Transcribed from the audio recording.
Please pray with me. Gracious God, help us always to seek the truth come whence it may cost what it will. Amen.
We hear in today’s gospel story yet another life being transformed, renewed, restored by a close encounter with Christ. In the story, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and he sees a woman totally bent over and he proactively reaches out to her. She doesn’t petition him; no one petitions Jesus on her behalf. He sees a need and he immediately responds and says, “Woman, you are set free,” lays hands on her, touches her, and she straightens up for the first time in eighteen years and praises God. Can you imagine what she must’ve felt after eighteen years of being bonded with whatever was besieging her? And of, course, the response to Jesus reinterpreting the rules and suggesting something different—a change, if you will—was conflict.
Often change results and is met with conflict. And, of course, as we come together as a country and a world and remember the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s March on Washington, we know the story of another prophet who called for change and how that was met with conflict. Dr. King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we straighten our backs to continue to work for freedom.” We straighten our backs.
I suspect many of us have things in our lives or that we observe in the world around us that would seek to bend our backs; and if not our backs, at least our spirits. Whether it’s racism that is still a sin in our world today or sexism or any of the “isms”—it could be unemployment or underemployment, fear, anxiety, depression—you don’t have to look very far to see the things in our world that need to be changed. Look at the unrest in the Middle East and the anxiety and the problems that ensue from that globally. I think one of the reasons why we gather together on Sundays is to hear Jesus proclaim to us: “You are free to be restored, renewed, transformed, empowered to go back out and work toward the changes that we know need to take place in our world today.”
I was reminded of that very powerfully three weeks ago when I had the privilege of being the guest preacher at St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong. You may know that the cathedral was founded in the late 1840s as part of the British colonialization movement into China. And in those days, of course, the congregation was some of the social elite of that time. But over the years that cathedral community has changed pretty dramatically and what I experienced three weeks ago was breathtakingly beautiful. Over 60 percent of the congregation today is comprised of Filipina domestic workers. These are women, many of whom were professionals in the Philippines but couldn’t find employment. So they went to Hong Kong to earn some money—as a maid—that they could send home to help support their families. And they come to this community because that community reached out to them—where they were.
As we know in situations like that, whether it’s in Washington or anywhere in the world, often there is abuse that accompanies those sorts of situations—in their case, sometimes financial abuse, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, and yes, sometimes sexual. St. John’s Cathedral started a counseling center a couple of decades ago that proactively counsels and provides legal assistance. And so on the one day of the week that these women have off, they come to that cathedral community where they are whole, where they are respected, where they can stand up straight and hear Jesus say to them, “Woman, you are free.” I saw it so powerfully when I had the privilege to serve Communion, the Holy Food of Christ offered to all to feed our souls, to restore, renew, and empower our souls that are sometimes bent by what we encounter in life. And to a person—while they might have been bent over to receive God’s Holy Food intended for them—upon receiving it, they stood up straight with huge smiles on their faces. The transformation was palpable and powerful, so much so that I had to struggle to hold back my own tears by what I was seeing of God’s great love that surpasses all of our understanding.
In her book The Sacred Meal, Nora Gallagher writes, “Communion is where we join, one with another in God, as in no other act and no other practice within this life.” We have that opportunity when we gather as community to share in the love of God in Christ in God’s Holy Feast, the Communion. We’re invited to receive all that it means, all that it promises, all that it makes possible. Today, if there’s something in your life that you’ve brought into this Cathedral, reach out for what God intends for you—to be renewed, restored, transformed—so that you can straighten your back. Hear Jesus proclaim to you: “You are free,” and to be empowered to help change the world. Amen.