Mothering Sunday 2020
“When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby he said to his mother ‘Dear woman here is your son’ and to the disciple ‘here is your mother’. From that time on , this disciple took her into his home”
No matter how many times I read those words they never fail to move me and perhaps even more so today we celebrate a very different sort of Mothering Sunday.
Normally we would worship together, posies would be distributed and many of us would spend time with family and friends, thankful for the love that we have received not necessarily just from our mothers but also from those women in our lives who have nurtured us and have provided us with positive role models. We would indeed have taken those women into our homes just as John took Mary in but today for the majority of us that is just not possible which is a matter of great sadness.
I am very conscious that Mothering Sunday can be a challenging day for many at the best of times. Many miss the presence of their mother, or indeed their children, in their lives for a variety of reasons, some may still be mourning the loss of that person, some sadly may never have experienced what it means to be a mother or to receive the love of a mother and all of those are painful places to be that we need to be sensitive to.
In common with many Christian festivals, Mothering Sunday has its origins in a pagan celebration, in this case of the mother goddess, Cybele.
After Constantine converted to Christianity, the Roman Empire began to celebrate it as a Christian Festival honouring the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mother Church.
In this country a practice evolved of giving domestic servants the day off on the fourth Sunday of Lent so that they could go home and see their own mothers – often the only day of the year when families could come together.
However, by the mid-20th-century, the celebration of Mothering Sunday had lapsed in the UK and was actually revived by American soldiers who came to Europe to fight during World War II. The US troops celebrated it on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, but as it became more widely celebrated in this country, this reverted to the 4th Sunday in Lent.
It’s purpose has also evolved as has how it is known with the majority of the population referring to today as Mother’s Day rather than Mothering Sunday which is its correct name in the Christian calendar. The more cynical among us may also view it as being over commercialised and indeed under normal circumstances there would be a proliferation of flowers and chocolates and many other mum themed gifts to be had in our shops.
But if we can step away from all the flowers and chocolates and reflect on the deeper significance of today it is possible to consider it in the context of a beautiful and thought-provoking Sunday in the midst of our Lent journey and indeed our Gospel reading can help us find a way through that.
Here, in John 19:25-27, two events are brought together: the creative pain of motherhood and the creative pain of the crucifixion where salvation was won for us all.
Initially we are confronted by the sheer agony of this moment. A dying son. A bewildered friend. A mother whose heart is breaking.
Mary knew what it was to suffer. Mary suffered when she gave birth in a filthy stable, far from home. Mary suffered when she heard that Herod wanted to kill her baby. Mary suffered when she was forced to become a refugee in Egypt. Mary suffered as she watched a whole nation misunderstand and taunt her son. And here, at the foot of the cross, Mary suffers again as she watches her treasured son being crucified for a crime he has not committed.
We can’t even begin to imagine the pain in her heart – how her soul was being torn apart that day.
It wasn’t so long ago that we were celebrating Epiphany. Do you remember the story of Simeon, who had seen Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus at the Temple? In Luke 2:33, Simeon said to Mary: “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God, which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” And now, at the foot of the cross, perhaps Mary’s mind traveled back 33 years to that moment and Simeon’s prophecy finally made sense to her.
And, as Mary thinks about her son, so Jesus thinks about his mother. He knows how much she is suffering and in the midst of his own pain he is aware that, after his own death, there would be no-one to care for his mother.
Even in his dying moments, Jesus’ concern was for the future well-being of his family.
Yet it wasn’t to his family that Jesus entrusted his mother. We know that he had four brothers – James, Joseph, Simon and Judas – and some sisters who are not named and we can probably assume that at least some of them were still alive. Surely one of them could have looked after their mum into old age?
But Jesus doesn’t pursue that option and there is surely some significance in that choice
There is something quite profound about what Mary and the disciple John represent to us here. Here are two people who are there with Jesus at the foot of the cross. Two people who believe in his mission. Two people who believe in his claim to be the Son of God, the Lord and Saviour of the world. This is in stark contrast to Jesus’ brothers. In John 7:5, we are told “Not even his brothers believed in him.”
So it seems that what is happening here, between Jesus the Saviour and the two people at the foot of the Cross who believe in him, is that a new family is being created. A new family is created in the shadow of the cross. Through the blood of Christ shed for us, a new home, a new community comes to life. A new family is born.It is here, at the foot of the cross, as Jesus sheds his blood and a woman embraces a young man and a young man embraces a woman – it is here that the church is formed! It is here that we are taught that family, that motherhood is far more that a shared DNA.
And that is echoed in our Old Testament reading from Exodus when Pharaoh’s daughter discovers a tiny baby hidden in a basket of reeds on the banks of the Nile and so Moses, as she calls him, is adopted into a family with whom he shares no common ancestry.
It feels so strange for us not to be sharing the Eucharist today. We are learning a new way of being church but one thing remains the same. We continue to be a family. We continue to participate in the work that Jesus started that day: the formation and deepening of the church. We continue to proclaim the same truth that was acted out that first Good Friday.
We are blood relatives – not through our blood but through Jesus’s blood, shed on the cross for us all. Regardless of whether we are able to be physically together or not we remain his disciples, we are still charged with the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel, we just need to find different ways of doing so.
I am not going to pretend that it will be easy. I feel that we are at the start of a very long haul and we need to pace ourselves. Our way of being church will, I am sure, evolve as the weeks pass.
Mary and John formed the church in their relationship with each other. They offered one another comfort. They strengthened each other. They encouraged one another and shared hospitality together. And that is what we must continue to do today and in the days to come
These must remain the hallmarks of our church: Love, Comfort, Support and Hospitality. This is what Jesus had in mind when he formed the church from the Cross that first Good Friday.
So through scripture we can see that Mothering Sunday is so much deeper than we might at first imagine. Yes it is a time to celebrate the love of our mothers and indeed all those who have fulfilled that role in our lives, regardless of their blood relationship, or lack of it, regardless of their gender or age.
But it is also a time to give thanks for the Church, formed in the blood of Christ at the foot of the cross. Church: where we find comfort and support and encouragement and love and hospitality.
In these uncertain days it is the knowledge of that love and comfort and support that we sustain us. It will be that encouragement and hope that will strengthen us. We remain the children of God, we remain a family and we remain loved to our very core by the one in whom our faith and trust continue.