I am sorry that we can’t have our Mothering Sunday Service at Stow Bedon Church but there will be another year. Last time we had over 50 people at the service and Stow Church always looks so beautiful for the occasion.
I can remember as a child hunting through the shops to buy a Mothering Sunday card and a bunch of flowers, and then it was off to church on the Sunday afternoon for the annual Mothering Sunday service. We all received flowers for our mothers. I know that these flowers were given with immense amount of love. I know from my 3 year old grandson that whenever he needs real love he goes to his mother. We men are usually second best when that special hug is required.
When my mother died I was too sad to take the service, but the Vicar at Luton Parish Church also a ‘Bell; he was Nick Bell, told so many funny stories about my late mother who was a wonderful match to Mrs Bucket (Bouquet) on Keeping Up Appearances. My mother would come in the Parish Rooms like a sergeant major and organised the folding of the church magazine and everyone made an excuse to leave. She wore Patricia Routledge ‘Eastex’ dresses so as to not look too big and her friends were really scared of her in a funny sort of way. It is wonderful to have happy memories of your mother but like all families we had ‘our moments’. There is no such thing as a perfect family.
Mothering Sunday was never meant to be solely about mothers; its original meaning was more about mothering. The day itself grew out of the medieval tradition of visiting the mother-church and taking an offering for presentation at the altar there. The fact that this was done at the mid-point of Lent made it something of a break in the penitential season. I’m not sure how many people fast in Lent nowadays, but, if you do, I hope you remember that Sundays don’t count! That’s because every Sunday is a festival; every Sunday is a Day of Resurrection.
So, today is a special day in the year to give thanks for mothering itself, perhaps for ‘Mother Church’, and also for our own mothers. But we have to acknowledge this is a day on which some people find coming to church at all very difficult. For some women – and men too – this day underlines their silent, personal griefs and sorrows. Quiet tears will be shed by many on this day: tears for children who have died, tears for children who have rejected their parents, tears for the relationships that never happened, tears for the children that never were. All in all, a day of mixed emotions.
Mary, Jesus’ mother was a teenage girl, pregnant before her marriage; forced onto a long journey on the back of a donkey in the last stages of that pregnancy; compelled to flee with her betrothed and the baby as refugees to a foreign land. I don’t suppose she was given Tesco chocolates and roses. And it is only a few short weeks ago we celebrated Candlemas and heard the old prophet Simeon tell Mary that a sword would come to pierce her heart, a prophecy tragically fulfilled on that first Good Friday as Mary waited at the foot of the Cross and watched the awful agony of her dying son. Surely this is where the iconic nature of Mary finds its truest expression, and her mother’s love becomes an icon for all our loving. She teaches us that love is vulnerable, that it suffers, that it takes risks. If we didn’t love, if we couldn’t love, then those painful realities that upset the balance of our lives – rows, sickness, death, loss, broken relationships – all these would matter far less to us.
Mothering Sunday, placed so near to Holy Week, reminds us that a relationship, any relationship, without pain is likely to be a relationship without love. In fact, if we love, then we put ourselves in the very path of pain and suffering. To love is to put yourself at risk, and your heart will sometimes be broken. But we can’t wish it any other way, for we are made in the image of a God of love, and love, real love, costs – it is a very expensive commodity, and sometimes we may have to pay for it with the currency of our tears.
Mothering Sunday is a day to honour and celebrate all those who have provided mothering – in its widest sense – in our lives. Even those people who may have had difficult relationships with their own mothers will nonetheless know those people – both women and men – who have been their companions, who have influenced, supported, nourished and guided them in their lives. Today’s very brief gospel brings together the themes of mothering and the passion of Jesus. It is an intensely moving episode as Jesus hangs on the cross, his mother and John, the beloved disciple, close by. John is the only male figure mentioned here; all the rest are women. The supposedly strong people – the men – had deserted him, and he was left with a handful of grieving women who, despite the awfulness of what they were witnessing, remained steadfast and faithful to the end. We can scarcely comprehend the emotional and psychological pain Mary must have felt as her son died before her eyes. Jesus takes this moment of agony to say something profoundly important. To his mother he says, ‘Here is your son’, and to his close friend, ‘Here is your mother’. In other words, you have a responsibility to nourish and care for one another if you are to try to follow Jesus. What binds Jesus’s followers together more than just blood ties is the recognition of one another’s humanity and the need both to give and to receive love and during this time when many people can’t get to church or meet other people it important to remember that.
I finish with a few thoughts from Mother Julian of Norwich, the English mystic, who wrote: “A kind, loving mother, who understands and knows the needs of her child will look after it tenderly because it is the nature of a mother to do so. As the child grows older, she changes her methods, not her love. This way of doings things is our Lord at work in those who do them.” I know we routinely refer to God as our Father, but today, of all days, I am more than happy to leave the final word to Julian of Norwich, who concluded, ‘Thus God is our Mother.’