Mothering Sunday

Here’s a random collection of stuff for Mothering Sunday – all in one post so it’s a one-stop shop. Help yourself, and enjoy.

Some thoughts that might drift into a sermon

heroicbiblemumsThe Bible’s stories of mothering are never twee, sentimental or saccharine – how might you describe the mothers in today’s readings (or whichever combination of lectionary readings you are using)?

  • Exodus: cunning, determined, desperate, protective, nurturing (in being the ‘wetnurse’)
  • 1 Samuel: passionate, generous, sacrificial, brave, joyful, trusting and faithful
  • Luke: faithful, responsible, aware of the double-edged sword of caring
  • John: still present even in sorrow, faithful, grieving, caring and cared-for, love that is stronger than death

What if you added to those readings the Old Testament stories of Sarah, Ruth, Rachel and Leah, Rebecca, Hannah, Moses’ mother and sister…. and from the New Testament, the story of the annunciation, the nameless Syrophoenician woman’s refusal to take no for an answer, henchicksand Jesus’s own tears over Jerusalem as a mother weeps for her children,longing to gather them like a hen gathers her chicks.  The list of characteristics associated with mothering grows ever longer and more diverse.

Mothering is all those things, and more.  Without someone to do those things for us – without someone to look out for our interests, to defend us, to protect us; without someone to enable us to learn our purpose in life, without someone to model trust, faith, and joy; without someone who will love us enough to let us go our own way; without someone to take the risk of loving us, even knowing that that love may bring them pain; without someone to stand with us in our times of greatest suffering – without someone to do those things for us, we are missing something crucial.  And if we ourselves have nobody for whom we can do these things, we are also missing out.

childrenssocietyWho does all this for people who would otherwise never experience this kind of mothering?  Charities like The Children’s Society protect children in danger, act as an advocate for children in trouble with the law, enable children who are struggling to reach their God-given potential, take a risk and invest in the future of children in the knowledge that they must have their own integrity, and yet at the same time walk with them on their journey of self-discovery, and affirm that all children are, in the words of Moses’ mum “beautiful before God”.

Sometimes the Children’s society, and other charities that work with vulnerable children, is involved in finding out of situations of extreme suffering, tragedy and crisis, new and life-giving ways of creating family and community, just as Jesus did from the cross when he asked his mother and his best friend, John, to care for each other when he had gone, and just as Moses’ mum did when she risked everything to give her son a chance at life.

We might think about our own lives – our experiences of mothering or of being mothered; remembering with thanksgiving the people who have done those things for us.  And perhaps we might also think of times when we have been failed by those who were supposed to care for us, or those times when we ourselves have failed.

If mothering were only done my mothers, it would be very hard indeed to ensure that everyone received the nurturing, the protection, the love, the sacrifice, the guidance (etc) that we need to become the people we are meant to be.  As a church community, we are called into a role of mothering that sometimes might need to be just as desperate, fierce, loyal, grieving etc as the mothers in today’s readings.  If we, as a church, truly love the community in which we are situated, just as God loves it, and if we are to be God’s holy people for God’s needy world, then we will feel the pain of the world’s suffering, and we will be willing to sacrifice something of ourselves in order to bring to birth God’s purposes for the world.

On the cross, God’s love is nailed firmly to the world so as never to let it go – is our love for the world so firmly fixed as this?    Are we this passionate about nurturing the world into becoming the place that God created it to be?  A truly parental love is one that would give anything and everything for the child.  This is the love of God that we see on the cross, but this is also the love that we are called to have for one another and for all of God’s creation.  When we love like that, we make our Mothering-God visible in the world.

Other activities

Heroic Bible Mums colouring booklet
Pick the bible mums you’re going to focus on (see sermony thoughts, above) and search google images for a line drawing for each of them – caption them with a sentence explaining what each one’s special gifts and characteristics are.  The booklet can then be photocopied and given out for use during the service or as a take home gift.  Don’t forget to include bible references so that families can read the stories again.
Bible Mums is the version of the colouring book idea I made one year – I’m afraid the images were downloaded, and the copyright belongs to the artists – no infringement is intended by posting it here.

Heroic Bible Mums activity, for during the talk
Draw round someone on a large piece of paper (maybe two widths of wallpaper liner taped together at the back) and get people to come and write inside the outline words to describe what mothering is like, or the characteristics of someone who is in a mothering role, perhaps taking a lead from the examples of mothering in the readings – pictures are fine too, if writing words is hard.  The end result would be super-mum, with all the possible gifts on one person – explain that no one person is perfect at all these things, and that’s why we help each other out, and share some of our responsibilities, and that’s why we look to God for help, and not just to ourselves. Wonder together about which of these gifts you could offer to someone else, and which gifts you think you need help with.

Giant greetings card
Give out small bits of paper shaped like flowers on which people can write a greeting addressed either to mothers, to children, or to others that they feel they want to greet on mothering Sunday, or draw a picture of a mother figure who they want to give thanks for or pray for.  It might be particularly appropriate to encourage people to think of the people who have taken a risk for them, or who have invested in them in some way – perhaps including teachers, leaders of cub / brownie packs etc.  Invite everyone to come forward and stick their flowers to a large (A3 size or  bigger) blank greetings card.  After the service the card might be left in church and seen by all the church community, or better still, left somewhere (together with some spare flowers and instructions) where the whole local community can see it and add a flower if they wish to do so.

Flower blessings #1
Prepare some paper flower outlines – a simple centre circle with circle petals round it the same size as the centre, and give them out during the service.  Get everyone to write on their flower a simple blessing for those who care for them – it can be just one word if they like.  Get them to fold the petals in to the centre (making the creases really nice and sharp) and then bring them forward to a large tray with water in it.  Gently lay the folded flowers (with the folded petals uppermost) on the surface of the water.  As the water seeps into the paper, they will magically unfold!
Variation on this: if you have too many people for this to work (eg if you’re doing it in a school assembly) and you have access to an OHP and screen, then write people’s ideas on a hand full of flowers and float them in a glass dish of water carefully balanced on the OHP – the paper will cast beautiful shadows of the flowers gradually opening.

Flower blessings #2 (blessings by post)
You can make flowers as above, but tell people to take one home and use it as a tiny letter to someone they love but don’t often see – maybe a parent or a child who lives far away.  Invite them to write a blessing or other message on the flower, fold the petals in, and then send it by post together with instructions on how to float it open. I’d love to get an interactive Mothering Sunday card like this – wouldn’t you?

The posies

daffodilsdifferentlWho gets them? Just mums? All women?  Just parents? Everyone?  It’s one of the recurring dilemmas of Mothering Sunday, so here are some funky ideas that neatly distract from having to answer the underlying question about who gets the posies:

1. Do enough posies so that there’s not only enough for everyone, but enough for spares that can be taken to the housebound, and make sure people know they can take one for their neighbours

2. Do enough posies so that people whose loved ones have died can have one to put on the grave

3. Suggest that for people whose mothers live far away and aren’t going to be visited on the day, the flowers from the posie might be dried in a flower press, and stuck to a card and posted!

4. Offer daffodil bulbs as an alternative, so that they can be grown at home and given to geographically distant mums at the next visit.

5. Take a collection to buy a gift from www.presentaid.org – there are sections related to ‘green fingers’ and to children, either of which might be a suitable alternative to giving flowers on mothering Sunday.

sunflowers6. Give out sunflower seeds, with spare packets available for people to take to their neighbours, to start a community sunflower festival – pick a date later in the year when the sunflowers will have all grown, and invite everyone back for a special service.

7. Here’s a radical idea: what if someone in each church in the whole country offered to be the local contact point for people who live a long way away but who love it if someone local would visit the grave of a loved one on their behalf on Mothering Sunday and place some flowers there?

Two hymns for Mothering Sunday

All our blessings
Tune: All things bright and beautiful

All our blessings, all our joys
With thankful hearts we sing,
God of love and faithfulness,
Accept the praise we bring.

For parents and for children,
For husbands, wives, and friends,
For those whose care enfolds us
With love that never ends.

For fellowship and friendship
For all we have to give,
For those who’ve shared our journey
And taught us how to live.

For all who’ve shared our sorrow,
Walked with us in our pain,
Who’ve held our hand through darkness
And showed us light again.

For those who give us life and breath
Tune: O Waly Waly

For those who gave us life and breath,
For love that’s stronger far than death,
Today we bring our thankful hearts,
For all a mothering love imparts.

For kindness, patience, warmth and care,
For each embrace, each smile, each tear,
Each word of peace, each healing touch,
These simple gifts which mean so much.

We look to you, our mothering Lord,
Who shows love’s cost, and love’s reward,
Your passion fiercer than the grave,
Nailed to the world you came to save.

So teach your people how to live,
How to endure, how to forgive,
Teach us to trust, to sacrifice,
To share the love that has no price.

And another one…

I found this versified ‘Prayer of Humble Access’ on my computer, half finished, with no recollection of having started to write it.  Now I’ve finished it, I can’t actually imagine a situation in which it would be preferable to sing this than to say the standard version of the prayer, but there you go. 

We come to this, your table, Lord,
Not certain of our rights,
But trusting that your mercy finds
us worthy in your sight.

We would not dare to eat the crumbs
That from your table fall,
But for your invitation which
Extends to one and all.

For you, Lord, are a God of love,
Your mercy never ends.
Your grace has brought us here today,
And now you call us friends.

In bread may we receive Christ’s flesh,
To clean our bodies through,
And in his life-blood wash ourselves
to be remade anew.

Lord, grant us grace to seek your face,
and come and dwell with you,
And dwell in us, that we may find our-
selves more Christ-like too.

A hymn about work

A hymn about work (Tune: Melita – Eternal Father, strong to save)
This is one of those hymns that will be useless on almost every occasion except for the tiny few occasions when it’s useful. 

For all with heavy loads to bear,
with calls to serve, protect and care,
Whose work and life bring hard demands,
With others’ welfare in their hands.
Lord, help them thrive in all they face,
Upheld by your all-loving grace.

For all who find their work to be
A test of their integrity,
in contracts brokered, deals secured,
In choices faced and stress endured,
Lord, grant to them the strength they need,
To follow you in word and deed.

For all who long for work and pay
To buy enough to live each day.
When skills are offered yet ignored,
And patience reaps no real reward,
Lord, where we only see despair
send purpose, hope and justice there.

For all whose work is never done,
Whose call is answered in the home,
Frustration, tiredness, love and care
Combine to build the kingdom there.
Lord, give to all whose work is love
Your inspiration from above.

In all that we will do this day
Be near us, Lord of all, we pray,
In words and actions, work and rest,
May all our moments be so blessed
That when our years and days are done
We’ll find our life has just begun.

Ash Wednesday hymn

Here’s a draft of something for Ash Wednesday. The tune is ‘Let all mortal flesh’.  Comments for improvement are very welcome, as always.

Dust to dust, we mark our repentance,
entering a guilty plea,
Ash to ash, we face our sentence,
Sin writ large for all to see:
Bearing signs of all our falls from grace,
Yearning for your strong embrace.

Dust of earth once shaped and moulded,
human form from Godly hand,
Male and female both enfolded,
part of all that you had planned.
Now O Lord reshape our damaged form,
Hold us till our hearts grow warm.

Dust that fuels the lights of heaven,
Stars and planets passing by,
Atoms of creation’s splendour,
Earth to earth and sky to sky,
Now our dust, redeemed, may sing along
with that universal song.

Easter Eggs

The evening of Holy Saturday I found myself slightly disturbed by the number of ‘Happy Eater’ and ‘Alleluia’ messages in my twitter feed from those returning from early Easter Vigils.  Being in a church that doesn’t ‘do’ the Easter Vigil I kept wanting to reply ‘Spoiler-alert – we haven’t had our resurrection yet!’ It made me think again about the fact that we light our paschal candle for the first time at the 8 o’clock, and then again, for the benefit of the 10.30am congregation.  I think we even roll the stone back again for the 10.30 so we can have our own resurrection moment!  It struck me then, that there is some rather wonderful theology in this oddity, which is how I came to plan the following talk, for which I simply needed a handful of hollow chocolate eggs. 

broken chocolate eggJesus’ tomb was a little like this egg – inside it’s dark and cramped, but when the resurrection happened, and Jesus burst out of the tomb, Good Friday is smashed once and for all, and new life is set free. (At this point I dramatically smash the egg into a bowl or basket.)

But the trouble was, that nobody witnessed it!  The solders (in that account, anyway) passed out and didn’t see Jesus emerge, and the next thing we know, it’s the women arriving at the tomb still expecting to find a dead body, and instead finding it empty.  The actual moment of the resurrection happened in private. All that resurrection joy and nobody to share it.

On Easter Sunday we focus on Mary’s story – we just heard it as our gospel reading.  There in the garden, the resurrection had already happened, but she was trapped in her own Good Friday – her grief and sadness kept her in the dark (I would hold up another, whole egg, at this point).

And we can tell the exact moment when the resurrection happened for her – it’s when Jesus calls her name. Suddenly grief is turned to joy.  Mary’s Good Friday is smashed once and for all, the new life is set free in her (at this point I would smash the second egg and handing it round).

Notes

  • For very small children, it can be good to act this process out – making ourselves small and sad, scrunched up with our arms wrapped round us, and then jumping up for joy.
  • You can extend this talk to cover as many of the resurrection appearances as you like. Simply identify together with the congregation the nature of each person’s Good Friday, and the nature of their resurrection.
    – Thomas = doubt to faith when he sees Jesus’ wounds.
    – Disciples = fear to peace of mind/joy when Jesus says ‘Peace be with you’
    – Emmaus Road = confusion to recognition when Jesus breaks the bread
    – Peter = guilt to new purpose when Jesus gives him the chance to say ‘I love you’ three times to make up for his threefold denial.
    For each one you can hold up and break a new egg.
  • You can also ask people to think in their own minds about what other sorts of things keep us trapped in our own Good Friday’s, and let that lead into prayer that all may experience the resurrection in a way that’s personal to them, but absolutely connected with Jesus’ defeat of sin and death.

I also wrote a hymn that goes well with the resurrection stories. Here it is.