Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mothering Sunday

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Mothering Sunday, perhaps known more popularly these days as Mothers' Day. It is commonly celebrated with, at the very least, the sending of a card or the making of a long distance phone call, perhaps some flowers, or even lunch in a nice restaurant. Those whose children are still small may be obliged to smile and pretend amazement and delight as they are presented with a breakfast in bed consisting of burnt toast, weak tea, and a plate of eggs which it is impossible to decide if they are scrambled, an omelette, or particularly broken and battered fried ones. That this was most likely prepared by her loving husband on behalf of their children only adds to the joy of the occasion.

Interestingly, Mothering Sunday had little to do with our flesh and blood biological mothers originally, except almost as an accidental afterthought. It began with the practice of returning to one's 'Mother Church' – either the local cathedral, or some large church in the area – on the fourth Sunday of Lent. To do so was to have gone 'a-mothering.' The idea of seeing the Church as a mother to the children of God is quite an ancient one; as is shown by the statement of the third century bishop of Carthage St Cyprian 'you cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.' In order to allow people to go a-mothering, many people who worked away from home, particularly servants, were given the Sunday off; naturally enough they took advantage of the visit to their home parish to spend some time with their family, especially their mothers, perhaps picking some wild flowers along the road home for to present her with, and so what was originally a religious holiday grew into what we have today, which is really more of a sweet occasion on which we celebrate motherhood.

So, as I said earlier, the connection between Mothering Sunday and actual mothers came about almost by accident. But perhaps it was inevitable that that connection should be made. After all, just as the symbolism of the words 'Our Father' in the Lord's Prayer would have little impact if it were not for the importance that biological fathers have in the life of their children, so also the concept of the Church being as a mother to us would be devoid of meaning if it were not for the special bond that exists between a mother and her child. The uniqueness of that bond is beautifully expressed in the words I have heard so often spoken to bereaved adult children at the funeral of their mothers 'you only have one mother.' The meaning behind the words are clear: 'it is understandable for you to grieve now, even though you are grown yourself, and perhaps your children are grown; and this woman was of a great age, and her passing was a happy release for her; despite all that, there is nothing wrong with your grief, for this was your mother, and she is now gone from you. This is someone with whom you had a relationship of a kind you can have with no other. For she bore you within her very body for many months; her blood and your blood were one, her heartbeat your first lullaby; in pain that she welcomed she brought you forth into the world; and fed you with the milk of her own body. She was the one you cried out for when frightened in the night; she was the one who cared for you all the years when you could not care for yourself; and even when you could, she did not cease to love you up until the moment of her last breath and heartbeat. It is a love that you will carry with you to your own grave; even as she has carried that love for you from this life to the next.'

It is that understanding of what our mother truly is to us that underpins the idea of the church being like a mother to us. For the role of the Church is to nurture God's children from the moment they are born into the church-family all through the journey of faith that is their life until the moment when they pass from the ranks of the Church militant here on earth into the ranks of the Church triumphant in heaven. The Church is the body of Christ, and it was Christ himself who said that he longed to gather the children of Jerusalem together, as a mother-hen gathers her chicks under her wings. The Church is the new Jerusalem as we are told in Revelation. And so this Mothering Sunday, even as we show extra appreciation to our earthly mothers, or hold in our prayers those mothers who have gone before us, let us also remember with love and gratitude our Mother the Church, that body which was founded by Christ himself to nurture us all our days. Amen

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