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2023 ‘Celebrate the Gifts of Women’ service offers a powerful reflection on Mary’s embodied revolution

The Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop preaches on ‘Scattering, Shattering and Mattering’

by Layton Williams Berkes | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop is the pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina. She preached during Wednesday’s “Celebrate the Gifts of Women” service livestreamed on the PC(USA)’s Facebook page.

The 2023 Celebrate the Gifts of Women worship service took place on Wednesday and was streamed on the main PC(USA) Facebook page. A joint effort by Presbyterian Women and Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, the service can be viewed here.

Celebrate the Gifts of Women Sunday will be observed on March 5 in faith communities across the country. The celebration occurs each year around the time of International Women’s Day, which is recognized on March 8 annually.

Jewel McRae, Coordinator for Women’s Leadership Development & Young Women’s Ministries within Racial Equity and Women’s Intercultural Ministries, says Celebrate the Gifts of Women Sunday is a day on which “we honor women who answer God’s call to leadership and service.” Each year, a woman scholar is invited to write liturgy and a scripture reflection, which are compiled into a worship resource for churches and organizations to use. McRae says that groups are welcome to use the resource at any time to honor and celebrate the women God has called in their midst.

The liturgy for Wednesday’s virtual service came directly from this year’s worship resource, written by Presbyterian ruling elder and the Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri. Along with the various worship service elements, including a Call to Worship and Litany of Confession, Cintrón-Olivieri also wrote a reflection for the resource called, “Favorecida,” available here. It was Cintrón-Olivieri who chose the scripture for the resource and service, Luke 1:45-56. She chose the passage after reflecting on Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the vulnerability and strength she embodies as a woman.

The preacher for Wednesday’s service was the Rev. Dr. Marcia Mount Shoop, the pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina, and the author of several faith-based books. Shoop’s sermon, called “Scattering, Shattering, & Mattering,” also explored the role and impact of Mary through the lens of the Magnificat.

The sermon began with an explanation of the power of Mary singing about how God “scatters the arrogant” in a body marked for “shame, blame and even death by patriarchy.”

“Superiority is something God has been dismantling as long as humans have been moving bodies around this planet,” Shoop preached, noting that Mary comes, instead, from a place of humility and, from that place, birthed a revolution.

Shoop went on to talk about how through Mary, God shatters the status quo and the powers of empire. She described how Mary defies and destroys binaries by carrying and giving birth to Jesus. Her body is both violated and made sacrament and her shame becomes the vehicle of grace.

Shoop said, “Mary is an embodied border crossing, and she gives birth to the ways divine love shatters social convention and national identity and stratifications of the social order.”

Finally, Shoop moved into an exploration of how Mary — and her pregnant female body —mattered. She offered a series of powerful images of the Black Madonna, discussing how empire — and America in particular—commodifies the human body and especially the bodies of those who are marginalized. Her series of images ended with a haunting painting of a Black mother cradling the body of her dead son against the backdrop of an American flag.

“Mary’s mattering is not in her submission, but in her courage — in her persistence, in the consistency of her faith in God’s power to liberate us from the murderous captivity we are in as humans,” Shoop said.

Shoop closed her message with an exhortation to celebrate the gifts of women by honoring the truths that women’s bodies are still contested space and that women are not a monolith, but rather holders of complex realities. “Mary is the tipping point,” she said. “Mary sings our rally cry.”

In addition to Shoop’s preaching, the service included leadership from a number of PC(USA) staff and other Presbyterian leaders and featured music performed by Sheila O’Bannon. Hyojin Kang and Clara Nunez spoke parts of the liturgy in Korean and Spanish.

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