Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mothering Sunday

May my words be in the name of the Holy & undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

As this is laetare Sunday, I thought I might preach a fairly light-hearted sermon today … Lae-what? I hear some of you say? Lae-ta-re … meaning in Latin 'Be joyful' … this is the 4th Sunday in Lent, roughly the half-way point in the season … and traditionally by way of encouraging people for all the austerities that they had been practising up until now, they got to take a little break & cheer things up a little bit … and so flowers were allowed back to decorate the altar … music, which was traditionally banned during this season, was played … even the liturgical colour changed, going from the sombre purple to a more light-hearted 'rose' colour … & if we don't keep up with those traditions very well any more, perhaps it is because we don't take Lent as seriously as they did in times gone by and we don't feel the need for a break in the same way that they did!

Now I'm sure some of you are thinking at this point, what's all this Laetare stuff? I thought today was Mothering Sunday? Well today is also called that … but have you ever stopped to wonder why we have a mothering Sunday, when we don't have special day in the church calendar for any other relatives? There's no fathering Sunday, or uncle-ing or aunt-ing Sunday … no cousin-ing … and if we were going to pick a relative, why not brother-ing or sister-ing, given the emphasis in the New Testament on how we are all brothers and sisters in Christ?

Well, the clue is in today's Gospel reading, where we see the Mother of our Lord at the foot of the Cross with the beloved disciple … & if you looked at the other Mothering Sunday reading which the lectionary gives us as an alternative, you would find that it also has Mary in it – in that case the passage from Luke where the prophetess Phanuel tells Mary that a sword will also pierce her heart …

The readings suggest that there is very much a Marian character to this festival … that the title 'mothering' refers not to the secular (or non-church version of Mother's Day) but the sacred …

And in fact, this festival began as just that: a festival of Mary, as mother of us all who have been baptised into her Son, Jesus Christ … and also a festival of the church's role as mother, how it nurtures us and cares for us … the impetus for there being a festival of mothering began in the early days of the church … the ancient Romans had a festival in March in honour of the mother goddess Cybele, who was connected with the earth & fruitfulness … our early brothers and sisters in Christ while they thought it a good idea to do away with the pagan festival, nonetheless thought it a good idea to have their own festival, honouring both Mary and the Church, and so we ended up with Laetare Sunday … so named from the entrance antiphon traditionally used on this Sunday which begins 'laetare Jurusalem' O be joyful Jerusalem … Jerusalem, of course, being the mother city of the Christian faith.

Many customs grew up around this Sunday … and with all the references to motherhood, it is not perhaps surprising that the custom of honouring our earthly mothers also came to be seen as appropriate. Initially the term 'mothering Sunday' came from the practice of going 'a-mothering' which was when people went either to the mother church of their diocese on this Sunday, or for those living away from home, returning to visit their own mother church, their parish church, on this Sunday … and as for most people in the old days this might be the only chance to visit their homes and families in the entire year, the custom also grew up of bringing some small gift home to mother, even if it was only as simple as picking her some of the flowers that grew along the roadside as they made the long journey home on foot.

But – and I think this can not be stressed enough – what we celebrate in church on mothering Sunday is not mother's day … Mother's day is a secular American idea … and worthy as that idea is, we do not make secular events part of our church calendar … what we are celebrating is the idea of mothering … an ideal of mothering drawn from the perfect mothering of the Blessed Virgin Mary for her Son … and the image of mothering as presented to us in the love and care we receive from the Church as our metaphorical mother …

This reminds us that on Mothering Sunday, while we may rightly look to honour our own mothers … we must also honour those who in some way fulfil the role of mothering in our own lives … we must also look to honour, for example, grandmothers, aunts, big sisters, and god-mothers … neighbours and friends who have looked out for us … teachers who have watched over us in loco parentis during our school days … all those who with love and affection have contributed in some way to creating the cocoon of love and affection that has sheltered and nurtured us all our days …

And of course as love and affection is not limited to women, we must also on this day remember fondly all those men who have provided us with care and nurture, perhaps doing the things most commonly associated with women, but nonetheless, often also done by men … most of us, no matter how impoverished our backgrounds, have many people to give thanks for in our lives …

Which is why this Sunday, laetare Sunday, we give thanks with great joy for all those who have shown a mother's love to us … the Mother of our Lord … our mother the Church … our own mothers … and all others who have cared and nurtured us … and pray that they will continue in that love … and that we will continue to be nurtured by it, even as we show that love to others … something that I pray that we will all be able to do on this Sunday, in this Holy Season of Lent, and always … in the name of the Father & the Son & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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