MOTHER'S DAY - sweet and sour

a sermon preached at S.LUKE’S CHURCH QUEEN’S PARK BRIGHTON on March 11th 2018

I suppose Mothering Sunday can be rather bittersweet for those women who have never had any children, whether by choice, or through infertility or for any other reason.  

And if childlessness is a matter of sadness for a couple, then Mothering Sunday will probably not cut much ice for the husband or partner either. 

On the other hand, even if we have not all had children ourselves, I can confidently say we do all have a mother whose child we are, whether that mother is alive or now dead.

And the whole point of calling the 4th Sunday in Lent  Mothering Sunday and making it a mini-festival with bunches of flowers etc is to celebrate God’s gift of motherhood and to give thanks for all that our earthly mothers have done for us and for all that they mean or meant to us.

When I say our earthly mothers, that’s because today is also an occasion for remembering the example of Jesus’s mother Mary, the Mother in heaven of the living church.

As Mary stands at the foot of the cross, Jesus, slowly choking to death, manages to say to her and to His disciple John who is with her Here is your son and Here is your mother. And so, John later took Mary to his home as his adopted mother. And Mary adopted John and the other disciples as her sons. In other words, she became the mother of the church – the mother of us all in heaven.

But let’s go back to the bleak scene of the Crucifixion, which the victim’s mother witnessed in all its horror.

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She saw Him briefly as He dragged the wooden cross up the hill, staggering with pain and exhaustion. And then she remained right to the bitter end, watching Him die and taking His lifeless body in her arms when it was lowered from the cross.

I know we haven’t got to Good Friday yet but I invite you to dwell for a moment longer on Mary’s human motherhood of Jesus and what she must have gone through on the day of His death.

Because her steadfastness in seeing it through is the supreme example of a mother’s love. The fierce, powerful mother’s love which we can still observe in the world around us today.

Any woman who nurtures and protects her son as a child and then watches helplessly as he fails to find a job, as he falls into bad ways, as he comes under evil influences, as he drifts into crime or addiction to gambling or drugs.

Any woman who will say to the police or a probation officer or a magistrate “He’s a good boy really. I’ll vouch for him. There’s no harm in him.”

When you walk up Trafalgar St., take a look at the pitiable sleeping bags nestling in the arches under the station forecourt, so hopelessly inadequate in the recent icy weather. And take a look at the pinched, ravaged, prematurely aged faces of the men and women who are our rough sleepers.

They will die in the 40s or before (especially if their diet consists solely of fags and lager. And then reflect: This was once a mother’s baby, some mother’s pride and joy, newly born, held tenderly in her arms. Full of hope and promise.

And Mary looked at the dishevelled figure of her son, only 33 years old, hanging on a cross.  Her, and God’s, beloved Son who had done no wrong, who had only tried to bring love and joy and healing into a resentful and suspicious world.

How far off to her must have seemed the day of the Annunciation, the mysterious, exhilarating message from the angel Gabriel. Now she realised she had arrived at the moment foretold by Simeon: a sword will pierce your heart.

So there we have it – a preview of Good Friday with focus on the mother, a mother showing the strength and faithfulness which all mothers who have lost their children one way or another are called upon to show.

But on Mothering Sunday we do not think only about the sorrowing love of bereaved mothers. We think above all about the joy of motherhood, God’s gift of the capacity for child-bearing.

Well of course you could say reproduction is simply a biological, evolutionary necessity for the propagation and survival of the race – a fact that seems to have escaped the early church “fathers” who, in their blinkered misogyny, advocated chaste male celibacy as the highest form of life on earth.

I wonder how long we would have lasted if the entire world population consisted of monks……

But plain evolutionary necessity doesn’t quite do it for me. God’s gift of children to a loving couple is awesome, mysterious, precious and altogether wonderful.

What a priceless gift a child is, any ordinary child.

When my first daughter finally arrived after a prolonged and painful labour, she had the umbilical cord wrapped round her neck. I saw the tense look on the doctor’s face as he grappled to disentangle it and they took the baby out of the room. There was an almost unbearable interval before we heard her first cries.

All was well. I left the hospital on cloud nine. I grandly and extravagantly hailed a taxi, sat back and lit a huge cigar. (You were allowed to do that sort of thing in those days.) My heart swelled with a strange mixture of pride, humility and gratitude.

I now have four grandchildren and both my daughters are, in my totally unbiased opinion, superb mothers in their turn. I have no idea what difficulties they may face as my young grandchildren grow up. Although I can already imagine a few…

But motherhood is a high calling and is always demanding. It can involve any number of varied challenges:

·        Working mothers stressed and exhausted by having to earn as well as look after their children

·        Single mothers, even more under pressure

·        Mothers not knowing how best to respond to moody teenagers

·        Mothers in a difficult marriage or an abusive relationship

·        Birth and adoptive mothers vis a vis adopted children

The list goes on. We commend all troubled mothers to God’s sustaining strength, protection and love.

But most of all on this feast also known as “refreshment” Sunday,  we join God in rejoicing with all happy and fulfilled mothers who delight in their divine vocation to give Jesus Christ more brothers and sisters on earth.

Spike Wells