Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
Narrative Lectionary: Paul and Silas, Acts 16:16-34 (Luke 6:18-19, 22-23)
In the U.S. this Sunday is Mother’s Day. This can be both a celebratory and a painful Sunday. For women who are struggling with fertility, those unable to have children, and those who have lost a child, churches can be incredibly insensitive when they celebrate mothers, even if they celebrate all women. There are those who have lost their mothers or are estranged from their mothers.
However, Mother’s Day was not created to be the commercial holiday it is today. Started by Anna Jarvis in 1908 as a church holiday, the original intention was to celebrate the work mothers did that was often unnoticed or not valued. Anna Jarvis eventually became disillusioned with the official holiday and the commercialization that followed. Other roots go back to Julia Ward Howe, who began an observance of Mother’s Day in the 1870 following the Civil War to commemorate mothers who had lost their sons due to war, and to commit to pacifism and nonviolence. Certainly a very different approach than how Mother’s Day is celebrated today.
The first selection of the Revised Common Lectionary may give some insight in how to approach Mother’s Day as a celebration of the ministry of women since the early church. Dorcas, also known as Tabitha, was a disciple (the first woman given that title in the New Testament). She was known for her acts of charity, especially ministering among widows. She became ill and died. Two disciples sent word to Peter to come without delay, so Peter hurried to Dorcas’ side. All the widows showed Peter all the good work that Tabitha had done, what she meant to them. Peter prayed, and called for her to rise up, and she got out of bed. The word spread that Tabitha was alive again throughout the community. Perhaps on this Mother’s Day we may remember Tabitha and her ministry and celebrate ministry among women who grieve.
The psalm for today is Psalm 23, an ancient poem of comfort. Often attributed to David, this psalm is recited at funerals and other occasions, reminding us that God is the one who provides for us, sojourns with us on life’s journeys, even through the valley of the shadow of death, and God prepares a table for us of goodness and mercy. As God dwells with us every moment in our life, so shall we dwell with God forever.
John of Patmos beholds another vision of the glorious heavenly throne room, this time with a multitude of people that no one can count, in Revelation 7:9-17. Those that have come to praise God are from every tribe and nation and speak every language. Along with all the heavenly beings, they have come to praise God, and all these people have come through the great ordeal. They have known suffering, but God will now comfort them, guiding them to the wellspring of life. In John’s time, there had been much suffering because of the Roman Empire’s persecution. Some churches that he addressed in his sermon/letter had become comfortable with the empire, but those that remained true to Christ would face further struggles. Those who remained true would know the fullness of God’s salvation and comfort.
The Gospel lesson from John 10:22-30 speaks of a time Jesus was in Jerusalem at the temple in winter. Only in John’s account does Jesus visit the temple before the last week of his life. In this passage, some of the religious leaders want Jesus to be clear as to whether he is or is not the Messiah. Jesus replies to them that those who believe know. Those who know his voice as his sheep. Jesus declares that he and the Father God are one, and those who are his sheep have inherited eternal life because they believe.
The Narrative Lectionary turns ahead in Acts to 16:16-34, when Paul and Silas ended up in prison. After Lydia’s welcome and conversion in verses 11-15, Paul, Silas, and the author of Luke-Acts (and perhaps others) were on their way to “the place for prayer.” It is not clear where this is—perhaps the same place where they met Lydia by the riverbank. While on their way, they met a slave woman, who was being forced to tell fortunes to make a prophet for those who controlled her, because she was possessed by a spirit. She took notice of Paul and proclaimed that he and his companions were servants of the Most High God with a message of God’s salvation. Paul was annoyed by her shouting and rebuked the spirit within her—it left her at that moment. The people controlling the woman had Paul and Silas thrown into prison because of the disturbance they had caused. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into the innermost cell of the prison, their feet chained up. However, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, and around midnight an earthquake occurred, shaking the foundation of the prison and all the gates opened and chains came loose. The jailer, upon awakening, assumed everyone had escaped and was going to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, because no one had left. The jailer believed that God had done this, and asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved. The jailer and his household were then all baptized. They took care of Paul and Silas and fed them, for everyone had come to believe in God.
On this Mother’s Day, may we remember the roots of this holiday and care for all women, especially the most vulnerable among us. The Narrative Lectionary reminds us that trafficking continues today, and there are many organizations working to stop the trafficking of women and children (I encourage you to research those organizations, however, because some end up causing more harm, but there are organizations helping vulnerable people in your community). Dorcas’ story reminds us that the work traditionally done by women in this world has often been overlooked and undervalued—here is a story of a disciple of Christ who was needed so much that Peter prayed she would be brought back to life. And we are reminded that all of us—men, women, transgender, nonbinary—all people—are beloved and part of God’s plan for salvation as revealed to John of Patmos. May we celebrate and honor all today, grieve with those who grieve, and support those whose voices still need to be listened to.
Call to Worship (from Proverbs 9:1-3, 5-6)
Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn her seven pillars.
She has mixed her wine,
She has set her table.
She has sent out her servants,
She calls from the highest places in town,
“Come, eat and drink and live,
Come, walk in the way of insight.”
Worship our God, and walk in Wisdom’s ways,
For she invites us into this time of worship.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we have created binaries and boxes, that we have sought to categorize people by gender and ability. We have valued one gender over another and valued one type of work over another. We have sought to label and place others in hierarchies that You never intended for us. You created us in Your image, male and female, and all of us, whether we fit into one or both or neither category, are still in Your image. You have transcended our categories and language that attempts to make sense of You. Forgive us when our boxes and categories have caused harm. Forgive us when we have devalued others. Forgive us when we have forced others to conform. You are the Holy One, the Creator of us all—how dare we attempt to devalue Your creation, Your image? Call us into accountability and the hard work of reparation and restoration, for You are our God, beyond gender and categorization. You made the universe and all that is in it. Call us back to Your ways of healing and wholeness. In the name of Christ, who died for us all, we pray. Amen.
The prophet Isaiah spoke in 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted.” God’s arms are around you, holding you. God has set you upon their knee like when you were young, to know that you are loved very much. May God’s comfort and kindness and compassion be known in your heart, and may you share that comfort with one another. Go in peace, and serve through compassion. Amen.
Wise God, Your spirit traveled over the face of the deep and called forth life. You breathed life into the first human beings and into all creation. You taught us the commandments, Your precepts, Your way of life. You call us away from the world we created to be rooted in Your creation. In Your creation, there is always enough, there is always something new springing forth. You lead us beside the still waters and green pastures. You are our Mother, our Heavenly Parent, in whom we were born again through Jesus Christ, to be a new creation. Help us to live into Your wisdom. Amen.
A Prayer for Mother’s Day (written for Mother’s Day 2020)
The prophet Isaiah said, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
Mothering God, we cherish Your great love for us. As the Creator, You made us in Your image, and called life from the earth and water. In baptism, we are born anew, from water and Spirit, and Your love and care are made known to us as we grow in faith.
We give You thanks for those who have been mothers and stepmothers in our lives, for grandmothers and aunts and all those who have been like mothers to us, who have shown us Your comfort and courage, peace and strength.
God of Peace, we acknowledge that this day that was originally created for mothers grieving the loss of their children in war. We grieve with all who have lost a child, who have struggled with fertility issues, who have had to give up children in foster care and adoption. May Your love surround us, hold us in these tender times.
Loving God, we hold tenderly the ones who have difficult relationships with their mothers, for those who have separated in relationship. We weep with those who are missing their mothers.
In these difficult times, O God, we know the distance that separates us, the physical distance for safety, the distance of time for those gone, the distance of fading memories. We know the distance of estrangement. We pray for healing wherever possible, O God, for forgiveness wherever possible, and for the hope that You bring in our lives.
Hold us, Loving Parent, in Your healing hands, on this day. Amen.
Mother’s Day Litany (written for Mother’s Day 2015)
Holy God, on this day we honor You, as we do every day.
Today we honor You, our Mothering God, who cares for us and nurtures us.
May we comfort those who mourn their mothers on this day;
May we offer our support to those whose mothers are not present.
Guide us in our love for one another,
That we may be empathetic and caring for those dealing with fertility issues.
Hold us in Your love,
And may we seek justice for those who have been abused and harmed by those who were supposed to protect them.
Loving God who cares and protects us all,
We give you thanks and praise for those who have been like mothers to us,
For those who have mothered us in the light of Your love,
For all who reflect Your image of love, care, compassion and peace.
On this Mother’s Day,
May we give thanks for mothers in the world that do Your work of justice, that love us as You have first loved us, and that challenge us to live in righteousness and peace.
For Christ has said “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my sister, my brother and my friend.” May it be so. Amen.