Homily for Mothering Sunday 2015

Text: John 19:25b-27

In the name of the (+) Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mothering Sunday is quite a difficult day to pin down, because of all the overlapping imagery that has built up over the years – and note that it’s not “Mothers’ Day” which is an American secular card-and-presents extravaganza with no link to the Christian calendar whatsoever. Today is first and foremost about returning to “Mother Church” – the place of our baptism, where we began our Christian journey and were born of water and the Spirit. 

This used to involve a literal return to the place of our own baptism each year to give thanks, and so in the days when families were less mobile one can perhaps understand how the tradition of visiting our mothers on this day developed (and bringing Simnel cake!), expressing affection and thanks for all they have done in giving us life and support throughout our lives. So for those of you who were baptised in this font, there is an even more special significance in being here today.

Another name for this Sunday is “Refreshment Sunday”, because we observe a lightening of the Lenten fast. This is why we wear rose vestments today – no, it’s nothing to do with pink supposedly being a feminine colour. So the giving of thanks for our baptism, and our nurture at the hands of Mother Church, is underlined by the gentle sense of celebration in our worship. A little outbreak of special joy enables us to find refreshment of a spiritual nature – which might also be reflected in enjoying something today that we might have given up during the rest of Lent.

But today can bring a mixture of emotions, as is the case so often at other times when there is a collective emphasis on happiness. Like Christmas, Mothering Sunday can be a painful time for some. Many of us will be unable to spend time with our mothers today. Often the physical distances which divide wider families will be the reason. Some will have had difficult relationships and might not be on speaking terms. Others will be feeling the pain of having been parted from our mothers through death, or having lost children. And tragically, some may have suffered abuse at the hands of someone who was, or who fulfilled, the role of mother in their lives.

So amidst the posies, the cards, the chocolates and perhaps for the lucky few, the special lunches, we don’t ever lose sight of the cross. Today’s gospel is that brief, incredibly poignant moment of Jesus’ last words to his mother as he hangs there. It has always struck me how even in the midst of the pain, Jesus considers the needs of others: he gives his mother to the beloved disciple – and in so doing, she becomes a mother to him and to all Jesus’ followers. 

We who claim to be followers of Jesus ought to take seriously this great gift. Being Jesus’ mother makes Mary the mother of God, and as children of the same heavenly Father, she is our mother too. Like the beloved disciple, we should take her into our own homes – not because she needs us to care for her, but because she longs to care for us. Who could be closer to Jesus than his own mother? Who better to ask to pray for us than the one closest to his heart? The one who tells us to “do whatever he tells [us]”, who teaches us to say “yes” to God, to accept the outpouring of his love into our lives and his calling to us to follow wherever that may lead us, knowing even in our darkest moments, when we feel hopeless and unable to go on, that we are not alone.

We Anglicans are often a little shy about prayer to Mary. Perhaps some of us have an in-built aversion to anything we feel might be a bit too “Roman”, a bit of that Yorkshire “no nonsense” attitude, or perhaps it’s the British stiff upper lip which makes public displays of emotional piety so common in other countries. This suppression of emotion is a bad thing! Psychologists have been telling us this for many years in the secular sphere, so I don’t think it’s much of a leap to see why it’s bad in faith terms. 

As we try to integrate our faith more deeply into our daily lives, it becomes easier to see how we can all benefit from maternal love, all the time – from Mother Church, from our earthly mothers, and from our Blessed Mother, Mary. So let today be a day of refreshment for you, as we celebrate this great gift of God, of motherly love, to each of us.

In the name of the (+) Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.