What is the third most important day in the Christian church, behind Christmas and Easter? Pentecost? Epiphany? All Saint’s Day?
I read recently that for nonliturgical churches in the United States it is, wait for it . . . wait for it . . .
. . . Mother’s Day!
Curious as to how this came about, I did a little research. It turns out that Mother’s Day was started largely through the efforts of Anna Jarvis, who in 1905 swore on her mother’s grave that she would not rest until there was a national day to honor and respect the work of mothers. She succeeded when President Wilson signed a proclamation in 1914, establishing a national Mother’s Day.
Jarvis, however, became so upset over the commercialization of Mother’s Day, which she meant as a solemn remembrance that she sought to scrap this day that she had helped create. The idea that Mother’s Day has become a high festival day in worship would have astounded her. I confess that it puzzles me, as well.
Before I am tarred and feathered for taking on such a cherished institution, let me make it clear that in no way do I wish to denigrate this celebration. This year it was an especially moving and meaningful day for me as it was the first I have experienced in which I had no living mother to honor.
I also understand the need to contextualize our worship and our message so that they speak clearly to our audience in this time and place. I’m just wondering where secular holidays fit into our corporate worship.
I bring this up now because I sense a little tension around the church office as we approach Independence Day weekend. Apparently, there have been some passionate discussions here in the past on how to appropriately combine the Christian message with the secular context of a national holiday.
These discussions are necessary because we have enough holidays and celebrations in our society to overrun the entire church year. Does the church then celebrate Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, President’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, etc.?
It does beg the question of who decides exactly what a church is supposed to celebrate and when.
I come at this from the perspective of a Bible-based church. So it just seems right that our worship, our proclamation, and our priorities be Bible-based, rather than Hallmark-driven or popular sentiment-driven.
I look to the Biblical lectionary as my guide for worship and for proclamation. This does not preclude incorporating these celebrations into the sermon. In fact, it’s a good idea, so long as the references flow from the text and do not overwrite the text.
I’ve given sermons on Mother’s Day and Independence Day that dealt extensively with these holidays. But I’ve given other sermons that made no reference to the secular occasion because to do so would have distracted from rather than enlightened the proclamation.
For this year’s Independence weekend sermon, for example, I nixed the use of The Battle Hymn of the Republic because the grapes of wrath and the terrible swift sword strike a different theme than the awesome message of grace in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
The lectionary is not perfect. This year, Paul’s discussion of freedom and slavery came a week before Independence weekend. My sermon on that reading was rife with references to the Declaration of Independence and Patrick Henry, liberty and justice for all, and from every mountainside letting freedom ring.
Had I been on the ball, I would have switched the two weeks’ lectionary readings to better correspond with the cultural context.
The place where contextual references to the culture are always appropriate is in the prayers of the church. It is there that we recognize and emphasize the positive messages embedded within our cultural celebrations as reflections of God’s reign on earth.
As for the rest, I love my mother and I cherish the privilege of living in this country. But worship is always about God.