You are uniquely loved and precious

Peter Seal, 26 March 2017

Colossians 3: 12–17; John 19: 25b–27

We might ask, ‘What’s new this Mothering Sunday?’ For me the answer includes three things.

First, the Westminster terrorist attack. The teacher who died leaves a husband and two children who no longer have a mother; today is particularly tough for them. And then the police officer – I imagine his mother is still alive. So there’s a mother who has lost her son.

Second, on Friday night I watched some of the TV coverage of Children in Need. The terrible famine in places including Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen was featured, with heart-rending stories of loss and bereavement, and of so many children without their mothers and mothers without their children.

And then third, just yesterday at the Pico Players concert in St Paul’s, the lead person organising it told me of a friend killed in a car crash in Zimbabwe the night before – a gifted and talented doctor doing pioneering medical work, whose loss will be keenly felt by many.

Today is wonderful for those who can give thanks with hearts that don’t know great pain and sorrow, but for many other people today is at best bittersweet.

From the letter to the Colossians we heard: ‘Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’. We can imagine these words on the lips and in the hearts of many mothers. We can imagine them saying to themselves, ‘In everything I do as a mother, whether enjoyable or not, I’m going to keep those wonderful words close to me’.

It’s good to pause today and give thanks for our own birth mothers: for all that was good and lovely and selfless in them. As well as giving thanks, we’re almost certainly likely to want to say sorry to our mothers – and it may be that we need to hear them saying sorry to us.

For most people, today is known as ‘Mother’s Day’ which is, of course, just fine as far as it goes! For Christians there’s a bigger picture as we celebrate ‘Mothering Sunday’. The distinction and the difference are important. As well as giving thanks for our mothers, we give thanks for what we call ‘Mother Church’, and for Mary, mother of Jesus – the mother of our Lord and Saviour.

The church as mother: we each come here as a child; a child of God, sharing the same heavenly Father. God the Father is the one from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. We are, naturally, individuals from different earthly families, but for one another as Christians we are brother and sister. Remembering the church as mother reminds us of how God mothers us: as Isaiah wrote, ‘As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you’ (Isaiah 66: 13).

The church as mother: we each come here as a child; a child of God, sharing the same heavenly Father … For one another as Christians we are brother and sister.

Within the embrace of Mother Church everyone is uniquely loved and precious in God’s sight. Here, together, in this place, surrounded by love and prayer, we find an unconditional welcome. Together we are strong, even when life is hard and we feel weak and vulnerable.

In every age, in every place, the purpose of the parish church is to keep ‘the rumour of God’ alive; to be in the middle of life – both for those who call themselves Christian and those who do not. The doorway of our church can be likened to the entrance to the empty tomb. We are called to keep ‘the door of the empty tomb’ wide open in people’s hearts and minds.

Lastly, we come to give thanks for Mary, the mother of Jesus. She knew the joys and pains of motherhood. It was Mary who was open to God’s call. With childlike trust she accepted the unique responsibility of bearing the Son of God in her womb. Mary’s response is both a model and an inspiration for all who seek to respond anew to God’s will. It was Mary who let the aged Simeon hold her precious baby, only to hear from him, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many … and a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (Luke 2: 34–35).

On this fourth Sunday in Lent, we are preparing for that soul-piercing. Many, many mothers can identify with Mary’s pain at the foot of the cross as her son died. The pain of the loss of a son or daughter, as a child or adult, is an excruciating, indescribable pain. There are so many examples of pain in our world.

This Mothering Sunday reminds us vividly that we all live in this one world, mysteriously linked to one another. Compassion for the suffering and sorrow of others knows no boundaries. For many, many people, Mothering Sunday brings pain and loss right to the surface in all its fleshy rawness. It is the task of the church to live with this pain and at the same time to reach through and beyond it, filled with love and trust in God’s good purposes.

Good Friday lies ahead of us, when again we are drawn with blessed Mary and beloved John to the foot of the cross. It is a privilege to be there. It’s there at the foot of the cross that we picture our crucified and now dead Lord, taken down from the cross and held in the arms of his weeping mother. It’s there at the foot of the cross that the community of the church is born.

As she held him at the very beginning of his earthly life as a vulnerable, dependant baby, so now she holds him again. And yet beyond the pain of that day, replicated every day for so many people as they suffer their own pain and loss, lies the extraordinary life-giving experience of resurrection.

Indescribable joy and fullness of healing are what we Easter people are all about. Jesus’ victory over pain, sadness and death itself is for all people, for time and for eternity.