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Quiet Days at a distance - Prodigal Son

Posted by Lucy Moore on 02 Mar 2020

Quiet days at a distance – the parable of the prodigal son

‘God who celebrates’ and Messy Church

Six of us recently spent a morning looking at the parable of the prodigal son, thinking about the theme ‘God who celebrates’ and how this might be relevant to Messy Church at this time. Although a very well-known story, I think we were all surprised at how many different ideas and thoughts about the whole theme of ‘celebration’ emerged as we immersed ourselves in the story. 

Here is a brief summary of a few of those thoughts:

  • Although the word ‘celebrate’ occurs four times in the NIV version, it only appears once in The Message, where the phrases ‘wonderful time’ and ‘feast’ are used instead – both good words to use when thinking of Messy Church with its space to be, time to think, wonder and eat and its sense of fun and rejoicing.
  • Food is crucial to the story: the younger son is driven by hunger and the older son is also motivated by food and its symbolism – we may well have people in our Messy Churches whose lives are driven by hunger, and this is yet another reminder of the centrality and importance of eating together and all that this symbolises at Messy Church.
  • The celebration in the story is for the father, not for the son – it’s the father’s contentment that leads to celebration: he isn’t even really listening to the son, he just wants to get on and celebrate. The image of the father running towards the son is a very striking one, not least because that would have been a most undignified thing for a man of his age and status to do. For people at Messy Church who may have little sense of self-worth, the idea of someone running towards them because he loves them and he wants to celebrate with them is a very powerful one.
  • The word 'celebration' conjures up dancing, singing, music, playfulness, games, joy, food and laughter, and reminds us that we have a God who takes 'great delight in you’ (Zephaniah 3:17). Delight is a very attractive word; it is also a childlike quality and an experience guaranteed to please both young and old and, as such, should be something that is much in evidence at Messy Church.
  • There is a surprise element in celebration – the younger son was certainly surprised by the welcome-home celebration he received. We need to have our eyes and ears open to celebrate what God is doing in and through Messy Church, even when this happens in unexpected ways.

We thought more specifically about how we could build elements of celebration into all parts of Messy Church, not just the ‘celebration’ slot. Once again, here are a few of our thoughts:

  • Welcome and talk to everyone who comes in, both newcomers and regulars, so as to model a modified form of the father’s welcome to the son.
  • Look to celebrate and praise people in as many ways as possible: for their crafts, activities, achievements, birthdays and other significant events; treat people like celebrities.
  • Celebrate God’s story by telling it over the activities.
  • Equip people who come to Messy Church to embark with you on a deep and messy adventure that explores the good news and all the joy it brings.
  • Give thanks for the food and the cooks.
  • Add a party element to the meal – table cloths, serviettes, birthday cakes and so on.
  • Cultivate an attitude of gratitude – encourage prayers of thanks in your pre-Messy Church prayer time, and name three things to be thankful for that happened at Messy Church that day before you leave and do this with others on the team.

We finished our time together by praying this short prayer:

‘Lord, please speak to me now about one way in which I can live the next 24 hours with greater celebration. Amen.’