A Grieving Woman Preacher

A woman, at sunrise, at first misunderstood, but was the first witness. She went for help. She was taking care and grieving at the same time. Bravely, she returned to the scene of the confusion, and the pain. And exactly there, she found Hope. She became the first New Testament preacher–announcer, commissioned by Christ Himself: Go, eye witness of the Gospel, carrier of the Good News! Go tell the brothers. 

She was the first sunrise service; her actions set in motion the breaking of Saturday into Sunday. This is the pivot. Of waiting and death and eerie stillness and denial to the rush of the new story, the unfathomable, the prophesied and the Way.

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Today, women are worried about their dresses, shoe color, matching outfits for their children, and healthy/organic/fair-trade/wonder-filled Easter baskets for the kids. The stress of the ham, the potatoes, the schedule, and the photos find prominent place in most every Church but no home in the Easter story. And yet somehow, we have been saddled and distracted, pulled and reduced, to style and stress.

We are living in the Saturday space of the Not Yet. We believe, but it takes faith. We have seen, but there’s still confusion and grief. We are called, commissioned, confirmed by the Love of God, but we women are also scorned in many ways still–scorned like the one who washed His feet with tears, crashing the men’s party…but remembered and honored by Jesus. He told the men at the last supper, wash each other’s feet, as I have done yours; I speculate the women already knew that was part of this world, this worship. It is part of the Saturday waiting, and punctuates our insistence on Sunday coming.

Ladies, you are beautiful in your sweats and your yoga pants, god forbid, and your old dresses and your new dresses, your medical equipment and your nursing bras and your jeans and your self. You are enough if the food is reheated, non-festive, burnt, bought or otherwise lacking. You are worthy in your grief and your mundane; you are seen, called by name, by a Resurrected Lord, in the moment you’ve felt the worst. Oh, to remember when it was just you and Hope, to hear your name called by One who esteems and created you, who included you in the first moment of Sunday.

In so many servant-hearted, resilient ways, women fashion the resurrection after people have gone through a crucifixion. In so many godly, loving ways, women prepare a feast before people who need a taste of the nourishment of Sunday in the midst of their upset Saturday, still aching from Friday. So many women have done these things for me as I try to live Saturday faithful, hand in hand with both yesterday and tomorrow. Heart and mind, weighted and lifted. Here.

May the courage of a woman at the grave, crying, and the confirmation of a Savior at dawn, calling, settle and sustain you this weekend.

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Dear Mary

//..dear mary..//

 

in the wake of the sacred and design of diety
your gift was disguised as scandal,
the angel did not appear to
everyone

how did you give birth to the rest of your life, tomorrow
when the lies, the looks, the silence
dragged behind you an ugly train
sinister

the arms can be full, the heart warming, but eerily
more alone than ever in truth
because they don’t ask, only tell
myths alone

sleeping beside the savior some nights was not enough
in your youth, how did you turn deaf
to the persecution you met
bringing light

dear mary, everyone believes you now, but too late
to provide comfort to your night
as the knowing silenced woman
pregnant still

Peace

I’m sure she would have liked to know the part about the stable.

Giving birth in the company of animals, no matter how primitive your normal life, does not shout “favored one” or “his kingdom will have no end.” It did not confirm the calling on her life and body and probably wasn’t the set up to the Messiah and a new reputation that she was anticipating. The darkness of the night must have been punctuated by great disappointment. By heavy question marks that asked, is there a mistake? Is this truly happening?

Still, somehow, that is the story. That is the nativity, the pageant, the beginning.

So many times this past year, I have not wanted the story I was given or a part of. I have cried and prayed beside people whose stories were not panning out. I have watched plot twists that left people in deep nighttime, susceptible to loneliness and despair. In my own small world, 2013 has included more than its share of stables and instability.

It is for us, then, that dawn breaks.

We are the ones with our eyes fixed on the sky, who know that our greatest fears are not always unfounded and are peering through them to find a new star. We know the allure of apathy and absenteeism and can also testify to that pump of energy and faith that is a brief gift, completely unmanufactured by our own will or effort–simply a lifeline until the next calm can be found. We are the ones who grip another’s hand harder than we have had to before, who have come to readily admit our limitations because the lie of carrying them alone and quietly has been shattered by reality. We have come to the end of ourselves and found that He embraces that journey and frees us to our need. We are the ones less convinced than ever of worldly frameworks of health and happiness.

Just as there was no place for them, the immaculate conception, in the inn, things have probably passed that we had no room for–in our psyche, our emotional muscles, our schedules, our faith. We had no constructs to get through the time with, to lead us in the nights. We look up with empty hands, feeling unsheltered and oh so tired.

I am praying, leaning, holding my breath–that this advent would welcome the dawn of redeeming grace we sing about and for which we search. In the silent nights that haunt us, in the stables of disappointment. Not of a deus ex machine hero tale that dismisses what has happened but a step in each narrative towards resolution. A creeping towards the Prince of Peace. A filter, a blanket, over and under and through the darkness.

That would be peace. That would be a small way to add an ornament to the assorted memories of the year, a bridge to the unfinished ballads. That is the Christmas we need–not high-gloss but deep footing. We need to know that “those who dwelt in deep, intense darkness, on them the light shone”–in exile, in disobedience, in famine, in suffering. In birth and new life.

…because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us…

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 

to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Luke 1:78-79

Hope

It is a chance for us all to be pregnant.

Man, woman, child. It is the time to be waiting and expectant. And maybe a little hormonal.

We join Mary and Joseph in the anticipation of a baby King. We reach back in time, and feel this present time, and hope for a coming time that is, at the very least, different. No amount of decorations can lift our hearts. No consumption of holiday drinks and sales can mend our souls. We are longing, we are waiting. It is Christmastime.

This year, I feel the burden of Mary’s role, of her being given a bewildering part to play in a salvific drama that largely does not include her.  From the time she heard that she carried a Savior, that Joseph could not claim Him as his son, that His name had been chosen for her, she must have sensed the awkwardness. She must have had an inkling that this road was not only an honor, it was a grief. Not just embarrassing, but bereaving.

She would face the humiliation and isolation. She would cry out in labor pains, and lose her figure. She would have all the worries and urges of a new mom. But from conception, this baby was not hers alone. He–the Messiah–was the Son of God. He would not call her house His home. He would differentiate from her before she was ready. He was born to die, rise, and ascend. She would lose Him and it started before she even had Him. She couldn’t know Him fully.

Yesterday, I held a sleeping baby girl while I hung up a 28-year-old ornament with my other arm. It is a piece of fabric, in a tiny quilter’s hoop, with printed words speaking of all the love a daughter brings to Christmas. It is dated 1985. It is a familiar ornament as I have hung it each year for as long as I can remember. Tears came to my eyes as I realized the predicament I was in, willingly, painfully. The sleeping baby in my arms is almost surely going to move and be someone else’s daughter. She was entrusted to us and while we had always hoped, we also always knew, that others may come forward with higher priority than we. This darling knows our smells, and we know her cries. She enlarges the hearts of my sons but they cannot understand that each week, I am holding my breath, wondering if this week, we will lose her. This is a unique and difficult beauty.

It struck me as I looked at her and looked at the tree through quiet tears, that 1985 was the first Christmas I had had with my parents. It was not my first Christmas, but it was the first Christmas with my family. Though I was over a year old that December, it was the first time they had their daughter during advent. They had waited. They had followed other paths that did not result in a firstborn child. They had been pregnant many times over, in a way, before that ornament could be hung.

I have no idea if we will spend her first Christmas with her, but I know that we are not her family, though our feelings betray us.

I am no Mary. I am not waiting for the Savior, nor growing Him inside my womb. I am not facing public scorn and have the benefit of the Lord’s Prayer, her son’s prayer, to guide me this pregnant season. 

But I can see her story in a new, heart-wrenching way this advent time, and that helps give meaning to this spot. I can appreciate not being able to lay claim in any conventional way to someone you are caring for with all your heart. I can appreciate, though cannot emulate, the faith she must have clung to, the wide picture that must have softened her suffering. She is a hero of heroes. She, in a messy, human, awe-inspiring way, is part of the reason we today can sing “Joy to the World” at the end of all of this.

I cannot hang a new ornament about a daughter this Christmas. But I have the comfort of an old one. I cannot call her mine or name her but I can show her the Christmas lights and begin advent with her lying on my chest. Even as she fills our arms for now, we continue to wait, to make room, to anticipate. I love her with urgency; we grieve even as we gain. We continue to be pregnant, arms linked with the rest of the Bride, once again–searching for the star, yearning for salvation. May hope steady us for peace.

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