Prelude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
In this time of continuing insecurity and social upheaval,
When we are unable to meet in person,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short time,
Let us put our worldly cares aside,
Close our eyes and imagine ourselves
To be in our places of worship,
Surrounded by members of our beloved community,
And be together, if only virtually,
For this short hour.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Cliff Reed
May the warmth of our chalice-flame be to us
a reminder of the warmth we knew
in our mother’s womb,
a promise of the warmth we seek in this
community of the way of love.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in their own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
in this difficult time of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
We hold in our hearts
the brave and dedicated staff of the NHS,
and other key workers,
who are carrying on in difficult conditions,
and all those
whose lives have been touched,
in whatever way,
by painful events, in their lives,
and in the wider world,
of which we are all a part.
Reading From the Gospel of Luke 1: 26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The Lord’s Prayer
Reading From the Gospel of Luke 1: 46-55
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Prayer For All Who Mother by Rev. Victoria Weinstein
We reflect in thanksgiving this day for all those whose lives have nurtured ours.
The life-giving ones
Who heal with their presence
Who listen in sympathy
Who give wise advice … but only when asked for it.
We are grateful for all those who have mothered us
Who have held us gently in times of sorrow
Who celebrated with us our triumphs — no matter how small
Who noticed when we changed and grew,
Who praised us for taking risks
Who took genuine pride in our success,
and who expressed genuine compassion when we did not succeed.
On this day that honours Mothers
let us honour all mothers
men and women alike
who from somewhere in their being
have freely and wholeheartedly given life, and sustenance, and vision to us.
Dear God, Mother-Father of us all,
grant us life-giving ways
strength for birthing,
and a nurturing spirit
that we may take attentive care of our world,
our communities, and those precious beings
entrusted to us by biology, or by destiny, or by friendship, fellowship or fate.
Give us the heart of a mother today. Amen
Reading From the Gospel of Luke, 2:33-35 and 2:41-51
Two more short passages about Mary’s relationship with Jesus.
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Mother’s Day Prayer by Kathleen Rolenz (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
You’ve been a father and mother to us all
We enter into this time of stillness
With mixed emotions.
This is mother’s day–a day set aside to honour, celebrate, and in some cases, simply to reflect on those women who gave us birth.
Some of us come to this day with joy,
With strong and tender feelings
for the women who have earned the right to be called “mother.”
They not only gave us our lives, they are responsible for shaping our spirit.
They have fed us, played with us, nurtured us, listened to us.
They have given unselfishly for us. They have loved us unconditionally.
If our mothers are still living, we make the extra effort to stay in touch,
And find ways to give back a portion of the love which we have so abundantly received.
If our mothers have died, we take time to cherish our memories of them
Memories which may flood our eyes with bittersweet tears of longing.
We miss her…and we feel that loss even more acutely on this day,
While also being grateful for her strength, her wisdom and her beauty–
And the gifts of life which she has passed onto us.
For others, this day is not a time for celebration,
But rather, a time for reflection.
Perhaps we cannot bring ourselves to buy that Hallmark card,
The one that waxes poetically about a mother’s love, or her presence in our lives.
Rather, we may feel her absence, through death or indifference.
We may have complicated, difficult, unhappy associations with “mother.”
Instead, may we use this time to reflect on those who have mothered us.
The women in our lives who have shown their love for us,
Whether through motherhood or mentoring,
Those tough, gentle, truth-telling, loving, wise, whimsical women
Who have served as our teachers, our mentors, our guides, our friends.
And on this Mothering Sunday,
May we remember the Great Mother that sustains us,
Whose body is the very substance of our existence
The very ground we walk upon,
The very source of our being.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address For Mothering Sunday
Mothering Sunday can be a tricky time for ministers. When I first did a Mothering Sunday service, back in 2002, having a loving mother myself, and being a happy mother, I was blissfully unaware of the pitfalls, and simply shared the joy I was feeling in my two young children. I wasn’t sufficiently aware of the fact that not everyone finds this day easy. Some people had or have difficult relationships with their mothers; others have lost a beloved parent. Some may have longed for children, yet have been unable to conceive, or to carry a child to term. Yet others have lost touch with a beloved child. If any of this applies to you, I am truly sorry, and hope that you have found something here today of consolation, or at least of understanding. Each one of us, regardless of gender, can offer sensitive, mothering love to another.
This year I have decided to talk about that most enigmatic of mothers, Mary, mother of Jesus. Her story is simply told. According to the Gospel accounts, she was a young Jewish girl, betrothed to an older man, Joseph. As we saw in our first reading, she received an angelic visitation informing her that she was to be the mother of the saviour of the world, whose father would be God. The first thing about her that takes my breath away is her great faith – instead of having hysterics on the spot, which I think would have been quite justified in the circumstances, she accepts her fate: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
I have often wondered what it must have been like for her, bearing and raising such an extraordinary person. Even if we don’t believe that Jesus was the divinely-begotten son of God, which most Unitarians don’t, he was still very far from an ordinary man. We don’t see much in the Gospel stories about his life as a child or a teenager. Only that one odd passage in Luke’s Gospel, when the family visits Jerusalem for the Passover, and Jesus gets inadvertently left behind. We can only speculate how worried Mary and Joseph must have been when they discovered that their twelve-year-old son was not on the road home with them.
And then to be almost rebuked by him, when they found him in the Temple, after a three-day search, discoursing with the teachers. Listen to the story again:
“His mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
Once again, her faith in her son is demonstrated. She doesn’t understand, is even a little hurt, but nevertheless “treasures all these things in her heart.” Even when he seemingly rejects her, in the Gospel of Mark, she doesn’t lose this faith, and continues to follow him, wherever he goes. She is there at the foot of the cross, when he is crucified at the end of his ministry. In the Gospel of John, one of his final thoughts is care for her: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” In the Book of Acts, she is mentioned as being one of those in an upper room with some of the apostles, devoting herself to prayer.
And then she disappears from Biblical accounts. Yet she went on to become one of the most venerated figures in Christianity, not to mention Islam. Later Church traditions argue that not only was she a virgin when she conceived Jesus, but remained one for the rest of her life. Some traditions go even further, and state that she was born free of original sin, so that she could be a suitable vessel for the carrying of the son of God. Catholics in particular reverence her as the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she is often prayed to, to intercede on behalf of humankind.
But it is as a mother, an ordinary human mother, that she moves me. Libby Purves argues in her wonderful book, How Not To Be A Perfect Mother, that the very word “mother” is a job-description that has little to do with gender. From the day your child is born, you, as a parent, are entirely responsible for his or her welfare. She lists the essentials “Children have to be fed, clothed against the elements, conversed with a great deal, protected from evildoers and poisons, and given the chance to play and read and observe the adult world. They have to be educated, to take in the knowledge and wisdom their society has developed, and encouraged to take it further as they grow up. They have to be loved and valued, and allowed to bestow their own love on family and friends.”
I know that 2000 long years separate us from Mary, but I believe that her concerns as a mother must have been much the same. I wonder with what mixture of pride and stomach-knotting fear she watched her son embark on his public ministry? In spite of the message from the Angel Gabriel, at the beginning of it all, it must have taken an awful lot of faith to stand by and let him get on with it, knowing the dangers he would face, and feeling powerless to do anything about it.
For me, mothering, or parenting, is above all about love. Because becoming a parent (or acting in that role, which may later include looking after your own parents) is the most life-changing commitment anyone can make. I think it is only possible to make a half-way decent job of it if you love the person concerned, and are willing to make their needs and desires a priority in your life. If you really think about it, this is also true of marriage, as well as parenting – it’s all about being in relationship, and not just looking after Number One.
Being a mother and being a father are two very different things. As Libby Purves explains: “All we can be certain of is that a father is not – repeat not – a duplicate mother — ‘mother’ not so much a sex-linked word as a job description. Like accountant. Or MP, or doctor. Some fathers do indeed carry out a lot of mothering: cuddling to sleep, listening to worries about school, physical care, sorting out socks. But … fathering a parallel – and distinctly different – function. … However much you switch and swap, there still seem to be two roles to play in a child’s life: one of them reassuring, one challenging and brave and gay. Perhaps, if there is any point at all in the concept of New Fatherhood, it is that couples feel more free to take turns at both.” This is certainly how it tended to work in our family. But Mary had to manage on her own, as Joseph died long before Jesus’ adult ministry started.
As they grow, children’s needs change; our duty as parents to protect them is diluted by an equal duty to prepare them for the real world. To provide a safe bolt-hole for them is not only the least we can do; perhaps it is also the most any of us should do. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. … You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” When I read this again, recently, I wondered how Mary must have felt, knowing that her son was set on his own course, and that the only thing she could do would be to have faith, and bear witness. Which she did. But it must have broken her heart.
I believe that mothering, that parenting, of whatever kind, is the most important job in the world. All of us need somebody we can depend on to love us unconditionally. As Dave Tomlinson writes in How to be a bad Christian, “The heart of Christ’s message was the love of God. He brought to ordinary people – downtrodden by ruthless rulers – the sense of their belovedness. Each person Jesus touched knew, perhaps for the first time, that their life mattered; that they were loved and cherished.”
I cannot believe that he would have been able to do this, had he not experienced this kind of love for himself, growing up. So I think that the most we can do for anyone we care for is what Mary did for her son, to love and cherish them, so that they know they are beloved. So that they in their turn can go on to love others, as Jesus did. As we do, the best that we can.
Spirit of Life and Love,
open our hearts and minds
to a true appreciation
of the people who have loved us,
throughout our lives.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come,
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley