“Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment. When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:10-13)
He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. With this one sentence, we know all we need to about this story—Jesus is teaching. He’s unfolding the text and revealing it to his people on a day for sacred resting and praying. It’s a day set aside from daily chores and to-do lists. A day set aside from business as usual and devoted to restoring households and communities to God. A day for listening and watching out for God’s revelations and stirrings within our lives. On this day, Jesus’ teaching comes in the form of healing.
In my sanctified imagination, I see Jesus with a small group of people around him. He’s speaking, and across the way, he notices a woman who’s been set aside from the group. Maybe he intuits her life’s story, or maybe he merely takes in what his eyes show him—a woman with a chronic condition that bends her body in such a way that others her from the crowd. Jesus sees this woman, stops his teaching, and calls out for her to come closer. He does not rush over to her, but silently and patiently waits for her. The woman hears his voice and perhaps bewilderment takes her over because no religious teacher has ever taken interest in her. Intrigued, she makes her way toward this teaching man. But she is bent over, so the going is slow. She feels the crowd getting restless for Jesus to continue his lessons, but she can only move as quickly as her body allows. When she finally reaches Jesus, I imagine that Jesus takes her hand and kneels down, or he finds a higher step for the woman to stand on. He takes some kind of movement so that they are on the same level and he can look into her eyes. With this look and the laying of Jesus’ hands on her body, the woman is healed. This woman looking into Jesus’ eyes has become free from her ailment on the day of Sabbath. She is free on the day of Sabbath.
But why bring this story from scripture to us today, at the beginning of General Convention, which is arguably the quickest paced and jampacked time in our church’s life-cycle? It may, in fact, be the very antithesis of Sabbath. The days are nothing but checking off to-do lists, observing rules of governance, hearing and moving through important legislation, chocked full of early mornings and late evenings. And this year, it feels as if our boisterous family reunion has been modified to a modest backyard gathering at our auntie’s home. This 80th General Convention is unlike any of our preceding gatherings. We are convening a year later than normal because of a global pandemic and since our last 2018 gathering, our country is still beset by an epidemic of violence, and by racial and social injustices, and we continue to witness the unearthing of past hurts that have real implications for our lives today. We come to these four days of governance in the midst of turmoil and traumas we are only beginning to name.
It can be easy for us to view this time as a regular business meeting without the same frills we are accustomed to, but the man we follow—this Sabbath teacher—brings us to his eye level and reminds us that even in the face of church governance, we have much to learn about taking care of our Selves, our Souls, and our Bodies. Perhaps we can treat this year’s General Convention as a Sabbath of sorts from our typical conventions where we experience the same healing as the woman freed from the bondage of her ailment. Maybe we too can become free on the Sabbath. During our time here, I invite us all to ask ourselves how are we being fed and nourished each day on both literal and figurative levels. The answers will inevitably be unique to each of us, but I would like to provide a few some helpful starting points.
- Maintain your morning and evening rituals. Whatever you do to ground yourself during non-convention times, keep those practices. Morning and evening prayer and meditation, running, yoga, etc.
- Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. And then hydrate some more.
- Have a plan for your meals and avoid “Snickers moments” at all costs.
- Choose a pleasurable and calming quiet activity while sitting in legislative sessions. Coloring, knitting, taking deep breaths as best you can within your mask.
- Assume the best intentions in your neighbor, lead with love, and move no faster than the speed of trust. On this same note, when you “feel all the feels,” do not hesitate to take a moment to yourself. Check your FOMO at the convention doors by taking a beat, stepping outside, and feeling the sun shine on your face. Breathe mask-free air and gather your faculties.
- Seek and find House of Deputies chaplains the Rev. Lester Mackenzie and the Rev. Greg Millikin for general pastoral needs. They are poised and ready to pray with and for you. In the event of covid and other healthcare needs, reach out to the pastoral support team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, let us all remember that governance was built with the intention for us to flourish in God’s love for the well-being of the Body of Christ—us, the Church. If the process turns us into humans we are not proud of, who are burning out, or who find themselves bent over by the end of the day…then we are doing this wrong. If the biggest machine of our church is not helping us to look into the eyes of Christ and place healing and restoration at our center, then we need to reevaluate.
May we all continue to free ourselves.