Mothering Sunday

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Today is mid-Lent Sunday and has been known as Refreshment Sunday (because the traditional Gospel was the story of the feeding of the 5000) or Mothering Sunday (because of the custom in Victorian England of allowing servant girls the day off to visit their mothers). It is from this latter custom that we have inherited Simnel Cake, originally a gift which the girls took home with them.

Unfortunately there is nothing in today’s readings which we can use as a starting point when thinking about the role of mothers and the great influence which they have upon the lives of their children. However, that does not mean that we cannot find plenty of other passages in the Bible to stimulate our thinking.

For example, it is interesting to find that two and an half thousand years ago the prophet Ezekiel wrote, ‘See, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you, “Like mother, like daughter.”’ (NRSV Ezekiel 16:44) —Although at the time he had in mind bad influences rather than good.

A much more positive appreciation of a mother’s influence comes in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, where he writes: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” (NRSV 2 Timothy 1:5)

I wonder how often down the ages it has been a mother’s faith which has had a decisive influence upon the growth in faith of her children. There have been some well-publicised examples like St Augustine’s mother Monica but there are millions of others whose faith and love is known only to their families and to God.

Of course there are other aspects of a mother’s love and care for us which are important and which we remember with gratitude. One of them no doubt lay behind this prayer for a grandmother which was written by her six-year old granddaughter:

Please God take great care of Granny, and let her go on living till she is very old, and when she can’t cook any more — then you can have her!

Jesus, too, knew a mother’s love. She was probably the one who taught him first about his heavenly father and showed him what it means to love and serve the Lord. We also know that she would have experienced a whole range of emotions as she followed her son’s growing-up and his subsequent career.

There would have been a mother’s joy to see him born and grow up, developing many gifts.

There would have been a mother’s pride in his support of her family by his work in the carpenter’s shop and as he took up his ministry of proclaiming the Gospel.

There would have been a mother’s concern that he should do what is right, whether it was helping the newly-weds who were about to be embarrassed by running out of wine, or coming to him with his family when they were worried about his public activities.

There would have been a mother’s sorrow as she stood close to the cross while he died the agonizing death of a criminal, yet love for his thoughtfulness as he commended her to the care of the beloved disciple.

Finally, there was a mother’s determination to support the work of her son as she joined with the early church as they gathered regularly for prayer.

We know that mothers down through the ages, and in all parts of the world have experienced similar emotions as they have watched their children growing up and taking their place in the world. We especially feel for those mothers who, even today, are watching their children suffer or die as the result of famine, or disease or war.

And if we want to know what the love of God for his people is like we can do no better than compare it to a mother’s love for her children. As Isaiah wrote in chapter 49: But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. (NRSV Isaiah 49:14–15)

There is a similar passage in chapter 66: As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (NRSV Isaiah 66:13)

It is this love of God for us which resulted in his son being lifted up on the cross for our sakes, so that all who look on the crucified Christ will be accounted righteous in God’s sight; just as those who were bitten by the poisonous snakes in the wilderness were saved when they looked up at the bronze snake which Moses raised up before them.

In the words of perhaps the best known verse in the whole Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (NRSV John 3:16)

Or as Paul wrote in today’s Epistle: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (NRSV Ephesians 2:8–9)

Let us pray that we will respond with love to that love which we have received in this world and the next, and that we ourselves will by our love bring others to experience the love of God in their lives.

Ever-loving God, your care for us is greater than a mother’s love for her child: teach us to value a mother’s love and see in it an expression of your grace, that we may ever feel more deeply your love for us in Christ Jesus our Saviour. Amen. A New Zealand Prayer Book

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