In the beginning of 2020, when I offered a promotional pen to the congregants of the Elgin and Portland United Churches with these words printed on it: “2020-Let’s Write the Future Together by God’s Grace”, I did not have any inkling on how this year will unfold – we can all agree we are living moments of historical proportions – facing a worldwide pandemic, COVID-19.
In January we had to cancel worship gatherings for three weeks in a row (12, 19, & 26), because of inclement weather, and many people were not happy about this, including me, but we had to put safety first. At that time, no one had thought that we would be facing an invisible virus and putting wartime measures in place. This virus knows, nor respects, any boundaries, borders, or social divisions; this virus is an equalizer beyond our imagination.
As of the Third Sunday of Lent (March 15), our worship gatherings became virtual via the world-wide web. The Body of Christ, the Church, was no longer limited to the church buildings, but She is sent out to spread the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus in new ways that we have dodged and ignored for so long – thinking that God has called us to stay in the church buildings and have those who need to hear the Gospel come to the church buildings – everything was on “our terms”. The Universe has and will always teach us lessons that we never thought we need to learn.
This year our Lenten Season, which is known to be the time journeying through the wilderness of life, became a real desert experience – many refered to it as the “Lentiest” Lent ever. Our weekly Spiritual Focus that I was led to drum up by God’s Grace, “Embracing Uncertainties of Life with an Open Heart”, became applicable to the entire world and not just to the Elgin-Portland Pastoral Charge.
Holy Week arrived and it became one of the holiest weeks of my life, and I know it was the same for many as well. The passion of Jesus became tangible in our own hearts, exhausted minds and restrained bodies. Meeting friends, family, congregants, and colleagues became an unprecedented danger. Leaving our homes, going to the post office, getting groceries, even going to doctor’s appointments became a danger to our lives more than we ourselves have experienced before. Yes, there have been pandemics before our time and our ancestors have experienced such viruses and wars, but no one person can understand what the other has gone through; and no generation can understand fully what the previous generations have faced; until the experience becomes a personal first-hand experience. Being Holy Week, I wondered, how did Jesus feel on that Maundy Thursday evening, gathered with his friends, celebrating the Passover, breaking Bread, offering the Cup, washing their feet. Did the knowledge within his heart that this will be his last earthly supper with those he loved, and cared for, affect his mood, mind, and heart? The road ahead of him was the way of suffering and misery—how did he go on?
Since the start of COVID-19, my prayers have had more silences in between tears than words; more wanderings in search of Peace in my heart and mind than songs of Praise. However, in remembering the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed a few words with such intensity that he sweat blood, then thinking of how he was humiliated in front of the empire, religious leaders, people and soldiers who mocked him; my isolation became nothing compared to what he went through. I thought of His route to the skull-shaped hill, Golgotha, where he was crucified and yet still showed mercy in his pain and suffering to the penitent thief and became an example that we must all follow to extend a helping hand to others. Replaying the entire narrative in my mind and heart helped me recognize that even in my broken and fragmented prayers, The One who loved Jesus, loves me, loves you, LOVES the ENTIRE WORLD, and that ONE will make a way to make us whole again – Resurrection Morning is just around the corner – the dark night will pass and the Son will rise and bring new life to all.
However, I, we, need to linger in the shadow of the cross on Good Friday; and in the silence of Holy Saturday, and not rush to get to the Resurrection Morning, because in those dark moments of patience, we are molded, strengthened and filled with the Peace of God that surpasses ALL Understanding… In those silent moments of waiting patiently, God waits with us, because this Presence no one, no virus, no dictator can take away. The earth knew and still knows that The Creator is not done with the world yet, The Creator has, does and will still bring forth Newness Liberally. But how will we recognize this newness?
On Holy Wednesday, out of nowhere I received a Messenger Invite from the Rev. Dr. Karoline M. Lewis, who had organized an early sunrise Zoom virtual gathering/meeting of all women in ministry, ordained or otherwise, from around the world, with the Rev. Lisa Janke entitled, “Toppling the Empire”.
A part of me knew that Saturday night was going to be a long one to finalize the Easter Sunday’s virtual service. Just the thought of it was making me more tired – my logic was pushing me to the side of resisting this gathering, but my heart was gently calling my name to anexperience of a lifetime. As the very first Armenian woman ordained minister through the United Church of Canada, I had to participate in this at all cost – on any other Easter I would not be able to participate, as we always gather for a sunrise service on top of the Leggett Hill, in Crosby. So this is a MUST! I do not need to be outside the house for the first time! My heart won over my mind and after I registered myself for this virtual gathering of women in ministry I sent invites to a few of my colleagues.
I know, I know, many people have said, why do you women need to push the envelope and do special things for women only? Moreover, they broaden their question and ask why do we need to acknowledge the traditional territories of where we gather; speak of human rights; and social justice? Well, I tell these individuals that they are right, we should not have the need to talk about Gender Equality; Truth and Reconciliation; Human Rights; sexual orientation; ethnicity; or status. However, if history has taught us anything, we know the truth of how in the name of God many have been segregated, separated, subjugated, harassed, oppressed, and killed. We also know how these are NOT just historical facts, they still take place in our time and day.
Moreover, I do not need to search for other stories of those who have experienced such grief, as I, myself have been told, back in 2004, by the church of my childhood, my heritage, that I could not become an ordained minister because I am a woman. Gender is the weapon that religious leaders used against me. These religious leaders must have forgotten that in the heart of God – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV). It is time for all of us to draw the circle wide; give voice to those who have been silenced; lift those who have been pushed down; and extend the Table of Love longer to feed everyone without any fear – at the Banquet of God there is ENOUGH for ALL. Therefore, this gathering of the women in ministry at the Zoom Tomb became a MUST!
Surely it was! Easter Sunday Morning, with foggy eyes, and a large mug of coffee, I sat down at my home office desk, trying to figure out the new headset that Gary got me… However, I was unable to figure things out and had to get Gary out of the warm bed. But, he never complains to help me out in every way that he can. Even to the point when I was considering to answer God’s Call in 2002, and I asked him, “How would you feel if I went to school to start my journey towards ordination?”, his answer was, “What were you waiting for?” The miracle of meeting Gary online (December 28, 1998), is truly a miracle that I cannot imagine anyone else walking by my side on this journey of life. He is the silent partner not just on a personal level, but on this journey of ministry.
Over 120 women from all over the world showed up at “The Zoom Tomb” on April 12, 2020. From the very first moment to the last minute, tears kept on flowing down my cheeks, not because it was a sad moment, but because it was a POWERFUL moment in time. The amazing Rachel Kurtz offered the gift of music with her opening song, “Were You There?” Already, a song that brings tears to anyone’s eyes, but this morning it had a powerful, visceral feeling that tears were not out of sadness, but out of strength, perseverance, and persistence. Over 120 women added their testimonies to Mary Magdalene’s, “I have seen The Lord”, bearing witness to how each of us have seen the Lord in our own lives. The Resurrection of Christ experienced in our own individual lives and proclaiming how Love Topples the empire.
Now, a week after this historical day, I still feel that power ringing in my heart and filling my veins with courage. Toppling the empire is what Jesus started to do over two thousand years ago. This is what the followers of Jesus are called to do. In this time of COVID-19 a killer virus that knows no boundaries, we, the Church are deployed to do the work of Christ. We are called to be the hospital to heal the heart and soul of people that God loves so much; and call the world, from politicians to religious leaders to put Care before capitalism; Mercy before materialism; Grace before greed; and Justice before judgement.
Do not be afraid to live justly, resist evil, and walk humbly with your Creator.
The Presence, the Peace, and the Perseverance that God offers is Truth telling and Love abiding that no death can overcome.
Remember, Resurrection begun in darkness and the LOVE who called Mary’s name calls yours and mine as well.
Lastly, do not be afraid to go to The Zoom Tomb, linger in the darkness with God and the other witnesses; because there you will find Abundance of New Life; Courage Beyond Measures and Peace beyond understanding. Thanks be to God – Amen!