths of your heart’s longing and mind’s wild imagining before bringing forth into being the wondrous beauty of earth and sky and sea,
we put our hope in you – now and forever. 

O affirming God who declares the goodness of each Word-birthed, Spirit-breathed creation, and the nobility of each man and woman that you make from scratch in your image
we put our hope in you – now and forever. 

O accompanying God who draws near day after day and moment after moment with outstretched hand to walk and talk, to laugh and dance, to work and play with those you have uniquely named your “beautiful beloved,”
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

O embracing God who demonstrates the length and breadth and height and depth of your great love through the self-offering and sacrifice of your own son –
a far cry from our stubbornness and selfishness and superficial ways,
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

O nurturing God who comforts and consoles us when we falter, when we fall, when we fail and guides and strengthens us when we dare and dream and strive,
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

Indeed, O mothering God, we love you
and we long to place ourselves in your arms this day and every day;
to be cradled there as peacefully and securely as a baby with its mother.

Forgive us for the pride, the greed, the fears, and the ambitions
that keep us from your embrace.
Soothe the worries, the wounds, the doubts, and the demands
that intrude upon the sacred quiet of this moment.
Open our eyes to the beauty and the abundance 
of your love, your compassion, your grace.

And bless in this time of remembrance and celebration every woman who has been a living expression of your labouring, affirming, accompanying, embracing and nurturing nature.

<naming> 

In Jesus’ name.

Scripture readings: The Crimson Cord – Rahab’s story
Old Testament – Joshua 2 and 6:22-25
New Testament – Matthew 1:1-6,17

Prayers of intercession
O transforming God who not only shares our story
but has the capacity to change the plot in surprising ways
we pray, this day, for the women that you have named and know –
the women in our family, in our community, our country, and the whole wide world:

for the Hannahs who have given up hope of ever having a child of their own,
and the Hagars who have no safe, welcoming space to call home,
for the Tamars who have known only rape and violation,
and the Leahs who have always felt inadequate and unwanted,
for the Rahabs who sell body and soul to make ends meet,
and the Ruths who leave everything behind them to face an uncertain future,
for the Esthers who gently work for the good of others,
and the Miriams who lead your people in unrestrained worship,
for the Abigails who speak peace into conflict,
and the Deborahs you raise up to speak truth to the tyrant,
for the Marys who long to spend life at your feet,
and the Marthas who are always worrying about what must still be done,
for the Dorcas’s who dedicate their lives to doing good,
and the Lydias who open up their homes in abundant hospitality –

infuse them with your wisdom,
encircle them with your love,
empower them with your presence,
that they may know in the very depths of their being
their beauty and their belovedness,
Amen.  

Communion prayer
O life-giving God, as we come to your table, we remember
that we are all sinners, equally in need of your mercy and compassion:
free us from the power of sin and death through your body and your blood.

We remember that no one is unwanted or excluded from your love, nor should be from ours:
Bind us together through your goodwill and your grace.

We remember that through you, our lives are deeply significant and full of surprises:
Lead us into new ways of being through your servanthood and surrender.

We remember that through your generosity we are bound to an eternity beyond our imagination:
Anchor us in your promises and your peace.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Benediction
O sustaining God may the perfect peace and power of this moment spill over
into the busyness and the routine of our daily lives
and may we ever seek the warmth and comfort of your all-embracing arms,
now and forever. Amen.

***

~Featured image: Ruth and mother-in-law Naomi by painter Sandy Freckleton Gagon