Ephesians 4:1-4, 29-5:2; Luke 13:31-35
St Barbara’s 19.03.2023
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Later today, we will be thinking about Mothering Sunday. For many, it is a day of both joy and sadness. For some there is the gratitude for all that their mothers have meant to them; for others it can be a difficult time, recognising that our mothers may have been distant from us, whether geographically or relationally. For some of us, we are coming to terms with the fact that our mothers maybe struggling or are not quite the same person they used to be – maybe they now rely on us when for so long we relied on them. And for others of us our mothers may have died, and today is a day of memories, some happy, others sad.
There are many examples of mothers in the Bible, but possibly the one we know most about is Mary, Jesus’ mother.
What do we know about her?
We know that when Jesus was born, she was full of joy and wonder. She delighted in her new-born child (like thousands of other mothers do around the world every day).
We know that she would do anything to care for and protect him, even if that meant fleeing to a far away land to keep him safe from Herod’s soldiers. (Our country has the privilege of being able to welcome many mothers who are refugees in that situation today).
We know that she loved him like any parent would do, searching for him for three whole days in Jerusalem before she found him, when he went missing as a 12 year old. (Like mothers today who have temporarily lost their children in shops or in the park, or whose children are lost from home for a variety of reasons.)
We know that she trusted her son and grew to rely on him. She asked him to sort out the problem when the wedding they were attending in Cana ran out of wine. Like Mary, many mothers come to rely on their children, particularly later on in life.
We know from the Bible that Mary didn’t always “get” or understand the adult that Jesus had become. Sometimes, even with the best intentions mothers and children may not always see eye to eye and that can cause hurt.
And we know that she stood by her son at the moment of his greatest need, when he was dying on the cross, and how hard it must have been for her, when like too many other mothers in our world, she saw her child die.
Mary is an example of what so many mothers experience, and an example of some of the qualities that can make our mothers so special. Today is a day to pause and give thanks. Let’s just do that briefly now.
In recent times today has become known as “Mother’s Day”, with a corresponding “Father’s Day” in June, but the changing name hides the origins of the day. Mothering Sunday goes back to a time when 500 years ago, people began to live further away from where they grew up. They may have learnt a trade which meant moving to a nearby town to practice it; or they may have had to go to a neighbouring parish to find work as a shepherd or farm hand.
Once a year, everyone was encouraged to return to their “mother church”, the church where they may have been baptised, where they had grown up. The church that had nurtured them and helped them to grow in faith.
I wonder if you can think about your “mother church” for a moment. Where did you discover and take your first steps in the Christian faith? Where was the church that nurtured you? Maybe it was here, or somewhere else. It is good to be thankful for these communities of faith.
Churches are to be those places that are like mothers. That rejoice and delight in new birth, when people discover faith in Christ; that care and protect those who are vulnerable and in need; that grow to trust and release people into service and ministry; that stand by people in times of hurt and pain.
Paul wrote many letters to churches where he encouraged them to have those qualities and characteristics, to live out those values. He wrote to the church in Corinth encouraging them to give generously; he wrote to the church in Galatia in modern-day Turkey, encouraging them to treat everyone equally and to love others as they would love themselves; and as we’ve heard in our reading, he wrote to the church in Ephesus, encouraging them to be patient, and to bear with one another, to be kind and compassionate, and to forgive one another.
That is the kind of church we are called to be. Again, today is a day to give thanks for those churches that have nurtured faith in us in the past, and to ask how we can be that community of faith for others today. Again, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.
Mothering Sunday has a third aspect to it too. When we think of the best qualities of our mothers and churches, we begin to get a glimpse of what God is like, for he is a parent, a mother and father, to us all.
In describing God’s love, the writers of the Bible were always looking to explain it in ways we could understand. God is not male, but using language about fathers is helpful. Likewise God is not female – God is way beyond understandings of gender – but using language of mothers is also helpful. Such language gives us a glimpse, a window, into what God is like.
Jesus talked about God being like a mother hen longing to gather her chicks under the protection of her wings; the psalmist described God as like a mother eagle, God spreading their wings to catch their chicks if they should fall from the nest; Isaiah spoke of God comforting us as a mother comforts her child; nurturing us like a mother does her baby.
Knowing God cares for us and his world as a parent does gives us a unique window into gaining a sense of the intimacy of God’s love for us, his tender protection and his desire for the best for us, his willingness to sacrifice everything for us. Today is a day to pause and give thanks for God’s parental love in our lives, and to come into the warmth of his embrace.
Today, may we give thanks for mothers, for the church, and for the love of God.