The Opening Eucharist for the Anglican Delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women 2007
Welcome – many of you have traveled far to join this gathering of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The people of this world thank you for your passion for the healing that comes through attending to the needs of more than half of the human race. We are all grateful for your willingness to get up from your many homes and come here to work for that healing.
The readings we’ve heard are a tension between sitting or waiting and getting up and doing something productive. Jeremiah’s lament is about widespread suffering, children dying in the streets, dying of starvation and disease as their lives are poured out on their mothers’ breasts. He could be speaking of many parts of this world today – Darfur, the inner cities of this country or Appalachia, refugee camps in Thailand, Burundi or Kenya, or the camps in Gaza. Children die from lack of food and medical care, and increasingly, girl children die where boys are more highly valued, especially in parts of India and east Asia. We know that lament of the prophet, and his words pierce our hearts as well: “what can I say to you – who can heal you?”
The psalm would say to us, “wait on God.” Many people throughout our history have heard that as an invitation to sit back and suffer, to say, “well, who are we to try? This is far too large a task for merely human hands.” In Spanish, however, the words of the psalm are a bit bolder, “espera en Dios.” Hope in God, or perhaps, “expect [it of] God.” There’s a bit more movement and encouragement there.
Well, is it “wait on God,” “expect God to do something,” or is it something more active, or both? The two gospel stories of healing seem to say that the kind of waiting or expectation found in faith are absolutely essential to healing – “your faith has made you well.” But how did those two find their healing? The girl is healed both by the faith and expectation of her father and the bystanders, and by action. The father runs off to demand healing from Jesus, and despite the laughter of the bystanders, healing comes. The woman who’s been bleeding for years is healed both by her faith and by her willingness to get up and ask for it, to put the touch on Jesus. She touches him and he responds, “go in peace.” That invitation to go in peace as a healed child of God comes to us as well – go out into the world with a vision of peace and justice, of shalom for all.
I don’t think there is a single instance of healing in the gospels that doesn’t involve a request or demand for it – help me! Make me well, let me see! It’s the same kind of hope and expectation that the psalmist talks about. It is what Toni Cade Bambara [in The Salt Eaters] calls “sheer holy boldness” to demand that God respond. ¡Espera en Dios! Expect that God will answer.
When Jesus comes to Jairus’ house, he says to the girl, “get up,” and then he tells the others to feed her. Get up is the way it’s translated here, but it could also be “wake up” or “stir yourself.” The same word is used to speak of raising the dead. If we want healing in this world, we have to stir ourselves to get up and demand it, and expect healing as the proper way of things. We have to touch somebody in a way that lets them feel the suffering out there. We have to believe that healing is possible and do something about it. We may even have to wake the dead in our midst – those who can’t or won’t feel the suffering of so many around this world – and heal them enough to do something about it.
You and I have a vision of what the world is supposed to look like, a vision that comes out of the depths of our tradition – the reign of God, where all have enough to eat, all illness is healed, all strife is resolved, and people live together in justice and peace. That vision of shalom is our hope and it undergirds our faith. God’s vision is stronger than death, and, indeed, after the crucifixion Jesus himself is gotten up to continue that healing work. His command to the community around the little girl is the same one we get – now, get up, you’ve been healed, come to the table and eat. But it’s not just a call to this little body, it’s a call to the whole world – get up, expect and demand the kind of healing God envisions for us all, and then go and feed the world.
I met a woman last fall who touched me and many others with her story. Somaly Mam was sold into sex slavery as a young girl. When she finally emerged from her chains and found some healing herself, she went back into those dungeons and brought other girls out of their bondage. She bought them, redeemed them for life, and took them to a refuge where they might begin to heal. She continues that work today, one girl at a time.
I met another woman last fall who equips women in Afghani villages to better themselves and their families. Connie Duckworth, through an enterprise called Arzu, has helped women weavers to improve their product, and pays them 150% of the going rate for their rugs, but only if they agree to send their daughters to school.
I know a woman in this country who looked at her community 15 years ago, a community depressed by the failure of all its traditional industries. She could see that women needed to go back to work and to school and that they had no childcare. She went to her church and said, I want to use our Sunday school rooms to start a daycare. It will work if I can find 7 children. Today that daycare is the center of community life, the third largest employer in the county, and a source of hope and healing to women and men, girls and boys of all ages.
You can probably tell stories like these from your own experience. One person can change this world, in small ways that can lead to incredible healing for the world. Together women can lead this world into the vision God has for us all. Bless your labors, that there may come a time when children do not die in their mothers’ arms, when girls everywhere live in freedom and equality, without fear of violence or oppression. May God’s reign be known on earth.