Sermon preached for Mothering Sunday, 14th March 2021 based on readings John 19:25b-27 and Colossians 3:12-17
May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
A few years ago, I sat through an interactive Mother’s Day sermon, in which one of the ladies sitting in the congregation was invited to come forward to be part of a demonstration of all of the things that ‘mothers’ need to be skilled in. It started with being asked to hold a multitude of items representing these gifts, including holding a baby, several pots, pans and cooking utensils, an upright hoover and progressed through chalk and easel, chauffeur’s hat, clown’s wig and nose, to steering wheels, first aid kits and judge’s wig, and more…
Of course, it gave an insight into the many and varied roles that mothers play, and apart from the gender role assumptions that were made, it left me thinking that being able to do all of those things didn’t necessarily make you a super mum… and vice versa, not being able to do some of those things didn’t make you in any way deficient as a mother.
The fact that gender does not have anything to do the skills leads me to think that proficiency does not define you as a mother
Without doubt, we should celebrate those women who have devoted their lives to doing all of those things for their children, they are indeed our superheroines, but, quoting Edna from the film The Incredibles, ‘no capes’ are necessary!
Motherhood is not just about the ability to bear children. For some the painful truth is that they are not able to do so, for others there is no desire to do so, and for some it is simply physically impossible.
So, the biological process of giving birth does not signify motherhood. What defines it more accurately is being the person that offers unconditional love and affection. The care, responsibility, behaviour and affection for a child is the true essence of motherhood. For a child, it is the person whom they will look for in difficult times, who can offer reassurance. It is the person who acts as their first mentor, who provides unconditional support, who acts selflessly whilst taking care of their own physical and mental health, but who is willing to provide firm guidance in the child’s journey in life and the struggles that they face in this unruly world.
Motherhood encompasses all the phases of life, hopes, dreams, acceptance, failures, disappointments, repentance and forgiveness. It includes perseverance to raise the child for upcoming life trials and to show the next generation, the various ways of life.
Today’s briefest of gospels exemplifies the nature of motherhood and familial relationships with its image of Jesus’ female followers being alone, bar one disciple, in offering a physical presence in his suffering; but also, in its fulfilment of Christian love.
For Jesus’ mother Mary, it is a bittersweet moment. As a mother she has raised her child, through the miracle of his conception; knowing, as a new mother, the prophetic nature of his life; watching as some of his siblings challenged and rejected him; the awareness that family ties are not the most important thing in life and now seeing her child die at a time out of sync with the normal rhythm of life and death.
Yet, Jesus shows that love is greater than blood ties as he initiates universal motherhood. ‘Woman, here is your son’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple
whom he loved standing beside her,
he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’
Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’
This was more than giving shelter to a woman, who may have been widowed; as she also had sons who would have been obliged to look after her. It is also more than a providing a mother figure to someone who would have had a mother of their own. This is the state of motherhood which Christians would come to recognise as being that of the church, in its broadest sense and which we recognise and celebrate on this Mothering Sunday.
Of course, this was to be the ideal and we have to acknowledge that the overall patriarchal nature of the church has not always lived up to this; but that shouldn’t stop us from making sure it does for the future.
As I said at the beginning, motherhood depends on the care, responsibility, behaviour and affection that we have for others, and if we need a reminder of what that should look like then our reading from Colossians spells it out clearly.
At the heart of our relationships with others we need to act with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bearing with each other in times of complaint and offering forgiveness so that we can live in peace with each other. To share wisdom, good teaching and a firm hand of guidance. To be joyful and thankful for everything that we receive from each other and from God. But to above all love one another because that is what binds us together.
That then truly is motherhood, and today we celebrate and are grateful for it.