The crowd in an Atlanta church on Wednesday night was mostly Protestants, mostly preachers.
The speaker was a professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City – one of the icons of the mainstream Protestant world.
Yet Barbara Lundblad’s message was a call for the 1,000 or so people gathered for the annual Festival of Homiletics to “stand with these courageous Roman Catholic sisters.” She was referring, of course, to the recent crackdown by the Vatican on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the organization that represents about 80 percent of the nuns in the U.S.
Lundblad drew on the famous story of Mary, having just learned she was pregnant with Jesus, visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also improbably pregnant.
The Gospel of Luke says that Mary “entered the house of Zechariah and visited Elizabeth.” Lundblad pondered why Luke felt it necessary to put Zechariah in the story at this point. She let that hang unanswered.
Then she noted that when Elizabeth saw Mary, the baby leapt in her womb in recognition of Jesus – a sign that women often come to theology through the experiences of their bodies. Lundblad said wryly, “Surely Elizabeth would not have been allowed to testify before the Congressional committee on contraception” – an all-male committee with all male witnesses, all representing church groups that do not allow the ordination of women.
She referred back to the story of Mary and Elizabeth, saying forcefully, “The church is not only Zechariah’s house and neither is Congress,” as the crowd of preachers applauded loudly.
Lundblad suggested participants at the preaching conference write letters of gratitude to nuns they know in their hometowns across the U.S. and in Canada.
She encouraged them to read Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Quest for the Living God, which has come under fire from the bishops for not sufficiently grounding itself in Catholic theology.
And Lundblad urged the preachers to quote “the wonderful words” of nuns in their sermons and newsletters and blogs.
Lundblad cautioned that such efforts not be cast as something anti-Catholic.
“We’ve had enough of that over the centuries,” she reminded the crowd. Rather, she suggested that Christians stand with the sisters in solidarity for their work for the poor and marginalized over so many years. She referred to the famous song of Mary that is part of her visit to Elizabeth – the Magnificat.
It’s not a lullaby, Lundblad observed. “It’s a marching song to wake up a baby.”
It’s a song women and men can sing together, much as Zechariah ultimately sang a song of praise after his speech returned upon agreeing with Elizabeth on the name for their baby.
“Women and men can sing together in harmony, neither outdoing the other, until all can sing God’s amazing resurrection song,” Lundblad concluded.
Phil Haslanger is pastor of Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, a suburb of Madison.
Image: Elena Ray/ Shutterstock.