Exodus 2:1-10, John 19.25b-27
May I speak in fear and trembling…
It’s hard to know the right thing to say on Mothering Sunday.. knowing full well the complexities of such an unusual day… (even more so as a man speaking!). We know and recognise that the word Mother evokes so many mixed feelings.. feelings of joy, hope, disappointment, pain, anger, sadness, grief, comfort, confusion.. I could go on and on…
Mothering Sunday always falls on the fourth Sunday of lent, the origin (as you may already know) is not about Mothers.. but actually mother church, the tradition of returning on Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday to your mother church.. a chance to return to family towns, neighbours, friends etc, a refreshment during the rigours of Lent.
Other names given to the fourth Sunday include Laetare Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday, Pudding Pie Sunday, Simnel Sunday and Rose Sunday. (Simnel Sunday is named after the practice of baking simnel cakes to celebrate the reuniting of families during the austerity of Lent)
But that’s not how we think mostly now… the meaning has become much more focussed on mothers, (a habit from America!) but that’s ok.. Because how we think about mothers still concerns God – God is, of course, written in to the script of mothering..
I want to hold to the complexities of this day and I want to truly acknowledge the mixed feelings… and in our desire to acknowledge the mothering traits in all people and in society it’s easy to slip the phrase “we are all mothers really..”
.. but that’s actually not true…. like we are not “all disabled”, nor are we “all a bit gay really”.. no these are unique experiences, stories written deep in heart and bodies and minds of individuals, which no one else can ever really experience and which say something so rich about the diversity and wonder of people on this planet…
Some people are mothers. Full stop. And this day we give thanks for them, and for what mothers mean to us for how they hold communities, societies, how they give and comfort and care and give and care and give again.. and we think about what we all learn and give within the name ‘mother’.
And now having said that, we can begin to acknowledge that mother-ing.. is a characteristic that does become universal.
The alternative reading for today was from Luke, Simeon speaking to the new mother Mary “a sword will pierce your heart” Words so sobering.. (and so familiar to all of us who in one way or another have been exposed to the pain that comes with love)
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand … a mother to a nation… grieving, sharing, leading, inspiring, being open, vulnerable, caring, showing strength within tears.
At the foot of the cross, four grieving women (two relatives, two disciples)… and one man. All beloved and loving… all exposed to the pain of love… and in this site of horror, in the sharing of grief.. something comes forth.. a new life, and new love, a new community. “Woman, Jesus says “here is your son” and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’
We might imagine this one man, alongside four weeping women, suddenly feels something break open within him.. the same sword piercing his own heart.. for a moment, he understands. Through the pain and the tears, this beloved disciple enters the same community of pain known by these women, these mothers. The disciple has a new family, formed in tears..
Love costs.. but love is worth everything; that’s the truth in these vivid stories. Love costs. Love gives, love costs, love gives…
To know the ache of love will never leave you, (but it does, in fact, complete you).
As I said at the beginning, the task of motherhood has the story of God woven though it… these are not just my word, witness Anselm of Canterbury (Archbishop 1093);
1 Jesus, like a mother you gather your people to you; you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
2 Often you weep over our sins and our pride, tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement
3 You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds, in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Anselm saw it, many mystics see it, modern saints and mothers and father and children see it too; that mothering and the holy.. are drawn together in an intricate flow of love…. Giving sharing and making a new world one moment at a time…
And here I’ll end with this powerful poem by Allison Woodard
“God Our Mother,” Allison Woodard, 28.9.17
To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.
To be a Mother is to say,
“This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
“This is my body, take and eat.”
To be a Mother is to self-empty,
To neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night—
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.”
To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and—when all is said and done—
To gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.
To be a mother is to be vulnerable—
To be misunderstood,
For the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe
To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in their returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.
To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
And injustice the next.
To be the Receiver of endless demands,
Absorber of perpetual complaints,
Reckoner of bottomless needs.
To be a mother is to be an artist;
A keeper of memories past,
Weaver of stories untold,
Visionary of lives looming ahead.
To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
And the first disregarded;
To be a Mender of broken creations,
And Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.
To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names,
Influencer of identities;
Gary S Collins