Sermon from the Opening Eucharist at the Episcopal Church Center
Today the Rev. Margaret Rose, Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Colloboration, preached at the Opening Eucharist for the 2012 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women which was held in the Chapel of Christ the Lord at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, NY.
In her sermon, the Rev. Rose quoted part of the powerful statement made by the 2007 Anglican delegation to the UNCSW, “Given the global tensions so evident in our Church today, we do not accept that there is any one issue of difference or contention which would ever cause us to break the unity represented in our common baptism. Neither would we ever consider severing the deep abiding bonds of affection which characterize our relationships as Anglican women…This sisterhood of suffering is at the heart of our theology and our commitment to transforming the whole world through peace with justice. Rebuilding and reconciling the world is central to our faith.” The full text of the sermon is below.
UNCSW Opening Eucharist 2/27/12
Good News and Good Order
1 Corinthians 14:33-40 Luke 24:1-12
I was going to suggest, given the lesson of Paul to the Corinthians that a moment of silent meditation might be the best use of our sermon time, remembering not only Paul, but St. Francis of Assisi imploring us to “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”.
These two lessons were chosen no doubt for the stark contrast we hear in their reading. The first an admonition: that the proper role of women is to be silent in church that order might be maintained. And the second, the angel at the empty tomb commissioning the terrified astounded women to do just the opposite: Go and tell this good news not just to the disciples but to all the others. Go and tell. Be silent.
Many of us bristle at Paul’s words. Paul the misguided, we might think. Or dismiss him as purely culture bound, not relevant today. Yet Paul is also the church builder, founder of this fledgling Christian community in Corinth. His letter addresses and seeks to mend the factionalism already forming around what even now are all too familiar issues: the meaning of the Holy Spirit, marital and sexual norms, relations with the Gentile world, worship practices, women’s roles and resurrection. Corinth, the heart of Roman imperial culture in Greece is key to the survival of the Jesus movement. This matters to Paul! And for Paul good order is the path to God’s peace to growth in community and deeper faith.
The Gospel text from Luke is another thing entirely. It tells of a different time– the memory of a Kairos moment. God breaking into the world in a way not thought possible–the astonishing and terrifying story that Jesus’ words are true. He is risen. News to tell! And who better to tell it than the women who had been there all along, who stayed in anguish at the foot of the cross, who had prepared spices and oils to touch and anoint this body they loved. Who but these women who believed, to go and tell the news in spite of terror and the angel’s reassurance? This moment is not about order! There was no order in what the evangelist remembered, only the breaking through, the rushing and telling and the going of Peter to see for himself. And finally giving the women their due.
The words of Paul are not in opposition to the Angel at the tomb, but predicated on them. Paul would not be writing if it were not for the resurrection. They point to different things. In Today we might think of Paul’s as doing Left brain work. His is the struggle to build a church which includes all members of the body, only possible when differing parts—the ear, the foot the hand, the arm can live peaceably and in good order.
Sometimes I wonder if such a commitment to order inhibits the telling of the Good News. But then I remember Pam Chinnis, the Episcopal Church’s first woman president of our house of deputies, one of the governing bodies of our church, charged with assuring the good work of the General Convention. She wrote a book of her reflections of those years of leading the convention. “Decently and in Good Order” it is called. There is no doubt that Pam’s work in this governing body advanced the role of women in the church. I am also sure that there was an angel by her side at some point proclaiming resurrection and commissioning her to go and tell.
Resurrection and the women’s news is the ground on which Paul builds the church. Paul’s order is for a higher good and not for itself alone—even if we might disagree with the particulars of today. And from time to time the angel proclaiming resurrection comes among us and in our terror reminds and reassures us that the tomb is still empty and there is news to tell.
Which brings me to this opening gathering of delegates to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. We come this year to focus on rural woman, to commit ourselves to action on climate change, farming and food security, on access to education and medical care, and to seek inclusion in in civil society. We also come because we are bound together by the Gospel of Jesus Christ which compels us to do this work, to go and tell, to spread the Good news. Amazingly, we gather today, with the assurance that our presence “is in the good order of things: that engaging this work is what the women of the Anglican Communion are meant to do together.
It was not always so. There are shoulders of wise women on whom we stand—not least those who heard the angel’s words long ago and ran to tell, but those who were present at Beijing and who came to this meeting as Anglican delegates when no one was here or cared to certify. There were a few in 2002 and 3. But it was not until 2004 the 11 women delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, South and North America, that we began to understand that the message of the angel at the resurrection might also be to us. That was the year just after the Episcopal General Convention of 2003, and it seemed the Communion would break apart over issues of sexuality. But in that stuffy room on the 6th floor of this un-rehabbed building—no window, not enough chairs, costumes from some left over pageant, not enough air and in hours of deep conversation led by the Observer to the UN, the women agreed it was our life and work together which mattered—our conviction that we are bound together in the desire to care for starving children, in working against a war which would not take our sons as soldiers, in building schools that would not only educate but would provide facilities close to wood and water so that girls would be able to do their chores and go to school, to work together against genital mutilation, early marriage and for the inclusion of women in decision making not only in our governments but in our churches as well. That was the news we told. In 2007 as the institutional controversy threatened unity, the women who came to the UNCSW, who represented all 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion wrote this statement which they sent to all the primates and the Anglican Consultative Council:
Given the global tensions so evident in our Church today, we do not accept that there is any one issue of difference or contention which would ever cause us to break the unity represented in our common baptism. Neither would we ever consider severing the deep abiding bonds of affection which characterize our relationships as Anglican women.
“This sisterhood of suffering is at the heart of our theology and our commitment to transforming the whole world through peace with justice. Rebuilding and reconciling the world is central to our faith.”
This was the news the women had to tell and it is the ground on which we gather in 2012—recognizing the need for structure and order and laws and rubrics which do their part in unifying us and keeping the peace. Yet we must also be ready for the unexpected moment of resurrection and the angel’s news that “he is not here! He has risen as he said!” Go and Tell. Amen.
The Rev. Margaret Rose