Sermon from Sunday 27th March – Mothering Sunday from Rev Trudy Arnold

Colossians 3: 12-17, John 19: 25b-27

To the majority of the world today is Mother’s Day.  This typically involves lavishing Mums with gifts and attention and celebrating the women who have nurtured us throughout our lives.  And it is great to spoil mum’s and give thanks to and for them.  But shouldn’t this be on any day, not just one day a year.  And, of course, it may not be mum that “mother’s” us.  Taking mothering to be the act of loving, caring, nurturing and protecting………

It can be anyone.  For some it may be dad as mum is no longer there.  It might be step-parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles neighbours, friends, even wives.  Let’s face it – our husbands and partners, like most men, need mothering their whole lives.  Ouch – think I hit a nerve there!  But with the day becoming increasingly commercialised, how many people are aware of its very different origins?  One of the traditions that has shaped Mothering Sunday into the celebration recognised today is The Journey to the Mother Church.  In the 16th century, Mothering Sunday was less about mothers and more about church.  Back then, people would make a journey to their ‘mother’ church once a year.  This might have been their home church, their nearest cathedral or a major parish church in a bigger town.  For some this was a major journey by foot or if you were rich, you might have a horse.  The service which took place at the ‘mother’ church symbolised the coming together of families.  If we look at Chelmsford cathedral as our mother church today, how many of us have actually been to a service there, or even just visited it?  Out of interest – a show of hands here….. has anyone here NEVER been to Chelmsford Cathedral?  I feel a pilgrimage to our cathedral might be an idea in the future!  Though we will go by car or coach – not on horse or on foot!  Another tradition around 3 centuries ago, was a day off to visit Mother.   It was to allow those working in the fields on wealthy farms and estates in England, apprentices and those who worked in service to have the day off on the fourth Sunday of Lent to visit their mothers and possibly go to church too.  This was a variation on the theme of visiting the ‘mother’ church and was a move towards a more family focused occasion.  Again, this was a major journey.  In some ways this tradition is still alive today as grown-up children often visit their parents on mothering Sunday.  Though most have an easier journey by car, bus or train. The modern Mothering Sunday owes its origin to an American lady Miss Anna Jarvis, who was so moved at the death of her mother in 1909 that she campaigned for a national day to celebrated motherhood.  In 1913 the American Senate and House of Representatives passed a resolution making the 2nd Sunday in May “Mother’s Day”. 

In World War 2 American Gi’s stationed in Britain brought this tradition with them complete with the giving of cards, gifts and flowers.  Our traditional Lenten Mothering Sunday absorbed the characteristics of the American Mother’s Day, and sadly that is the part the majority of people in the UK now follow today.  So, yes thank you for the history lesson, Trudy, I hear you thinking – but what about God.  Well first I think it is important for us to understand as a church and as Christians why we celebrate certain special days.  Our Church History if you like.  It is important to know how the church has arrived at where we are today.  And it’s important so that we are not taken in by the worldly traditions that might take us away from God.  But where does Jesus fit in to all this Mothering Sunday malarky?  How do the Bible readings we’ve just heard speak of “mothering”?  Well, if we think of Mothering as being the act of loving, caring, nurturing and protecting……

Then I think both our readings speak clearly and emphatically.  In St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we hear of a list of qualities that we can relate to the act of mothering.  And remember I’m talking of mothering – not being a mum specifically.  After all, sadly not everyone has the same experience of having a wonderful mum.  St Paul is talking about what Christians should clothe themselves in.  Not just demonstrate and live out, but clothe, wrap themselves in.  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Forgiveness and peace.  St Paul describes them as garments suitable for those who are becoming like Jesus.  Who profess to be followers of Jesus.  These qualities are to help us live in harmony with each other.  Compassion and humility may sound like weaknesses, but Jesus showed us in his own life that they are at the heart of God.  Paul emphasises forgiveness – as Jesus does.  Being forgiven by God and forgiving one another are inseparable.  And the most important item Paul tells us is love.  He imagines it as like an overgarment or belt.  Love unites all the other qualities.  Paul urges the Colossians, and indeed us, to let peace be the referee in relationships.  Jesus prayed that his followers would be united.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  Is what we hear Jesus says in John 17:20-21.  And he gave them his peace as a parting gift “Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  All these qualities, listed by St Paul sound like the act of “mothering” to me.  Now Paul does go on to say that as Christians we also need to be nourished by “the word of Christ”.  We need to encourage one another and have the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  We cannot achieve on our own or demonstrate these qualities in our own strength. 

We can try and would get so far with that – but in all honesty – we wouldn’t achieve it fully.  These things only develop fully in relationship with fellow Christian sisters and brothers in the church, the body of Christ, and in relationship with God.  And only as we give space for Jesus to dwell among us and give us his peace.  And in the Gospel reading from John where we hear Jesus giving his mother Mary in to the care of the beloved disciple John.  Though it isn’t written anywhere we presume that Joseph has died and Mary is alone.  Not a good position for a woman to be in at that time.  And so in his last earthly act, he makes sure his dear mother is looked after.  And he obviously entrusts her to the one whom he loves and trusts most.  Is that not what we would do or would have done for our mother?  Mary and John are not blood related mother and son, but Jesus gives them to each other.  John is not a replacement son for Mary.  Jesus will always be her son.  But Mary and John are given to each other to in love and compassion.  To care, love and have compassion for each other.  To “mother” each other.  And Jesus demonstrates that even in his dying breath he is not thinking of himself, but of others.  In itself is even that not an act of Mothering?  And in Mary, standing at the foot of the cross on which her son was dying a most horrific death, we can think of mothers, and those who mother, who have had to watch with their children as they suffer and sadly die.  We can think of those mothers and those who mother in places of war such as the Ukraine and Afghanistan and the many other places where to be a mother is filled with as much heartache as it is joy.  This may not seem like the jolliest of readings for Mothering Sunday.  But then mothering isn’t always easy and also involves sorrow and heartbreak.

So, we also recognise that today is difficult for many.

Those whose mother or mothering figure has died.

Those whose child or children have died.

Those who are not able to have children.

Those whose relationship with their child has broken down.

And yet!  Still let us give thanks for all those who have “mothered” or do “mother” us.  Let us give thanks to God, for that precious gift of mothering. 


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