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Sunday Service, 14th March 2021

Led by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Welcome

Call to Worship

Lord, on this Mothering Sunday draw us close to yourself and remind us of your love for us, expressed through the touch of friends, through our mothers and all those who have cared for us over the years, and help us to express our love for them freely in our worship.

Hymn 519 – Love divine. Listen here.

Prayer

Almighty God, on this day when we remember your love for us and the love of our earthly mothers and carers, we pray for families during these difficult days.

First of all, we thank you for the joy that family life brings; for families where parents are loving and children are lively, where homes are comfortable and jobs are secure, may the joy that such settings bring be accompanied by thanksgiving. Amid the blessings you send, keep us mindful of you, the one who sends them.

But we also pray for families in their sorrow, where grief has come to a loved one and where love is no more; where jobs or homes are lost or health has failed; where neighbours or relatives make trouble and children are wayward; where one or another is left coping with more than they bargained for, and nobody laughs or sings any more. Lord Jesus, in the desert of such situations, in their Gethsemane bring strength and peace.

Holy Spirit of unity and wisdom and love, we pray for families as they grow together. Strengthen relationships, and help them to grow towards mature humanity.

God of compassion, whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary, shared the life of a home in Nazareth, and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself, strengthen us in our daily living, that in joy and in sorrow we may know the power of your presence to bind together and to heal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

Hear us now as we join together using the words of the prayer that our Lord taught his disciples.

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. Amen

Children’s talk by Mo Brand

Well, today is Mother’s Day, and no matter what your family may look like – if it’s big, if it’s small, if you have no mum, one mum or two mums, a stepmum or a mother-in-law, Mother’s Day tends to make people think about their family and people around them.

Often people like to draw rings of circles to talk about the people who influence them in their lives.

  • The middle circle is the people closest to you, such as the people that you live with.
  • The next circle is the people that you see regularly – extended family and close friends.
  • The next circle is the people you see less frequently and have occasional contact with.
  • The final circle is outside influences.

So for Mother’s Day we think about the female roles:

  • the ones in the centre are the ones we live with;
  • the next circle out, perhaps our aunties, neighbours and close family friends;
  • then we move out again to people we work with or family we don’t have regular contact with;
  • and then the final circle might be people on TV, famous authors or even complete strangers we pass on the street.

When we start to think about it, there are a lot of women in our lives who help to shape who we are who we should be giving thanks for. And we remember that we have a part to play as well. We might be in the very inner or very outer circle for other people – I’m also aware that some of you may not be women but it’s still relevant – and the way in which you act and speak is important. Do you act in a way that builds each other up and supports each other? Do you recognise that families come in all shapes and sizes? Mother’s Day comes just after International Women’s Day, a great reminder that we all have a part to play in standing up for all women and in celebrating them, so however you identify with Mother’s Day, and I’m aware that may be happy, sad or a mixture of both, take some time to say thank you to the females that influence your life, or take some time to help build up, check in with or pray specifically for another family; after all, no family can get by on just an inner circle.

Scripture reading

John 19:1627  

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Reflection on Mothering Sunday by Rev. Bob Gemmell

Today is Mothering Sunday, a festival that has its origins in antiquity. Originally, I am told, it was a pagan festival. After Constantine converted to Christianity the Roman Empire began to celebrate it as a Christian festival honouring Mary and the Church. During the sixteenth century, domestic servants were given the day off so that they could go home and see their own mothers – often the only day in the year when families could come together. By the mid twentieth century Mothering Sunday wasn’t celebrated in the UK but it was revived by American soldiers who came to Europe to fight during the Second World War. The American soldiers celebrated it on the second Sunday in Lent. But when it became widely used through the nation again, it was revived for the fourth Sunday in Lent.

So it’s not a commercial event. It really is a beautiful and thought-provoking event on a day that is also known as refreshment Sunday, a day in the midst of our journey when we can temporarily lay aside our Lent austerities.

And coming as it does during Lent, it is appropriate this morning to link Mothering Sunday with the crucifixion of Christ through our Gospel reading, because here in John 19:25–27, the two events are brought together; the pain of motherhood and the pain of crucifixion, where salvation was won for us all.

And as we turn to this Gospel reading, we are first of all confronted by the sheer pain of the moment. A dying son. A bewildered disciple. A mother whose heart was breaking.

Mary certainly knew what it was to suffer. Mary suffered when she gave birth in a filthy stable, far from home. Mary suffered when she heard that Herod wanted to kill her baby. Mary suffered when she was forced to become a refugee in Egypt. Mary suffered as she watched a whole nation misunderstand and taunt her son. And here at the foot of the cross, Mary suffers again as she watches her son being crucified for a crime he did not commit. We can’t even imagine the pain in her heart – how her soul was being torn apart that day.

It wasn’t so long ago that we were celebrating Epiphany. Do you remember the story of Simeon who had seen Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the Temple? Simeon said to Mary on that occasion: “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God, which many people will speak against and so revel their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” And now at the foot of the cross, perhaps Mary’s mind travelled back 33 years to that moment in the Temple and Simeon’s prophecy finally made sense to her.

As parents, we all experience anguish over our children from time to time. For those who have lost a child the pain never goes away. The loss of a child of whatever age is the hardest bereavement to bear. Only someone who has suffered in the same way can have a sense of the depth of the pain. Mary was a mother who lost her child and knew that pain.

And as Mary thinks about her son, so Jesus thinks about his mother. He knows how much she is suffering. Watching her in pain I am sure was torment enough, let alone everything else he was going through in those moments. It is almost certainly the case that by the time of his crucifixion, Mary was a widow, causing more grief and bereavement and loss across the years. There is no mention of Joseph after the episode at the Temple when Jesus was 12 years old. Every time Mary is mentioned in the Gospels – at the wedding in Cana, when she brings Jesus’ brothers and sisters to see him, and so on – there is never any mention of Joseph who presumably was dead. Apart from the grief Joseph’s death brought to Mary, I wonder how Jesus dealt with the loss of his earthly father.

Jesus knew Mary’s agony as she stood there and he was aware that, after his own death, there would be no one to care for his mother. And as the oldest son, that concerned him. And so Jesus speaks to his mother in verse 26: “Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, ‘He is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘She is your mother.’” Even in his dying moments, Jesus’ concern was for the future well-being of his family.

And so he entrusted Mary to the disciple John. It’s interesting that he didn’t entrust her to the love and care of his brothers and sisters, who were still alive. That may seem a little strange. Surely one of them could have looked after Mary into her old age. But Jesus doesn’t pursue that option. Why? What else is going on here?

Is it too much to suggest that something quite profound is going on? Here we have two people who are there with Jesus at the foot of the cross, two people who believe in his mission, two people who believe in his claim to be the Son of God, the Lord and saviour of the world. This is in stark contrast to Jesus’ brothers. In John 7:5 we are told quite starkly, ‘Not even his brothers believed in him.’

So it seems that what is happening here, between Jesus and the two people at the foot of the cross who have faith in him, is that a new family is being created. Verse 26 again: “Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, so he said to his mother, ‘He is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘She is your mother.’ From that time the disciple took her to live in his home.”

It is here at the foot of the cross, as Jesus sheds his blood and a woman embraces a boy and a boy embraces a woman – it is here that it could be said that the church is formed. Yes, we do associate the founding of the church with our Lord’s commission to his disciples after the resurrection and with the events surrounding Pentecost, but perhaps it could be argued that here at Calvary the seed was sown that later bore fruit some days later.

Every time we meet for worship, whether in person or online, we are continuing the work that Christ started that day, the formation and the deepening of the church. Every time we listen to the Gospel being read and preached we are proclaiming the same truth that was acted out that first Good Friday.

Mary and John, in a sense, formed the church in their relationship with each other. They offered one another comfort. They strengthened each other. They encouraged one another and shared hospitality together.

These, surely, must be the hallmarks of our church today. Love, comfort, support and hospitality. Isn’t this what Jesus had in mind when he formed that union from the cross that first Good Friday?

And so, in the final analysis, we see that Mothering Sunday is so much deeper than we might at first imagine. Yes it is a time to celebrate the love of our own mothers and to those who have been like mothers to us across the years. But it is also a time to give thanks for the Church formed at the foot of the cross, the Church where we find comfort and support and encouragement and love and hospitality.

Today we are grateful for our blood relatives who share the same DNA and our blood relatives who share faith in Jesus Christ.

In our conversations and behaviour today, let’s be sure to celebrate all those we love, with thankful hearts.

Prayers of Intercession by Christine Shepherd

Let us pray.

Almighty and all-seeing God, we thank you for this season of Lent – a time to reflect upon our discipleship, to consider our calling, to test ourselves and see where we are in our faith.  We can pretend all is well, but cannot conceal our inner uncertainties. We can deny our need of you, but cannot disguise our emptiness without you.  We can seek fulfilment in this world, but will never find real peace outside your love.

On this Mothering Sunday we pray in gratitude for our mothers. You who became human through a woman, grant to all mothers the courage they need to face the uncertain future that life with children always brings. Give them the strength to live and to be loved in return, not perfectly, but humanly. We pray for those who may be having a hard time as mothers – perhaps bringing up their children on their own, perhaps unable to afford to feed or clothe them, perhaps finding that their children have drifted away from them. We pray for mothers who have lost a child; be with them, Lord, on this day when memories may be particularly poignant.

We pray for all in this time of pandemic who are unable to visit their mothers today and also for everyone who feels lonely and bereft of human companionship. Be with them, Lord, and help us to walk with them following in your example.

We think of all at Wardie and pray that you may bless them – Anne and Bob, our session clerks, Heather and Paul, our vacancy committee as they move forward towards choosing a new minister, and all who take part in Wardie’s life. We pray for the family of John Mauritzen; may you console Fiona, their sons and all their families, and grant them peace in their loss.

Lord Jesus, remind us constantly of your love for all people. Send us out in your name to make sure that, particularly in the present global health pandemic, everyone has access to the food and clean water they need, the medicines they need and homes to keep them safe.  Give us open eyes that we may see injustice, ears attuned to the quiet suffering of the oppressed, and hearts soft enough to break. Give us the strength to be different, and to stand out for justice.

Dear Father God, we bring to you all these prayers, together with the prayers we offer in the silence of our hearts.

Amen

Hymn 668 – According to thy gracious word

Blessing

Deep peace of the running waves to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the Son of peace to you.

And now may the blessing of almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
rest and remain on you, and all whom you love.
Now and always.
Amen.