Between two Sundays, two sabbaths, this month our church will gather in a special way for the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly (under the theme “Freed and Renewed in Christ”). Most of us will never experience this expression of the ELCA, but its basic pattern of coming together for prayer, Bible study, worship and collective decision-making is familiar enough.

As ELCA members return from New Orleans, the lectionary gifts the whole church with a story of Jesus healing a woman on the sabbath. This woman offers all of us the chance to wonder about the ways we are still in need of liberation; still in need of renewal.

Here’s how the story goes down:

Jesus is teaching in a synagogue when a crippled woman appears. For years and years she was unable to stand up straight, confined to a diminutive posture. Can you imagine your body forcing you to always look down at the ground? Jesus says to her, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment” (Luke 13:12). He lays his hands on her, and she sits up straight and praises God. She is at once freed and renewed in Christ.

As a church, from what ailment are we suffering? What is it that causes our diminutive posture? Might it be our struggle to confront racism as a 96 percent white church? Or perhaps it’s our tendency to see our Lutheran identities as a cultural promise rather than a gospel one?

The leader of the synagogue isn’t impressed. He accuses Jesus of violating the sabbath by doing work. But Jesus calls out this leader for ignoring the whole purpose of the sabbath. He reminds the crowd that they unbind their livestock and lead them to water on the sabbath (a good reminder that the sabbath is for all creatures and all creation). If even the livestock our freed from the ties that bind them, ought not this woman, a “daughter of Abraham,” also be set free from that which binds her?

As a church, how have we forgotten the purpose of the sabbath? Might we have, at times in the name of good order, failed to proclaim Christ crucified? Perhaps we have been too concerned for ourselves, our decline, our particular longevity, our numbers, our influence or our relevance.

Spirit of the Living God, in New Orleans and in all the places you gather us together, come near to us. Set us free from our ailments, remind our forgetful hearts and teach us again how much we need your sabbath for the sake of all creation—but especially for your church.

Timothy K. Snyder
Timothy K. Snyder is an instructor of practical theology at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.  

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