Thankful for our own mothers, for Mother Church and for Mary, mother of Jesus
Peter Seal, 31 March 2019
Colossians 3: 12–17; John 19: 25b–27
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 mothers – for all that was good and lovely and selfless in them. As well as giving thanks, we may almost certainly 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 ‘Mothers’ Day’ which is just fine as far as it goes! For Christians, there’s a bigger picture as we celebrate what we call Mothering Sunday. The distinction and the difference are important. As well as giving thanks for our mothers, we do two other things: we give thanks for ‘Mother Church’; and we give thanks 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, of course, 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 a mother tenderly gathers her children so God embraced a people of his own’. Within the embrace of Mother Church everyone is uniquely loved and precious in God’s sight. Here 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 – for those who call themselves Christian, and for 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’.
Thirdly, 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 – in her womb – the Son of God. Mary’s response is both a model and an inspiration for all who seek to respond anew to God’s will for each of us.
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’. 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.
Many, many mothers can identify with Mary’s pain at the foot of the cross, as her son died.
There are so many example of pain in our world. On this Mothering Sunday, we’re reminded 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 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 – for that is where the human family finds its true birthplace. It’s there at the foot of the Cross that we picture our crucified and now dead Lord, taken down and held in the arms of his weeping mother. 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.