Revd. Tim’s Sermon for Mothering Sunday
‘Letting Go’ & ‘Taking In’
Enable us, Lord, to respond to the grace of your Word with humility of heart and in the Spirit of Love; that our lives may be conformed more and more to the image of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Even in the season of Lent, Sundays are feast days and, I’m happy to tell you, we are allowed, indeed required, to keep them as such! Especially on Mothering Sunday and even in these peculiar and fearful times because, lets face it, that's where we are. Most of us cannot recall the rigours of wartime disciplines, of making do, of going without, of mending things that were broken rather than just ordering something new. We have not known a looming threat that might one day strike to shatter our lives or take away someone we love. The supermarkets have been loaded with produce and we've always been able to have pretty much what we wanted, whenever we wanted it, as long as we could afford it.
We've even had to struggle with phenomena like 'choice anxiety' where the superabundance can cause real mental distress because of the fear it provokes: 'Have I made the right choice?' These days are quite suddenly gone, but the situation we find ourselves in is not unknown to humanity, we have been here before and we shall probably be here again one day, and so it is with God. Because God knows what this is like too - he's been here before too.
So, my focus today is on two disciplines which might help this Lent, ‘Letting Go’ & ‘Taking In’ when, for the first time in my almost seven years as your Vicar, I cannot speak to you face to face. I have to let go of that privilege and find new ways to reach you, as all of us in the St Andrew's church family will have to do to reach out to one another, for the time being at least.
So, let's acknowledge some of what we're having to let go of today, even as we celebrate the situation of Motherhood, and as we take in the changes that we're all having to face.
Those of us who want to honour the traditions of the church don't refer to 'Mothering Sunday' as 'Mother's Day' - that’s an American import. Mother’s Day took off in the USA early last century as a national celebration of a different kind and on a different day altogether, the 2nd Sunday in May. A celebration not of motherhood in general, but of individual mothers by their own families. Originally, Mothering Sunday meant something quite different. We still use the traditional 4th Sunday of Lent, which is also known as Refreshment Sunday: the 22nd March this year.
It all began in the middle-ages as a day-off from the rigours of Lent, in honour of the Virgin Mary. The practice developed of giving people time off to celebrate this holy day (‘holiday’) to visit their 'Mother Church' – perhaps a cathedral like St Albans Abbey, or a church in a neighbouring county town. For those working away, this brought an opportunity to make a rare visit home – to pick a nosegay of wild flowers for mum on the way - and the tradition of Mothering Sunday was born. Even though we cannot gather together for a service, we've still got some daffodils for you here at St Andrew's this Sunday.
But the English Mothering Sunday also points to something bigger than the individual family – what The Queen in her Diamond Jubilee message called ‘the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness’ - something we need more than ever at this time and which is definitely out there. We also acknowledge that Mothering Sunday can be a bitter day for many people – those mothers and children who are estranged or worried about one another, for the childless, the single and the divorced. In fact, anyone who doesn’t live in a warm, united and loving family can find a day like today difficult, and situations like the current crisis really worrying.
Thoughts like this make us pause don’t they, but then, we’re also pulled up short by the Gospel reading for today, John 19. 25b – 27 - a poignant, heart-rending story if ever there was one. It has nothing to do with joy or celebration, but shows us Mary at the foot of the Cross, and her moment of agony as she has to let her son go and refocus her whole life. This takes us deep into the experience of mother-hood, and therefore has much to teach Mother church, and all of us who are part of that church.
Our gospel story is a story about letting go, just as the Levite woman had to let go of her son in the story from Exodus, placing him in a basket to be found by the daughter of Pharaoh. The gospel describes the moment when Mary had to let go of her son, physically and finally, and our hearts must go out to any mother, then or now, who experiences this. But less traumatic ‘letting go’s’ happen throughout the mothering process. It begins at the crèche, the play group, or the school gate and continues until the young leave home, and often long beyond that.
Mary herself would have needed to let go of all her mother’s dreams and expectations for Jesus; the hope that he might marry, have children, continue the family business, and so on. But she had to learn that she could not remain centre stage in her child’s life – she could not any longer control him or mould him, but had to let him go to follow his own path.
The scripture today also offers stories about ‘taking in’. We hear about the kindness of the Pharaoh’s daughter, about how she took Moses in to be her own. In the reading from Colossians, Paul offers us a real gem of an encapsulation of Christian teaching, about how we should clothe “ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience… forgiving each other… and clothe (y)ourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” ‘Take in’ this reading to your heart today, cut it from the reading sheet and stick it somewhere prominent – it’s vital at times such as these, and is the best antidote to fear, which is a greater threat to our humanity than any virus can be. Did you know that God's most common exhortation throughout the Bible is, "Be not afraid".
Jesus, who had to be taken in and offered sanctuary even at his birth, makes this Pauline teaching, to ‘take in’ with all compassion, come alive, and we hear about how he turns to the beloved disciple and tells him in such simple, poignant words, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.’ As we've had to 'let go' of our parish hall being a place for us or special interest groups to meet, so it will now become a shelter for those forced out of their homes by a whole variety of situations, offering a roof over the head to folk who've maybe been made 'sofa-surfers', people just like you and me, who've suddenly found they've nowhere to live.
This, I want to suggest, is the essence of ‘motherhood’ everywhere, and as we know, men can be good mothers too. The selfless act of one who gives sanctuary to life other than its own; that ‘takes in’ in love, with all mercy - to harbour, protect and to nurture, expecting nothing in return.
May God bless you and keep you safe. Amen.
God of love,
Circle us with your grace and hope.
Protect we pray all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit.
Protect and strengthen all those
working in our health services,
planning in our local and national governments,
all local businesses and those with financial worries
all those who are facing an increase in racism or other abuse
and all those who are already isolated or alone.
Fill our parish, our diocese, our country and our world
with your spirit of love and compassion.
May the light of life burn brightly in our communities,
And may we know the peace that passes all understanding.