St Francis, Terriers - Mothering Sunday (06.03.2016)

Tony Dickinson

I get quite cross when people call today “Mother’s Day”. On one level Mother’s Day is easy. It’s about saying “thank you” to mothers. We might do that by organising breakfast in bed for our mother – did anyone in church do that this morning?

How about buying her a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers? Did anyone do that?

Who’s taking their mum out to lunch today? Or cooking her a special meal?

On another level Mother’s Day is quite difficult. What happens to those who have lost their mother? Or those who have a difficult relationship with their mother? What do they do? And what about those women who aren’t mothers, for whatever reason? How, I wonder, do they feel on Mothers’ Day?

That’s why I’m happier calling today “Mothering Sunday”. “Mothering Sunday” is a lot more complicated. You might say it’s a bit like a layer cake. We think about our mothers and we give thanks for them, but we build on a number of other layers of meaning.

The first layer is about young people at work. In past centuries, when most people lived in the countryside, boys and girls who were old enough to work would be sent off in the autumn to the hiring fair in the big town in search of a job, whether it was “in service” in a big house or as a farm labourer. They would have to stick at that job for six months, without any time off apart, perhaps, from Sundays. And then on Mothering Sunday they would be allowed to go home to their families. On their way home they would pick wild flowers from the hedgerows as a present for their mother. Which is why, at the end of this service we shall give out posies. Mothering Sunday is about letting go and welcoming home.

The second layer is about “Mother Church”. It used to be said that God is our Father and the Church is our Mother. If Church is working properly, it is where we learn how to be the people God made us to be. It is where we are nurtured, where we grow in faith and hope and love.

If Church is working properly, it is where all those things happen that St Paul wrote about to the Christians of Colossae: kindness, patience, mutual forgiveness, love, peace, thanksgiving and all the rest. It’s the place where we are taught how to sing God’s song, in the same way that our mothers teach us how to sing nursery songs. Mothering Sunday is about growing up as Christians, growing up into Christ.

The third layer is about Mary the mother of the Lord. For many Christians she is the mother who hears the crying of every human child and comforts them, whoever they may be. For many Christians she is the mother who understands and forgives – and not just for Christians. Many Muslims, too, have a great love for Mary the mother of Jesus. They call her “Meryem ana”, “mother Mary”. I’m told she is mentioned by name more times in the Qur’an than she is in the New Testament. Mary understands and forgives because her heart has been broken. The sword that Simeon prophesied, the sword of sorrow, pierced her soul when her son Jesus was killed. Mothering Sunday is about bridging gaps and bearing pain for love’s sake.

And the fourth layer is about Jesus. A wise and holy woman who lived more than six hundred years ago once wrote that Jesus is our true Mother. Now that isn’t as crazy as it sounds. How do most mothers feed their children when they are very young? They feed them with the milk which they make in their own bodies. Jesus also feed us with his body – and his blood. We receive them under tokens of bread and wine. He gives us himself so that we may receive his life and live his life. That, you might say, is the icing on the cake. Mothering Sunday is about being spiritually fed with God’s word in the Bible, with God’s life in the Holy Communion.

To him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…