Suggestions for Celebrating Women

On the 9th of August in South Africa we remember more than 20 000 South African women of all races who, in 1956, marched peacefully to the Union Buildings in protest against the tyranny of apartheid – many with children upon their backs.

Celebrating their nobility, bravery and solidarity becomes a profound moment of acknowledging the feminine image of God who creates and nurtures and transforms, of affirming the part that each woman plays in God’s unfolding salvation story, and praying for those who bring us into life – often in the most difficult of circumstances.

Below are some Scripture suggestions and prayers written specifically for a service that longs to emphasise the power and place of women – God’s beautiful beloved.

Call to Worship – Psalm 131 – God, our mother
Lord, my heart is not proud;
I don’t look down on others.
I don’t do great things,
and I can’t do miracles.

But I am calm and quiet,
like a baby with its mother.
I am at peace, like a baby with its mother.

People of Israel, put your hope in the Lord
now and forever.

Prayers of praise, presence and confession
O labouring God who held us in the hidden depths of your heart’s longing and mind’s wild imagining before bringing forth into being the wondrous beauty of earth and sky and sea,
we put our hope in you – now and forever. 

O affirming God who declares the goodness of each Word-birthed, Spirit-breathed creation, and the nobility of each man and woman that you make from scratch in your image
we put our hope in you – now and forever. 

O accompanying God who draws near day after day and moment after moment with outstretched hand to walk and talk, to laugh and dance, to work and play with those you have uniquely named your “beautiful beloved,”
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

O embracing God who demonstrates the length and breadth and height and depth of your great love through the self-offering and sacrifice of your own son –
a far cry from our stubbornness and selfishness and superficial ways,
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

O nurturing God who comforts and consoles us when we falter, when we fall, when we fail and guides and strengthens us when we dare and dream and strive,
we put our hope in you – now and forever.

Indeed, O mothering God, we love you
and we long to place ourselves in your arms this day and every day;
to be cradled there as peacefully and securely as a baby with its mother.

Forgive us for the pride, the greed, the fears, and the ambitions
that keep us from your embrace.
Soothe the worries, the wounds, the doubts, and the demands
that intrude upon the sacred quiet of this moment.
Open our eyes to the beauty and the abundance 
of your love, your compassion, your grace.

And bless in this time of remembrance and celebration every woman who has been a living expression of your labouring, affirming, accompanying, embracing and nurturing nature.

<naming> 

In Jesus’ name.

Scripture readings: The Crimson Cord – Rahab’s story
Old Testament – Joshua 2 and 6:22-25
New Testament – Matthew 1:1-6,17

Prayers of intercession
O transforming God who not only shares our story
but has the capacity to change the plot in surprising ways
we pray, this day, for the women that you have named and know –
the women in our family, in our community, our country, and the whole wide world:

for the Hannahs who have given up hope of ever having a child of their own,
and the Hagars who have no safe, welcoming space to call home,
for the Tamars who have known only rape and violation,
and the Leahs who have always felt inadequate and unwanted,
for the Rahabs who sell body and soul to make ends meet,
and the Ruths who leave everything behind them to face an uncertain future,
for the Esthers who gently work for the good of others,
and the Miriams who lead your people in unrestrained worship,
for the Abigails who speak peace into conflict,
and the Deborahs you raise up to speak truth to the tyrant,
for the Marys who long to spend life at your feet,
and the Marthas who are always worrying about what must still be done,
for the Dorcas’s who dedicate their lives to doing good,
and the Lydias who open up their homes in abundant hospitality –

infuse them with your wisdom,
encircle them with your love,
empower them with your presence,
that they may know in the very depths of their being
their beauty and their belovedness,
Amen.  

Communion prayer
O life-giving God, as we come to your table, we remember
that we are all sinners, equally in need of your mercy and compassion:
free us from the power of sin and death through your body and your blood.

We remember that no one is unwanted or excluded from your love, nor should be from ours:
Bind us together through your goodwill and your grace.

We remember that through you, our lives are deeply significant and full of surprises:
Lead us into new ways of being through your servanthood and surrender.

We remember that through your generosity we are bound to an eternity beyond our imagination:
Anchor us in your promises and your peace.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Benediction
O sustaining God may the perfect peace and power of this moment spill over
into the busyness and the routine of our daily lives
and may we ever seek the warmth and comfort of your all-embracing arms,
now and forever. Amen.

***

~Featured image: Ruth and mother-in-law Naomi by painter Sandy Freckleton Gagon

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