14 March 2021

This week’s service for Mothering Sunday is led by our Minister, Rev Clare Davison. Music for the service has been recorded at Headingley St Columba URC. Where the words and music are in copyright, they are used under the terms of Headingley St Columba’s CCLI Licences 214974, 110169 and PRS Limited Online Music Licence LE-0020656.

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Order of Service

Organ prelude: Fughetta in E flat – Josef Rheinberger (1839 – 1901)

Lent Liturgy – 4th Sunday – the nails
As we follow our Lord through the events of his Passion, we remember today how he was nailed to his cross between two criminals, and lay these nails at the foot of the cross.


O dearest Lord, thy sacred hands
with nails were pierced for me;
now pour thy blessing on my hands,
that they may work for thee.

O dearest Lord, thy sacred feet
with nails were pierced for me;
now pour thy blessing on my feet,
that they may follow thee.

H. E. Hardy (1869 – 1946)

Opening Prayer
Lord God almighty, we come before you this day to give you our worship and praise, to give you all the honour of our lives. We come to acknowledge your greatness, your power that works in the world and among us. We come to acknowledge your righteousness, and your holiness that we are so far from. And yet Father, we come as your children, forgiven and accepted by your grace, through Jesus Christ. As we recall all you suffered for us in Christ, to bring us that forgiveness and acceptance, we remember that it wasn’t the nails that kept you on the cross, but your love for us. Help us in this time of worship to respond to that love, a love which touches so many aspects of our human lives, a love of Mother as well as Father God, the one who shelters us under your wings, as a hen shelters her chicks. Be with us now, and accept the praise and thanksgiving of our hearts. For your glory we pray, Amen.

Rejoice, the Lord is King
Text: Charles Wesley (1707 – 88)
Tune: Gopsal – G. F. Handel (1685 – 1759)

Introduction to the first reading
On this Mothering Sunday, our first reading is the story of a mother trying to hide her baby boy, from the Egyptian Pharoah’s slaughter plans to keep the Hebrews from becoming too strong. This is like a fairy-tale story, yet we see God’s plans beginning to take shape as we look on with hindsight.

Reading – Exodus 2: 1 – 10

Organ interlude: Prière du matin – Joseph Jongen (1873 – 1953)

Introduction to the second reading
Our second reading comes into the crucifixion scene, after Pilate refuses to change what he has written on the inscription he had put on the cross. After the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ tunic, Jesus has a simple conversation with His mother and the apostle John.

Reading – John 19: 23 – 27

On this Mothering Sunday, I thought I’d focus for a change on mothers. The Bible is full of little snippets of women who were mothers, and today we read two stories involving mums. One is about a mother’s love for her baby son, the other about a son’s love for his mother who had given so much love to him over the years.

The first was that heart rendering story of the mother of Moses putting her baby in a basket in the bulrushes. The Jewish people had been living in Egypt since Joseph of technicolour coat fame, some 400 years or more. By then, the Israelites were so many in number that the Pharaoh was worried they’d take sides with Egypt’s enemies. Despite putting them under slave-drivers, their numbers continued to grow, so Pharaoh issued a command to his people to throw all male Hebrew babies into the river Nile.

So we come to the story of how this particular Hebrew mother did everything she could to protect her baby. She hid him for three months, until she couldn’t hide him any longer. Then she put him in the Nile, only in a carefully made watertight basket, placed among the tall reeds at the edge of the river, and sent her daughter to keep watch to see what would happen.

Bingo! The Princess happened to come to that part of the river to bathe, as she probably often did. She saw the basket and heard the baby cry, and felt sorry for him. You can imagine the Princess thinking what a cute little chap he was.

The story goes on from there and the mother ends up as his wet nurse. When weaned the boy is then taken to live in the Palace and grows up a Prince . . . and to cut a long story short, God uses him to lead the Jewish people out of the land of Egypt at the Exodus, some eighty years later!

But just to focus again for a moment on the beginning of the story, a mother’s love, a mother’s determination to save her child. It’s a story which resonates so much with the experience of all of us who are mothers and fathers, the desire to protect our children at all costs. It’s a very human story, that connects to so many in the world today, in equally tragic circumstances: children dying through lack of food, through war, from persecution, and from incurable health conditions. In her new-born baby, Moses’ mother saw so much potential, and she fought her hardest for him.

So to the second story, a heart-breaking tale of another mother who stayed with her son to the humiliating and painful end of his life. We can see parallels in both stories – Mary too had to protect her child from a King who had ordered the killing of all Jewish boys under the age of 2; as a family they fled to Egypt; and both men had a period of time while they grew into the role and plan God had for them.

In the gospels we piece together the story of this mother’s love for her son. Mary treasures in her heart the things she’s told about him, and things that happen in his early years. We can imagine how Jesus had a good upbringing with Mary, that she was a caring person, and taught him well.

We don’t hear of Mary much after the early years. The story leaps to the Wedding of Cana, when Mary could be seen as the interfering Jewish mother, as one half-Jewish mother I know, put it. But she’s gunning for her son, for him to make his mark on the world – as many mothers do. We glimpse her again when we’re told Jesus’ mother and brothers are waiting to see him, when he’s busy teaching and healing. His words then sound as though he rejects them, but actually we only get his recorded words, not what happens next. I certainly can’t imagine that he didn’t talk to them afterwards, and assure them of his sanity.

We don’t see Mary, again until this story at the cross. We can assume she’d been following him from some point towards the end of his Ministry, but we don’t know from when. We know she was among the disciples after the resurrection, and that others in his family also became believers, but that’s all we know.

So, to the scene at the cross. Mary, a mother who had watched her son grow up was now in the position that any mother dreads, any parent dreads: watching her own child die. This was a horrible death to watch, and we can imagine all her turmoil as she remembers the promises about him, now seemingly all in shreds.

But I wanted us briefly to think about the Son’s love for his mother. We wonder why Jesus asks John to look after Mary after he’s gone. She had other children alive, and it was their duty to look after her, and we can be sure that they would have done. But Jesus asks this disciple to look after her instead. It maybe he wanted her to be there when he showed himself risen from the dead, when he appeared to all the disciples. If she’d been with another son at this point, she would have missed out, and not known for sure. Of course, Jesus’ reasons are only our speculation. But we can be sure that it was motivated by love for his mum, the person who had been willing to carry him, to nurture him and to give her love to him his whole life.

Today we may think of our own mothers, and as mothers we think of our children. Over the years I’m sure we all have a lot to rejoice about, but also a lot of sorrow and heartache. There may be special memories of our mother’s love. We may remember special times we’ve had with our children. We all have special memories of our relationships. And we may have had sad memories too, of a child lost, or a mother pass away in difficult circumstances. We may have been rejected by an adult child, or have been part of a home where we weren’t supported by our mothers at crucial times in our lives. Those more difficult memories need to be acknowledged too. Just as Christmas can be a difficult time for many, so can this secular tradition of Mothers’ Day.

And yet it prompts us to think about our own relationships and how we can show the fruit of the Holy Spirit in them. It prompts us to acknowledge those difficult experiences and to seek wholeness for ourselves and others. And it also prompts us to think, pray and act for those who have had bad experiences, those who need comforting and those who need care and stability in their lives.

In this season of Lent, as we think on this gospel story of Jesus on the cross, we know that Jesus died to restore relationships. He died to break barriers down, and to bring in God’s grace and the chance of new life to all. He calls us to follow him in how we bring wholeness to the relationships around us, and to work for the healing of those who have had bad experiences in this world.

So I pray, today, we will take up those things we can do to restore relationships, and heal the broken-hearted.

Jesus, good above all other
Text: Percy Dearmer (1867 – 1936) altd.
Tune: Quem pastores laudavere – arr. R. Vaughan Williams

Prayers of Intercession and Lord’s Prayer
Gracious, loving God, on this Mothering Sunday, we bring before you all mothers in our world, remembering we’ve recently had the International Women’s Day and the World Day of Prayer, organized by women.

So we pray for women and mothers everywhere.
Today is sad for many this year, and we pray for those separated from their mothers or children because of Covid. We pray for those who have difficult relationships and memories of their mothers; for those grieving for their mothers. We pray that you will bring your comfort to them and surround them with your love.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray too for women who are unable to have children; for mothers grieving for their children; for mothers concerned for their children’s health or well-being; for mothers whose children have rejected them. We ask that you would bring them comfort and peace.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray in our world for all women and children who are refugees, or in safe houses due to violence against them; for all who suffer domestic violence in silence; for women in cultures which subjugate them and treat them as possessions to dispose of; for persecuted women who suffer because of their faith and gender. We pray that you would break into their despair to bring them courage and hope.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are grieving this day, and for all who are afraid. As your Church on earth, we ask that you would equip us for the task of bringing hope to our neighbours far and near. Give the Church wisdom to work for recognition of the worth of each human being, and the strength and courage to bring light and life to all, and the hope you give us in Christ.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We lift to you all our own relationships in our families, our work, our church and in all those places where we connect with others. Help us to be people of grace and peace wherever we are, so that we can bring your peace into the lives of those around us.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious God, we offer you all these prayers, and the prayers of our hearts for our world and our neighbourhood, in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, Amen.

Now thank we all our God
Text: Martin Rinkart (1586-1649)
tr. Catherine Winkworth. (1827-78)
Tune: Tune: Nun danket – Johann Crüger (1598 – 1662);
last verse arr. Noel Rawsthorne (1929 – 2019)

Blessing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV-UK)
As we go from our worship today, ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’
May God bless you richly, and be with you now and always, Amen.

Organ Voluntary: Chorale-Improvisation on Nun danket alle Gott – Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877 – 1933)