I'll admit it--I am often hesitant to celebrate secular holidays or occasions as part of Sunday worship. There is nothing wrong or evil about secular holidays. Yet, for the church in our own context it is deeply important that Christian worship focuses on the Christian story. We no longer live in a Christian society where everyone will know the story by default, and the Christian story, as told by the Christian seasons allows us to become immersed in this counter-cultural story as the main story we live our lives by.
Yet, I also believe it is important that we do not simply allow this story to become a bubble by which we ignore or block out the stories around us. This Sunday's worship coincided with the celebration of International Women's Day, and I thought it needed to be mentioned. It's a day with an interesting history, one where the achievements of women are particularly celebrated.
If we are honest with ourselves, the people of Jesus have not always had the best track record when it comes to the care and treatment of women. Feminist critiques have often rightly cited biblical stories and actions of church people and hierarchy as source of oppression that continue to obscure the full humanity of women and other people who don't fit easily into gender categories. The Apostle Paul wrote that "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Yet, we have often found ourselves invested in gender relations that serve cultural interests rather than being "in Christ" and modeling God's beloved community. There is much that we need to repent (meaning "to turn around" or "change our minds" about) for in this season of Lent.
Nonetheless, I truly believe that beyond that there is a radical equality at the heart of the Way of Jesus Christ. The powerful witness of women is found in our own sacred text and our tradition is filled with stories of women as bearing the power of the Divine and serving God's mission in the world. During the offering time, Anne and Eve, our church musicians, offered an awesome duet of Daniel Charles' Damon's hymn "God, We Praise You for the Women," which is a hymn of thanksgiving for women in general told through the biblical stories of Sarah, Pharaoh's daughter, and Mary--the "God-bearer." In this hymn we hear powerful stories that simply can't be silenced, even though they are obscured by the context and biases of the original authors and collectors of the text. God's Spirit still speaks through these stories in powerful ways. Though International Women's Day may only be celebrated once a year, we are reminded that the women who make up that "great cloud of witnesses" of our past, present, and future may be celebrated every day of the year:
God, we praise you for the women
who have taught us to be strong,
who have held us, who have raised us
with a prayer and with a song.
What about you? Are there women that have been a key part of your life--especially your own spiritual journey? Who do you thank God for today?