This is a sermon on resurrection in the lives of guests at Lydia’s House, given at this past weekend’s Women for Women event.
My name is Meridith Owensby and I am the cofounder and a live in community member at Lydia’s House. I greet you on this, the third annual Women for Women celebration. We’ve been providing hospitality for just about 17 months, and I’m glad for the opportunity to share with you a bit about that experience.
When someone asks off-handedly, “What’s life at Lydia’s House like?” I’ve got a description ready. If I’m speaking to friends who aren’t people of faith I say “The worst sometimes comes to pass, but it doesn’t stay.” With those assembled tonight, who are believers in Christ, I can tell you this: “We get to be present for resurrection Sunday, but not without living through Friday and Saturday.” To explain what I mean, let’s begin with a reading from the Gospel of Luke, starting at the end of chapter 23:
Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to the crucifixion. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
When you spend life alongside some of the poorest of God’s children, scriptures come alive in a particular way. The story of Joseph and the women at the tomb has stood out to us lately. One could say guests come to us after Friday crucifixion, and although Sunday joy does come, there’s no rushing it. The Saturdays in between can feel long and uncertain indeed.
Women arrive at Lydia’s House having experienced the worst forms of suffering. The stories we hear in interviews often leave me weeping in my car afterward. There is no place in this city for them to be. The eviction has happened. The suicide was attempted. The domestic violence transpired. The job was lost, the sickness laid them low, the depression was debilitating, the family cast them out. For our guests, Friday has happened. Crucifixion has taken its toll.
Like Joseph of Arimathea, the associates immediately care for these broken bodies. To begin, we offer meals: good, wholesome meals paid for with the donations received this time last year at this very event. We buy appropriate clothes and good quality shoes for each new guest. We arrange transportation to doctor’s appointments, pick up prescriptions, and make 2 am emergency room trips when necessary. Twice I’ve accompanied a guest through labor, holding the hands of these young women while they cried out for their own mothers and the absent fathers-to-be. We’ve been through cancer scares, surgeries, and in patient psychiatric stays. This so much of our ministry that God saw fit to provide an associate who’s a doctor by training, who gives guidance and cares for our guests gently and well. We know what to do with broken bodies.
I say we know, but there’s sometimes debate. Recently two guests shared their concerns about my regular running practice, noting correctly that it could be bad for my joints. I replied that it was a good way to manage stress and I didn’t know what I’d do instead if I quit. One of them suggested, only half in jest, “You could take up smoking.”
But smoking aside, even if we could bind up every wound resurrection isn’t inevitable or immediate. There’s always a Saturday that follows the Friday, where the worst has happened but the shape of future hopes is anything but clear. As one guest lamented during the hardest, loneliest point of her labor, “This isn’t how I thought it would be!” In this ambiguous Saturday waiting we are tempted toward preparing for the worst, toward acting like what happened on Friday is the last word.
I imagine that the women following Jesus felt the same, that the worst had happened and the only thing to do was to have a proper burial. Yet, scripture highlights a pause in the action that I find both illuminating and delightful. The women stopped getting ready for the funeral because of the timing of the Sabbath, falling the day after Jesus’ death.
I find this pause remarkable. These were devout women who worshipped God and they believed Jesus was the Son of God. This Jesus they’d given their lives to had just been killed, so essentially the God of their understanding was dead.
And yet, they kept God’s commands regarding the Sabbath. They stopped what they were doing for the day, following the letter of the law regarding when work should be done and when it should cease. This strikes me as akin to carefully locking the door when the house is already on fire.
I must tell you that life at Lydia’s House has taught me the wisdom of continuing to do the things that God has told us are good, most especially when Friday has come but Sunday’s not yet here. In the midst of sorrowful Saturdays we continue the practiced pauses, even when frantic funeral preparations feel more appropriate. When heartbreak comes, as it often does, we immediately gather and pray. We keep breaking bread together, and I’m proud to say we’ve never missed a scheduled dinner, despite the interruptions that come on a daily basis. We keep holding worship, keep praying as a group every morning, keep believing in a God that is working for good in all things. And during those pauses, in those spaces, God has entered time and time again. Sunday comes, and it turns out funeral preparations were not even needed.
Let me tell you about the Sundays we have known, about the resurrection we have witnessed. We’ve celebrated birthdays, four month job anniversaries, certification exam passage, sobriety anniversaries, and transitions into independent housing. Each goal achieved reminds us that resurrection is possible, that Sunday does come.
And when these Sundays show up we celebrate every bit of resurrection. One of our gifts is celebrating well, and there are many parts involved in our homemade liturgy, including prayer, off-key singing, and handcrafted merit badges. Each accomplishment is entered into our golden book of merit, and between guests and volunteers I’m proud to say we’ve had twenty nine such celebrations. We exclaim over Sunday when it comes, cheering on new life in women who once thought their futures needed only funeral preparations.
The associates live with guests in a hard-to-define way, and sometimes we struggle to express how we fit together. One of the guests explained it well when she started a question to me this way: “I need you to be honest with me, friend to friend, maybe cousin to cousin, sister to sister, mother to daughter, woman to woman.” Only after I agreed did she ask what was heavy on her heart, “Did you watch the next episode of Empire without me?” I had waited, let me assure you, and we later watched it together as the sisters in Christ that we are. And in these ways and countless others our lives are intertwined.
I want to thank all of you gathered this evening for giving us the support we need to live this life. Because of you we are able to observe resurrection and resurrection-in-the-making, and I cannot tell you how transformative that has been to all of us. Be it Friday, Saturday or Sunday, there’s no place else we’d rather be. Thank you.