The Mothering Church
I used to scour the shops for a card which celebrated Mothering Sunday rather than its relatively new incarnation, Mother’s Day now I just look for the most basic of cards.
But today was never meant to be solely about mothers; its original meaning was more about mothering. The day itself grew out of the medieval tradition of visiting the mother-church and taking an offering for presentation at the altar there. The fact that this was done at the mid-point of Lent made it something of a break in the penitential season. I’m not sure how many people fast in Lent nowadays, apart from giving up chocolate or pizza but, if you do, I hope you remember that Sundays don’t count!
That’s because every Sunday is a festival; every Sunday is a Day of Resurrection. But Midlenting Day, as it was called, was a special day-off, and was also known as Refreshment Sunday. It was only in Victorian times that this was developed into the custom of sons and daughters who lived and worked away from home joining their families for the day and bringing small gifts for their mothers.
So I wonder what gifts you gave, not easy with the virus restrictions but my own mum said she just wanted a phone call.... so that’s what she will get later. Today is a unique day in the year to give thanks for mothering itself, perhaps for ‘Mother Church’, and for our own mothers. But we have to acknowledge this is a day on which some people find very difficult. For some people this day underlines their silent, personal griefs and sorrows. Quiet tears will be shed by many on this day: tears for children who have died, for children who have rejected their parents, for the relationships that never happened, for the children that never were.
There will also be tears for mothers who have loved and been loved and are now sorely missed, but there will also be tears for some mothers who have may have loved too much and for some who have not loved at all. All in all, a day of mixed emotions.
Which brings us to today’s Gospel, John 19:25-27 Jesus' mother stood beside his cross with her sister and Mary the wife of Clopas. Mary Magdalene was standing there too. When Jesus saw his mother and his favourite disciple with her, he said to his mother, “This man is now your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “She is now your mother.” From then on, that disciple took her into his own home.
It provides a counterbalance against the risk of over-sentimentalising this day. Mary, Jesus’ mother, is often submerged by centuries of church tradition that can too easily overlook the fact she was a teenage girl, pregnant before her marriage; forced onto a long journey on the in the last stages of that pregnancy; compelled to flee with her betrothed and the baby as refugees to a foreign land.
Hardly the stuff of chocolates and roses and not found on any mother’s day card I’ve seen.
And it is only a few short weeks ago we celebrated Candlemas and heard the old prophet Simeon tell Mary that a sword would come to pierce her heart, a prophecy tragically fulfilled on that first Good Friday as Mary waited at the foot of the Cross and watched the awful agony of her dying son. Her mother’s love becomes an example for all our loving. She teaches us that love is vulnerable, that it suffers, that it takes risks.
Mothering Sunday, placed so near to Holy Week, reminds us that a relationship, any relationship, without pain is likely to be a relationship without love. In fact, if we love, then we put ourselves in the very path of pain and suffering. To love is to put yourself at risk, and your heart will sometimes be wrung, sometimes broken.
But we can’t wish it any other way, for we are made in the image of a God of love, and love, real love, costs, it is a very expensive commodity, and sometimes we may have to pay for it with the currency of our tears. I’ve no doubt that by the end of this time of Corona virus we will all know someone who had suffered and perhaps died because of it. We who have hindsight, we who live this side of Easter, know that the Cross proved to be the place of victory, and that after the apparent defeat of death came the flowering of new life. So if we want resurrection, if we want new life in our own lives and our relationships, then we must be prepared for the way of the Cross, because resurrection by definition can come only by way of pain and suffering, which the Cross represents. Mothering Sunday is a day to honour and celebrate all those who have provided mothering in its widest sense, in our lives. Even those people who may have had difficult relationships with their own mothers will nonetheless know those people, both women and men, who have been their companions, who have influenced, supported, nourished and guided them in their lives. Today’s very brief gospel brings together the themes of mothering and the passion of Jesus. It is an intensely moving episode as Jesus hangs on the cross, his mother and John, the beloved disciple, close by. John is the only male figure mentioned here; all the rest are women. The supposedly strong people, the men, had deserted him, and he was left with a handful of grieving women who, despite the awfulness of what they were witnessing, remained steadfast and faithful to the end. We can scarcely comprehend the emotional and psychological pain they must have felt.
Jesus takes this moment of agony to say something profoundly important to his mother he says, ‘Here is your son’, and to his close friend, ‘Here is your mother’. In other words, you have a responsibility to nourish and care for one another if you are to try to follow Jesus.
And that is just what we all need to do now for the best way to get through the next few months will be to focus our attention on others and their needs not our own. If we look inward we run the risk of becoming depressed, dragged down. So lets look outwards and seek to serve others to put others needs before our own. What binds Jesus’s followers together is the recognition of one another’s humanity and the need both to give and to receive love. This is a whole new way of relating to one another and it finds its origin and expression in the God whose very nature is love.
It has often been said that, in this moment, a new way of being family is born.
And we can then find a new and better way to be a church family.
Lets show our love and share it better not just with those we know but the stranger in the supermarket or with those we interact with on line. Be kind, be careful and be courageous.