Mothering Sunday Silliness

ImageMothering Sunday
also known as
Laetare Sunday or Holy Humour Sunday


This Sunday’s ‘sermon’ was a series of jokes & silly stories spread throughout the service, so here there are with notes on the order & context (and without the ad-libbed jokes and conversations with the children).


Today is Mothering Sunday, but It has an even older name than that, that’s Laetare Sunday.  Laetare comes from the Latin for the first word of the traditional collect for the day (Rejoice). It is also known as “Refreshment Sunday”. It was a day when, and the purple vestments of Lent could be replaced with rose coloured ones. A special kind of fruit cake was often served on this Sunday modestly breaking the Lenten Fast.

The service on Laetare Sunday would be upbeat and joyful – the other Sundays in Lent being quite solemn.  Its as if the joy of our faith just has to burst out…

In some places this Sunday is called “Bright Sunday” or, in America, “Holy Humour Sunday”

Why holy humour? Humour is found from the beginning to the end of the Bible.  We’ve heard the joke about trying to remove the speck from your neighbour’s eye when you have a log in your own so often that we have forgotten its funny…  

Voltaire once wrote: “God is a comedian playing to an audience that’s afraid to laugh.”

I want to begin today by telling you about a philosophical debate.  Its an apocryphal tale from the Middle Ages.  But there’s something almost biblical about it in how it makes you think about things even as it amuses:

It seems that the Pope, under pressure from all the Cardinals, decided that all the Jews had to leave Rome.  Naturally there was a big uproar from the Jewish community.  So the Pope made a deal.  He would have a religious debate with a member of the Jewish community.  If the Jew won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave.  

The Jews realised that they had no choice.  So the elders of the people picked a respected Rabbi to represent them.  Once the Cardinals had arranged the debate they were horrified to realise that it was set for the season of Lent, when this particular Pope always took a vow of silence.  The Pope and the Rabbi agreed to hold the debate in silence.

The day of the great debate came. The Rabbi and the Pope sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.   The Rabbi looked back at him and raised one finger. 

The Pope waved his fingers in a circle around his head.  The Rabbi firmly pointed to the ground.

The Pope pulled out a loaf of bread and a glass of wine and he broke the bread and ate, then sipped the wine.  The Rabbi pulled out an apple and took a bite from it. 

The Pope then stood up and said, “I give up.  This man is too good.  The Jews can stay in Rome as long as they want.”  

An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Pope asking him what had happened. 

The Pope said, “First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity.  He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions.  Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us and is Lord over the church.  He responded by pointing to the ground and reminding me that God may be all around, but God was also right here with us and is God of the Jews as well as of the church.  I broke bread and drank wine to show that God absolves us from our sins.  The rabbi ate of the apple to remind me of original sin and how it still affects us.  He had an answer for everything. What could I do?”

Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around the Rabbi. “What happened?” they asked. 

“Well,” said the Rabbi, “First he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of here.  I told him that not one of us was leaving.  Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of Jews.  I let him know that we were staying right here.” 

“And then?” asked a woman.   

“I don’t know,” said the Rabbi, “He took out his lunch and I took out mine – and now we can stay as long as want”

I read about a young minister who, while he was still single preached a sermon he entitled, “Rules for Raising Children.” After he got married and had children of his own, he changed the title of the sermon to “Suggestions for Raising Children.” When his children got to be teenagers, he stopped preaching on that subject altogether.

All families are different, all mothers and methods of mothering are different.  Some mothers work in employment, some work in the home, some bring up children on their own some live in extended families…  All families are different, but one thing is an important ingredient in the life of all these sorts of families, and that is humour.  I think most mothers would go made if they couldn’t laugh at life’s quirks and misunderstandings.  I told the story of the Rabbi and the Pope’s misunderstanding, but the misunderstandings of families and children, if greeted with a sense of humour are what can make a family joyful.

For example, a Sunday School teacher asked her little children, as they were on the way to church service, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”


So how do we link the Laughter of Laetare Sunday with the Mothering Sunday that we all have come to expect?

Well’ I’ve already done it a little talking about laughter being an important ingredient of family life.

But I’d also like us to look at our reading…  In it Abraham and Sarah, an old childless couple are told they are going to have a child.  Sarah is too old to have a child and she laughs.

This laughter is so important that they call their child Isaac, which means laughter.

God always challenges us with the absurdities of life

Isaac is one of the great three forefathers of the faith, one of the ancient friends of God we call “Patriarchs” – he was named laughter.  And Sarah, one of the great foremothers of our faith is the one who laughed.

Laughter is a key ingredient in the family tree of our faith.

And laughter is a key ingredient in our family lives.  So as its mother’s day, I want you all to tell your mother or carer a joke today to make her laugh.  If you don’t know any jokes find one out over tea and coffee…

A read about a Church in America, called the Faith Temple Church, Sioux Falls, outside they put up a sign that read: “We welcome all denominations — $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100.”

I’m telling you this because a collection will be taken during the next hymn

The next prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving.  Like the grace – or prayer some people say before a meal.

A woman invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say grace?”

“I wouldn’t know what to say,” the little girl replied.

“Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the mother said.

The little girl bowed her head and said: “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

Our prayer in Church this morning is quite different, and we all join in the words in bold

Before the dismissal, a final piece of advice to the mothers gathered here today.  Despite coming to this joyful service, if you still have a lot of tension and you get a headache this Mothering Sunday, I suggest you do what it says on the aspirin bottle:
Take two,…. and keep away from children

And if you have found this whole service just too silly, please join in the closing response with gusto.

Leader: May the light of Christ light up your life!

All:        And up yours!


Published by tadonnelly

Priest, Campaigner for Inclusion & Horror Writer. As a Priest I'm Vicar of the Church of the Ascension, Blackheath and Holy Trinity, Deptford. ( ) I edit the Newsletter of Inclusive Church ( ) I am the author of the international best(ish)-selling Wild Strawberry Trilogy ( available in paperback or digital download from Amazon )

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