Mothering Sunday, 22nd March 2020
Published on Sunday, 22 March 2020 08:00
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
John 19: 25b-27
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
A Few Thoughts …
Whatever thoughts I had a week ago about Mothering Sunday, they are completely different now. I’ve just had my sister on the phone distraught because for the last 30 years she’s either hosted or visited my Dad and Step-mum on Mothering Sunday, but this year she really can’t; the nature of her work and the contacts it brings mean she could put them at risk. Sometimes love forces us into having to make impossibly painful choices, because we know it’s the right thing to do.
In this uplifting reading from Colossians, St Paul balances the wonderful desire to offer love, compassion and peace to those around us, with the recognition that it may actually provoke complaint, admonishment and the need for forgiveness. How are the family dynamics working out in your life under the current situation? In mine, the older generation are frustrated by what feels like an attack on their autonomy, independence and dignity. The younger generation are frustrated that their grandparents aren’t taking the situation seriously enough – not just for their own well-being but for the burden that would be placed on over-stretched hospital personnel and services if they succumb to the virus. My own middle generation is feeling frustrated at not being able to support either end adequately given the current restrictions. We are all trying to do and say the right things at the right times, but our words and actions may well cause pain, however lovingly meant. The Bible extorts us to love one another, but it never promises that will be easy – or without the deepest sorrow.
I don’t know about you, but I find all the accounts of Mary’s presence at Christ’s crucifixion excruciating. The loss of any child before its parents always seems like a crime against nature; but this was such a cruel and unnecessary death. Mary had been warned by Simeon that although she had borne the Messiah, ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ In a way, that is true for all mothers (and fathers). Our children may be our greatest pride and joy, but their troubles and pain stabs our hearts deeply.
The last six months have been very painful for me as a mother because, as some of you know, we very suddenly and unexpectedly lost our witty and wonderful son-in-law at the end of September only four days after a brain tumour diagnosis. It wouldn’t be right to talk about my daughter’s experience, that’s her story to tell, but I can say something about mine. I could not imagine how we could get through this, how we could ever find any normality ever again. But as so many of you told me (from your own painful experiences) it’s a matter of one day at a time, looking for the small joys, accepting the love and kindness of others, learning to live with, rather than escape from the pain of loss.
In John’s account of the crucifixion, Jesus seems to speak to his mother almost dispassionately, addressing her as ‘woman.’ This echoes the very first story in John’s Gospel involving Mary – the Wedding at Cana. When the wine runs out and Mary brings it to Jesus’s attention he replies, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?’ (Note that combination of intergenerational love, intimacy and frustration, as mentioned earlier!). Could it be that through his time of active ministry, Jesus was shifting his family and disciples (and therefore all of us) through his own example, from a narrower understanding of family love and duty to broader sense of recognising our kinship with the rest of humanity? Jesus’s concern for Mary’s future (in a world where sonless widows were very vulnerable) demonstrates maternal care, but he entrusts her to someone who is not strictly ‘family.’ In the new community that Jesus has inaugurated, the water of baptism will be thicker than family blood.
At this moment in time, we are all in a new world order which is strange, frightening and unwelcome. But many of you, like me, will have suddenly found yourselves in the midst of communities that are pulling together with kindness, concern and compassion. In the15 years I have lived in Shaw Mills, I have never been so physically remote from my neighbours, nor been in such constant and intimate contact. Physical distancing is definitely NOT social distancing; indeed it can bring us closer together.
Today is Mothering Sunday and maybe you will not get to see your mum or your children in person at this time. That is really sad, but keeping a physical distance might be the most loving way to show how much you care. When this is all over (and at some point, it will be) there’ll be time to reflect and identify what we have learned – or have had to re-learn. This might include the recognition that no person, no family, no community or country or even continent is entire of themselves (to quote the poet John Donne) – we are all ‘called in the one body’ to be members of one human family that is mutually interdependent. That grief and love are inextricably linked. That all creation is precious and our duty is to treasure, not trash it. That God is with us, wherever we find ourselves and ‘churches’ are not a buildings (however much we love and cherish them) but people in whom the word of God dwells richly, and bears the fruit of hope, and faith and love.
I’ll end with a prayer by St Anslem, who died over a 1000 years ago (in 1109)
Jesus, like a mother you gather your people to you;
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
Through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
Your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us;
In your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness,
For the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.