Sally looks at the difference between Mothering Sunday, as opposed to Mother's Day and what it means for the whole human family to be drawn towards the family of God.
Mothering Sunday is a really beautiful Festival celebrated in the midst of our Lenten austerities. The two celebrations of Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day have now almost merged into one. Many people think they are the same thing, but they are not. Mothering Sunday was originally all about returning to your mother church, perhaps where you have been baptised, but over the years it has more and more focused on our human 'Mothers' and because of that not everyone finds Mothering Sunday easy. For some it’s a day of celebration and thanksgiving; whilst others, may feel that this day doesn’t really mean very much, or, at worst, may even arouse difficult emotions.
The church, of all institutions, knows that no feast day can, or should be exclusive to just one sector of society. I am delighted that this year Mothering Sunday has fallen on a 5th Sunday so that our group of churches are worshiping together in a church that has nurtured & mothered millions of people in one way or another over the last 1,000 years of its existence.
I am also pleased we are worshiping in this church today because above the rood screen (which is this the wooden partition that separates the chancel from the nave) there are the very figures that are mentioned in todays gospel reading. Mary is beneath the cross with John the beloved disciple. Oh by the way the word 'rood' is derived from the Saxon word rood , meaning "cross" it is spelt ROOD not RUDE! Just for clarification!
For a short while I will try and bring this scene at the foot of the cross alive. I want you to image a dying son. A bewildered disciple and a mother whose heart is breaking. Mary knew what Jesus her son was to suffer. Mary suffered when she gave birth in a filthy stable, far from home. Mary suffered when she heard that Herod wanted to kill her baby. Mary suffered when she was forced to become a refugee in Egypt. Mary suffered as she watched a whole nation misunderstand and taunt her son. And here, at the foot of the cross, Mary suffers again as she watches her beautiful baby boy being crucified for a crime he has not committed. We can’t even begin to imagine the pain in her heart - how her soul was being torn apart that day. It wasn’t so long ago that we were celebrating Candlemas, when we heard the story of Simeon, who had seen Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus at the Temple and his words: “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God, which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” Perhaps Mary’s mind traveled back 33 years to that moment and Simeon’s prophecy finally made sense to her.
Jesus knew her agony and he was aware that, after his own death, there would be no-one to care for his mother, and in those days that was very important as we heard a few weeks ago at our Worship For All services when Jesus raised from the dead a precious son so his mother would have someone to look after her, so as the oldest son, that concerned Jesus.
Jesus speaks to his mother, and the disciple he loved standing there; and says ‘Here is your son’. Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’. Jesus entrusted Mary to the disciple John, but he didn’t entrust her to his brothers and sisters, who were still alive. We know that he had four brothers - James, Joseph, Simon and Judas - and some sisters who are unnamed. That seems a little strange. Surely one of them could have looked after their mum into old age? But Jesus doesn’t pursue that option. There is something quite profound about what Mary and the disciple John represent to us. Because here are two people who are with Jesus at the foot of the cross, they have not deserted him like so many others. Two people who believe in his mission. Two people who believe in his claim to be the Son of God, the Lord and Saviour of the world. It seems that what is happening here, is that a new family is being created. From that time John the disciple took Mary to live in his home. A new family is created in the shadow of the cross.
Through the blood of Christ shed for us, a new home, a new community comes to life. A new family is born. It is here, at the foot of the cross, that the church is formed. And as we celebrate Holy Communion this morning, sharing the body and blood of Christ - so we are continuing the work that Jesus started that day: the formation and deepening of the church.
Now the idea of belonging to a family is a powerful one, it should be a comfortable one, unless you come from a dysfunctional family yourself then well, may be not, but it is something we would all wish for. So who is included in God’s family? Everyone. It’s a simple answer, and yet a challenging one. Everyone is included in God’s family, because everyone is loved by God. Love is what families, relationships, in all their complexity, are all about. We are loved by God, and so we are all part of God’s family. And so are the people we like, and the people we don’t like (this is where it gets challenging!). All of us, together, in God’s messy, beautiful, unconventional family. Like any family, we disagree, we fall out, we upset each other. But there’s always something that holds us all together. And that something is love. God is love, the most powerful force in the world.
Just as Jesus expands his disciples’ idea of what his family is like, so the Holy Spirit is continuing to expand our idea of what God’s family is like, and who is included, because the church over the years has excluded so many people because of the their colour, sexual orientation, social status and the list goes on. At its very best the church family is great at witnessing to God's great love for creation and it serves as an example of nurturing and loving service for the wider society. But as we all know this idealised concept of church as the perfect example of nurture is far from the truth. Sometimes the church fails because we find it unpalatable to let go of our conviction that we hold the monopoly over truth. Lets face it we at times are obsessed about numbers, decline and much more. With our backs agains the wall, we pursue maintenance, not ministry, territories within the church, not teaching and our image within the communities we live, is certainly not always Christ-like.
Now there are many traditions associated with Mothering Sunday, one that has been carried out at this church many years ago is Clipping the Church. Clipping comes from another Saxon word 'clypann' meaning embrace or clasp. In this tradition the congregation join hands around the church and embrace it, to symbolise the love of our mother church. And of course at some point in a mothering day service it has been the custom to hand out flowers or Simnel cake. If you have come expecting such a gift today from the church, you are going to be disappointed. However, instead you will be given a packet like this, inside are some sunflower seeds and wrapped around this packet is a bookmark and these words will also be included with your gift.. “The sunflowers seeds are for you to nurture, remembering the people who have nurtured you with love throughout your life. The bookmark is to remember the people who have inspired and helped you grow in the knowledge of God through his word.” The bookmark is of course for your bible.
So on this mothering Sunday as we undertake the daunting yet privileged task of nurturing, nourishing and mothering this and the next generation, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. We are Christ’s hands and feet here on earth. We are the church, not this building, however beautiful it may be. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and sustained by His body and blood, we may not be able to save our material, celebrity loving society, but we can all do our bit to mother and nurture those around us, and I am of course referring to men as well as women taking part in this nurturing, it is a shared responsibility. Mothering Sunday is a day to honour and celebrate all those who have provided mothering – in its widest sense – in our lives. So let’s make this Mothering Sunday be the start of our mothering of those we come in contact with and if just one life is made happier and more meaningful, well isn't that wonderful? Today we celebrate the love which has nurtured us. The motherly love of God. The love of the people who have guided and cared for us at home and in church. For some of us, that will be our mothers, and we celebrate them today. For others of us it will not, and we celebrate instead (or as well) the other relationships which have shown us something of the vast love of God. Let us thank God for the many, diverse, beautiful expressions of love we have known, each of them showing us something of the awesome, mysterious love of God.