God is mother and father to us all

Mary Copping, 14 March 2021

Exodus 2: 1–10; Colossians 3: 12–17; John 19: 25b–27

Today is Mothering Sunday. Look at these beautiful flowers to celebrate this – thank you so much to Sarah Eadie for these.

Of course, Mothering Sunday can be difficult for many of us – those who’ve lost their mothers, those who haven’t been able to see them because of Covid, those who’d love to be mothers but can’t, and many other reasons. Yet we can take this day to remember a few good times with our own mothers or with those who have mothered us.

The idea of this day may have originated from a Roman spring festival, when the Romans celebrated the mother goddess, Cybele. And it may then have been Christianised by the churches at that time into remembering and celebrating the role of mothers.

Another idea is that in the days when Britain had a large number of churchgoers, they developed the habit of finding time once a year to visit the church where they were baptised. They made this annual pilgrimage to their mother church or home church. So the day they made the visit to worship there was later called Mothering Sunday.

It’s also believed that young people who were working for the rich as maids or servants were given a special day off on a Sunday (which was once a year) just to go and visit their mothers. Girls who were in service would bake a cake to show their mothers their new skills – a simnel cake. What’s more, as they walked home across the country, they would pick wild flowers to give to their mothers as a gift, and to take to church. This visit by young workers was later known as Mothering Sunday.

Such a wonderful history, which has sadly become very commercialised in recent times, but it’s still an opportunity to give thanks for our mothers and for others who have mothered us.

What is unique about this celebration is the way it’s labelled – in the Anglican Communion, called Mothering Sunday, whereas outside the church especially the card companies call it Mothers’ Day. Calling it Mothering Sunday makes it a day to give thanks for the care of the Church and for all who mother us, and to reflect on God’s loving nature and the mothering of God.

As we’re told in Genesis (1: 27), ‘God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them’. That is, that man and woman were made in the image of God. God is mother and father to us all.

In Luke’s gospel we’re told that Jesus said, as he looked at Jerusalem: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.’ Here we clearly see a feminine image, an aspect of God that is loving and protective. He cares for us as much as a mother hen cares for her chicks. He also helps us and teaches us as mother birds teach their young to fly.

So with us, as we go through difficult times – great changes in our lives, as through this pandemic – God is with us and giving us what we need to somehow get through it, and learning much through it as well. A lovely image of God’s loving protection of us all as his children. Not bringing us out of difficulty, not making things easy for us, but lovingly helping us through it and concerned for us in it.

God’s loving protection of us all as his children – not bringing us out of difficulty, but lovingly helping us through.

For a parent, as the child gets older the parent allows the child more freedom to make their own decisions – even though the parent may think that these might be the wrong decisions. But then the parent being there when things go wrong. Someone described these years, when the children are teenagers, as having responsibility without control (for the parents). A very scary situation, but necessary. A parent’s job is to help their son or daughter to be independent and able to make their own decisions as they go into the world.

I wonder if God feels this way about his world – responsibility without control. He has given us free will to make our own decisions, but often we do make the wrong ones, don’t we? But he’s always there to help us, loving and caring as a mother hen, bringing us under his wing.

John Wesley, Methodist and revivalist, had a very supportive mother. His father, Samuel Wesley, was rector of the parish of Epworth in Lincolnshire and in 1709 the rectory was completely destroyed by fire. John was just six years old at the time and was rescued from an upstairs window. From that time on, the conviction grew in the family that he’d been spared for a special purpose.

His mother Susanna saw the fire as being a sign from God concerning young John and she vowed to care for the soul of her child. Susanna was a brilliant teacher. In September 1724 she wrote to John, ‘I heartily wish you were in Holy Orders’. She was very influential in his life and would have been praying much for her son.

When Jesus was taken into the temple as a baby, Simeon spoke blessings over him but also said of Mary, ‘A sword will pierce through your own soul too’. I wonder if she remembered these words when she stood at the foot of the cross? Sometimes the life of a mother is full of pain and sorrow as well as joy.

Our gospel reading this morning gives us a wonderful sign of Jesus’ caring attitude towards his mother, his response to all the wonderful care his mother had given him over his very short life, and recognition of the pain she was going through at that time. But through his own pain he spoke to John, from the cross, asking him to take care of his mother. What a caring son Jesus was!

Some find Mothering Sunday hard. But at what can be for all a time of some sadness and reflection, we remember God’s love and care for us, as a mother. We are God’s precious children. God shares our joy and our pain, giving us strength and comfort for our Christian journey.

So we give thanks for the mothering of God; we give thanks for mothers everywhere. We thank God for the mothering we have seen over this pandemic – kindness, care and love in so many ways that are often not seen in ordinary times. Let’s ask God to help us to continue to care for and mother those around us who need this care, and to be thankful to all those who have shown mothering to us. Amen.