Thought for the month
Over the past week we’ve had two reminders about mothers: today when we celebrate Mothering Sunday, a pause for refreshment during our Lenten journey, and last Monday, which was the feast of the Annunciation or “Lady Day”, in former times the beginning the year as well as the day when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would have a child and he would be called “the Son of the Most High”.
In his Church Matters blog, Paul Beasley-Murray reminds us how, throughout Christ’s life, Mary discovered to her cost that being a mother was not easy. When her twelve-year-old son went missing for three days. When, instead of marrying and becoming a family man as his contemporaries did, he left home and consorted with all sorts of undesirable people. When, at the age of 33, he ended up, naked, on a cross, and Mary experienced the pain of seeing her child die before her eyes. Simeon had warned her that a sword would pierce her soul – and how right he was.
Jonathan Singh’s blog reminds us that sometimes, when we start something, we don’t always know where it will end up. When we follow someone, we don’t always know where we’re going. Would Mary have thought that the wood of the manger would have been exchanged for the wood of the cross?
But it was from that cross that Jesus told his best friend, John, that Mary would be like a mother to him too. And then told his mother that John would now be like a son to her. It was a moment of entrusting. Jesus asks those who follow him to look after each other as family.
Singh continues: “If mothering were only done by mothers, it would be very hard indeed to ensure that everyone received the nurturing, protection, love, sacrifice, guidance 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 as with Mary and in the motherly experience of so many.
“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 as 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 which the Church is called to have for the world. When we love like that, we make our Mothering-God visible in the world.”
At our Ash Wednesday service, as preparation for communion, we read Isaiah 58.1–12 and Psalm 51, and in prayer we “called to mind our sins and the infinite mercy of God”. That prayer ended: “Accomplish in us the work of your salvation, that we may show your glory in the world. By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord, bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.”
Stirring words, and the point in the service where each member of the congregation had their forehead marked with the sign of the cross in ash (traditionally made by burning last year’s palm crosses), with the words of ministration “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Explained by the words that came just before: “Loving God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: grant that these ashes may be for us a sign of our penitence and a symbol of our mortality; for it is by your grace alone that we receive eternal life in Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
Apart from the symbolism, the service was also memorable for the homily on a verse from the Gospel of the day: “Beware of practising righteousness before others in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1) The homily consisted in Michael Paterson reading a poetic reflection twice, with a pause for thought in between. His message will be there long after the ash has washed away.
with ash on our foreheads
a symbol not of piety
but of reality and intent:
the reality that we are dust
and to dust we shall return;
and the intent
to make that dust
a veritable storm
that whips up our lives
exposing the half-truths and the lies
by which we justify and deceive ourselves.
A grain of ash may be all it takes
to turn us round
and to refuse mediocrity.
A grain of ash may be all it takes
to signal our intent
and elicit our Yes
to act justly
to love tenderly
and to walk humbly with our God.
Who would have thought
a grain of ash
could start such a revolution?
[This reflection for Ash Wednesday 2019, prepared for St Margaret’s, Rosyth
by the Rev Dr Michael Paterson was inspired by and adapted from a poem
by Rev Liz Crumlish, Church of Scotland Path of Renewal Coordinator]
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday (6 March), and that’s coming up fast, so many Christians will be thinking about what they might give up for Lent. It’s a practice that many find helpful. As Archbishop Welby puts it: “For many centuries, denying ourselves certain pleasures or habits has been a way that Christians have made space in their hearts for God as we journey towards Easter.”
We have three suggestions to follow up for Lent. The first is ++Justin’s suggestion: “As well as stopping something, how about starting something?” He suggests committing to prayer, or finding an act of kindness to do each day, as ways to start to see where we need to change our hearts and minds – more in his blog.
Our second suggestion is something that may appeal especially to those with mobile devices, which is the Church of England’s “LentPilgrim”, a discipleship journey with 40 daily reflections on The Beatitudes. Printed resources are available, but the online version offers you each day the chance to listen to and read a theme linked to the beatitude, a short Bible reading that explores the theme, a short reflection, a suggestion of how to pray, and a prompt to act.
Our third suggestion is potentially even more interactive, though non-techology routes are also available. This is #slavefreelent, an interactive 40-day fight against the slavery hidden in our supply chains, which is part of International Justice Mission’s “Make #SlaveFree Normal” campaign. IJM tell us that 25 million people are in forced labour slavery today, many making products that we consume every single day—products like coffee, chocolate and makeup, and #slavefreelent asks us to:
- give up a product that often has slavery in its supply chain for the 40 days of Lent;
- donate the money we would have spent on the product we are giving up, to help IJM stop slavery at source;
- join IJM’s WhatsApp updates for tips on #slavefree living, facts about the issue, challenges and encouragements straight to your phone.
40 million slaves. 40 days. Could you go #slavefree this Lent?