As a small sermon-helper of mine pointed out recently, Mother’s Day is not only a day celebrated by Christians. It is a holiday recognized by many Americans of different faith traditions. Likewise, it is much more than a day simply marked by chocolates, flowers, treats and telephone calls although, as the sermon helper was quick to add, those things should certainly not be discounted. There is much more to Mother’s Day.

Looking back to the origins we find a surprise. The original
Mother’s Day Proclamation written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870 was a declaration of pacifism. It was a reaction to the death and destruction 620,000 soldiers and untold civilian casualties in the Civil War. Add to that the Franco Prussian war and the second half of the 19th century saw in more than a million mothers who lost their children to war.  Howe’s visionary document was written a hundred years before our very own Betty Reardon helped put the feminist
peace-movement on the map with her book Sexism and the War System.

Julia Ward Howe called for women around the world to refuse to allow their sons to go to war and to meet together to settle international questions peaceably. She wrote,

Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly, “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking of carnage, for
caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy
and patience
We the women of one country will be too tender to those of
another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice . . .

Mothers Day was to be a day to end war. For Julia Howe, political peace—peace between nations—had a personal interest for mothers of all nations. Women had a role to play in mothering of their children and shaping a world in which all that mothering would not be undone.

It is in the light of the resurrected Jesus on this third Sunday
of Easter and in the original spirit of Mother’s Day, that I want to address for a moment the topic of intimate partner violence – something experienced by one in four women in this country and that has at one point or other touched the lives of almost everyone here today in this church. Following the service, we will have an opportunity to hear from Sally McNichol of CONNECT an organization in NYC dedicated to the prevention and elimination of family and gender violence. Right now, I’m going to lay a bit of ground work.

Intimate partner violence or “domestic violence” as it is commonly called is usually thought of differently than the violence of war. Often it is spoken of as a woman’s issue a family matter, something that is very bad but certainly not an issue of national security. We often think of domestic violence as a private matter—something of concern between individuals–resolved either by a couple “working it out” or the woman leaving. We also realize it has an effect on children but beyond that?

I remember once walking down the street and seeing a man yell repeatedly and abusively at a woman. I crossed the street to ask her directions and see if she was ok. Immediately, the man told me to mind my own business “She’s my wife!” he said as if that somehow made the way he was treating her acceptable.

In reality, like terrorism and war, intimate partner violence on the epidemic scale we see it happening around our country today is a major social threat. According to a study by the Center for Disease control, nearly 5.3 million intimate partner victimizations occur among U.S. women over 18. The health-related costs alone of these incidents add up to 5.8 billion dollars. In addition, victims of intimate partner violence also lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs. It is clear that intimate partner violence against women places a significant burden on society.

Domestic violence knows no cultural, religious, socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries. It takes up a third of the time of law enforcement with 33% of all police time in the US spent responding to domestic disturbance calls. More than half of US cities cite domestic violence against women and children as the top cause of homelessness.

So how are we as Christians called to respond to this epidemic in our society and the world?

As they came near the village to which they were going, [Jesus] walked ahead as if he were going on. But [the disciples] urged him strongly, saying “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went into stay with them. When he was at the table with them He took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, it’s astonishing the difficulty
the disciples have recognizing the risen Jesus. In telling their
story, they recite the entire creed and then go on to hear Jesus
himself preach and teach about who he is.  Still they do not recognize him. Clearly, it is not the speaking of correct words of faith, or even hearing the history of salvation recited by the one who is to fulfill it that ultimately opens the disciples’ eyes of faith. Instead, we have to note that the simple and fundamental peacemaking act—the gift of hospitality in the offering of a meal to a stranger—this is what ultimately opens enables the disciples to recognized Jesus for the first time.

If there is anything we should have understood from Holy Week it should be that violence is not an adequate expression of the power of God and nor is it the last word about how things work in the world. We saw the way that Jesus revealed the flawed nature of political and religious power within human society. We also learned that the true power he witnessed to was not one that relied on the sword.

“So the lordship of Jesus is not known or manifested in acts of
war or vengeance or in dreadful and mighty signs, but is attained through a cross and expressed in a meal—an act of hospitality, peace, brotherhood and sisterhood”  (RH Smith, Easter Gospels)

Peace is hard work. Peace is personal and political. There are
rarely short-cuts to peace. And yet in the light of Easter it is the way of life eternal.

Please join me in the words of a prayer composed by Dr. Betty Reardon

Oh God, Creator of life, source of love, inspiration of kindness
and civility:

We pray to you to give us the strength and wisdom to overcome the grievous sin of violence against women.

Bring to those who suffer it the compassionate and healing
response of family, friends and community; and to the societies
plagued by it a commitment to overcome all gender violence and all the damage it brings to victims and to violators.

Stay the hand, thwart the will and change the hearts of all violators.

Lead them to find the sources of courage and conscience to seek help to transcend their violence and to take responsibility,
personally and publicly for acts against your intention for the world.

You who created women and men to be loving companions, equal in your sight and in responsibility to each other, their families, communities and the world, please guide us in our search for means overcome violence against women and against all the vulnerable of the world.
Help us to understand that  intimate violence sows the seeds of public violence; to recognize that all women and men have a human right to a life of dignity unmarred by the many forms of violence that deny their dignity and corrupt their societies.

As you stay the hand of the abuser, so, too, stay the hands of
those who take up weapons as you thwart the will, and heal the hearts of those who tolerate gender abuse and command the use of weapons to achieve ends that can never be worth the price of human suffering and integrity.

O God!  Help us to see your truth and to find ways to struggle to transform the abusive human power of violence against women into the liberating human power to build a nonviolent world of human equality in which to strive toward your kingdom of love, peace and justice.

Betty A. Reardon for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Manhattan, NY, March 2009