(10/3/2013 – Mothering Sunday)
Motherhood is not easy. It was not easy for Mary, even though her child was Jesus. When Jesus was conceived, Mary sang a song of praise in which she said all generations would call her blessed. But now, when Jesus was forty days old and the family had come to the temple (for the two ceremonies of purification after childbirth and the presentation and redemption of the first-born), Mary was told that her child would provoke reaction and division, and that she would not be unscathed: a sword would pierce her soul. The obvious fulfilment of this prophecy was at Jesus’ crucifixion – how could any mother bear to see her child so cruelly and unjustly tortured and executed?
Mary’s experience of motherhood had its ups and downs, as recorded in the gospels. Her high regard for her son is seen in the trust she placed in him at the wedding feast in Cana, when the wine had run out she told the servants to do what Jesus told them. Her concern for her son’s well-being is seen in her reaction to the news that he was so busy that he didn’t have time to eat, and she went with her family to try and rescue him. Her devotion is seen in her presence at the cross, when she is included in the group of women who had followed Jesus and supported him and his disciples in his ministry.
Mary did not always get things right. When Jesus was twelve and stayed in the temple when the family started for home, she did not think of looking immediately in the one place Jesus thought would have been obvious, the temple. The whole experience of losing him must have been doubly horrendous; not only was there the natural panic of losing her son, but there was the added pressure in that she’d been told he was God’s Son, whom God had entrusted to her to mother! And when she and the family went to rescue him from his business, Jesus rebuffed her, saying that his mother and brothers were those around him, whoever did the will of his Father in heaven.
Mothering Sunday reminds us that mothering is a task for all of us, male and female, married and single. Traditionally it takes its cue from the idea of ‘Mother Church’ – especially those churches that have produced offspring by planting and growing new churches (some of which are now ancient!). But if ‘church’ means the ‘body of Christ’, the group of believers, then the idea of ‘mother church’ gives us a very helpful insight into one aspect of the church’s ministry. This aspect is seen in Colossians 3:12-14, which could be thought of as promoting the feminine side of our new creation life. ‘Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ are not the first adjectives which spring to mind when describing masculinity! Yet they are the first virtues Paul mentions in describing the Christian life, and all of us should be developing them. The next few verses describe the nurturing side of our new creation life – how we can ‘teach and admonish’ one another in the name of Jesus – not with anxiety or abuse, but in peace, wisdom and thankfulness.
The foundation of this message is the love of God for us. We are God’s chosen people – his people by choice, not chance. We are ‘holy’ – the word does not mean morally upright or pious, but ‘set apart’, ‘special’. (Articles in the temple were ‘holy’ because they were set apart for use only in the temple.) God has set us apart for his service, so that whatever we do is for him, ‘in the name of Jesus’, whether it is our work or leisure or family life, and he takes pleasure in it and is honoured by it. We are ‘dearly loved’ – not just ‘loved’ but ‘dearly loved’ – not because we deserve it but simply because God has chosen to love us in overflowing measure. We are in this happy state because of our relationship with God’s Son Jesus, whom we trust and obey as Saviour and Lord.
Jesus is the highest example of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, even though he is the King of Kings, having all authority in heaven and on earth. And his Spirit is living in us, the Spirit who produces in us the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and the rest (Galatians 5:22). But it does not happen automatically: we have to ‘clothe’ ourselves with these virtues, deliberately doing our best to cultivate them in the nitty-gritty of daily life. God works as we work. But when we teach ourselves these things, we are then in a position to help others. It is not easy – but it is God’s way.
1) Who are the spiritual mothers in our churches? What makes them so?
2) Why is love so important?