God of love,
passionate and strong,
tender and careful:
watch over us and hold us
all the days of our life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
One of the interesting things about the pandemic is how it has affected peoples’ style of clothing. Some have spent the last year in jogging bottoms and hoodies. Others have worn their best clothes to the supermarket as it was the only time they went out. Some colleagues wear a full face of makeup and styled hair for their online video calls. Others give thanks for the inbuilt beauty filters. One of my children – who shall remain nameless – had to wear school uniform for an online interview earlier this term. I walked into her bedroom to discover her in front of her computer wearing her blazer, shirt and tie on her top half which was visible to the camera and her pyjama trousers on underneath! The pandemic may have changed what we wear when, but we still wear something, and we will be thinking a bit more about how we clothe ourselves later on…
However, let’s begin with a recap of some of our thinking in recent weeks and then take a look at our reading. In the first few weeks of Lent, we considered the covenants God made with humankind and wider creation. With Noah, God decided that never again would creation bear the cost of sin, and so began the way of the Cross. God decided that God alone could meet the demands of both justice and love. God alone would pay that price. With Abraham, we see God invite humankind into a relationship of intimacy and worship. God is not simply a God of the cosmos, but a God who cares about ordinary people: a couple who have no family for example, their slave girl driven into the wilderness is another. We meet a God who will, as part of that journey to the cross, come and live amongst us as one of us, sharing life’s joys and its sorrows. Jesus – fully human, fully divine.
Today’s epistle reading comes from after. After Jesus’ time amongst us, after the cross and resurrection. But it begins with words that echo those covenants which came before: since God chose you to be the holy people God loves… Do you hear the ancient words to the Israelites where God calls them to be blessed, beloved and holy? Of course, that belonging is no longer dependent on family or ethnicity, but on faith – faith in Jesus, God among us; Jesus who died for us; Jesus who conquered death and is seated in glory. Through simple trust in the God who loves us and meets us in Jesus, we become his people. We have been reading John’s Gospel in morning prayer recently and in Chapter 6 people ask Jesus, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ That belief, that trust, is where it all begins. That is all God seeks from us.
However, if we do know ourselves beloved, forgiven and saved by God – and if we do believe others to be precious children of God – it should show itself in our behaviour. Paul describes what a community based on love might look like. He talks about clothing ourselves with kindness, tender-heartedness, forgiveness and love. That clothing imagery is interesting – it makes it seem intentional and habitual, a bit like getting dressed in the morning. While standards of dress may have changed somewhat during the pandemic, as we discussed earlier, we have still put on clothes each day. We have picked out items that are fit for the tasks of the day – we might wear something different if we are gardening, shopping or snuggling on the sofa. Paul invites us in the same way to choose to clothe ourselves in the right values to live by in the day ahead.
I am famously not a morning person. Even now, I much prefer to say Morning Prayer later in the day when I have woken up a bit. But when the girls were younger and life was a whirlwind of unpredictable, noisy activity from 6am until 8pm, my Morning Prayer was often a single sentence as I dragged my eyes open each day: “God, I thank you for this new day and all the opportunities it holds…” A pretty basic effort really, but it meant I began each day with gratitude and hope which are not bad values to clothe yourself with as a Mum to small children. And God is very gracious to frazzled single sentence prayers – they don’t need to be fancy.
I am telling you this, I suppose, as an encouragement in this season of Lent to find your own waking prayer – if you haven’t got one already. How might you put on the values of love, kindness, peace, forgiveness and thankfulness as your put on your socks? And how might you remember to say it? A note stuck to your shaving mirror? An aide memoire beside the kettle? A reminder on your phone? What might help you put on the values Paul describes each day?
Of course, we will fail. Much as we put on a new white top only to spill ketchup on it, we will have days when we put on our bright values of loving kindness and find that the day’s events reduce them to grubby rags. We need the hope and forgiveness of the cross as much as any of our forebears in the faith. But if this new covenant between God and God’s chosen, holy and beloved people, is sealed on our part by trusting faith, it is sealed on God’s part by the gift of the Holy Spirit. God living in our hearts, making us day by day, little by little, more like Jesus. So, let the gospel of Christ, in all its richness, dwell in you. Prayerfully clothe yourselves in love each day and let God work in you and through you for the good of those around you. Amen.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us come to the Lord in hope, let us pray to the Lord in faith, let us hold to the Lord throughout our lives.
Gracious God, as a mother loves her child, so you love us. For that great truth we praise you.
Let us give thanks today for women. For Eve our first mother – we thank you for having the courage to be curious, to lose your innocence and become the first to understand the complexities of life.
For Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth – we thank you for sharing your stories of patience and endurance, through long years of waiting and not knowing. May women everywhere who long for motherhood draw strength and comfort from you, in times of pain and heartache.
For Hagar – we thank you for your resolve and perseverance in exile. May all mothers who are forced to flee in circumstances of war, famine and domestic violence, or who are forgotten, be given hope in you.
For Rachel – you carried the burden of grief and wept for your children. Hold the hands of all those mothers who weep for their children – for children who have gone missing, who have died or are lost to them in other ways. We ask for your blessing for the needs of all mothers.
For Mary – the new Eve, whose ‘yes’ to God changed our world forever. Thank you for your faithful love and tender care of God’s most precious Son. May we never forget that in your giving, is our greatest receiving – of the gift of life, wrapped in a manger and in a tomb. May we know the true cost of relationship by holding our faith in Christ deep within our hearts as you once held him deep within your womb. Mary, you remind us that whoever believes in your Son, will never be thirsty.
Loving Father, to those of us who have been granted the gift of being mothers and grandmothers, let us not forget those for whom Mothering Sunday is a difficult day, rather than a celebration. We pray for those who may long for, or have longed for children, who are denied this experience. May they find fulfilment through knowing your love. We pray too for those who have never known their mother or whose mothers have died. We remember all mothers who share in Mary’s suffering of witnessing their child’s death. We pray for those who struggle with the way their children have chosen to live their lives. We pray for those who have a difficult relationship with their mother.
Heavenly Father, bless them with your love. May they have the comfort of knowing that your love for them is constant, your understanding perfect, your compassion never-ending. Loving God, we give you thanks for all who care for us, who encourage us and help us grow.
Living Lord, we pray for the needs of your whole world. We pray for those nations torn by conflict, violence and poverty and thirsting for knowledge of your love. May those who suffer know of your presence.
Heavenly Father we bring before you all those in this community who have asked for our prayers and who carry heavy burdens.
We remember too those whose anniversaries fall at this time and those who have died unknown to us but known and loved by you. Grant us, with all who have known you in their hearts, a share in your eternal kingdom.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.