Sunday 22nd March – Mothering Sunday
The fourth Sunday in Lent is Mothering Sunday. It’s sometimes also known as “Mid-Lent” or “Refreshment Sunday”. On this special day, some relaxation was allowed of the self-denial which used to be very much a feature of Lent.
Children living away from home, mainly servants and apprentices, were always given a day’s holiday, and flocked to their parents’ houses, often making long journeys on foot. The reunited family would usually attend church together before sharing a traditional Sunday meal. But the main purpose of the visit was to present mother with a small gift.
Honoré de Balzac said: “The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.”
Mary, the mother of Jesus, stands at the foot of the cross in our Gospel reading for today. I wonder what it feels like to learn your son is to be executed? Yet Mary had the courage to stand there at the foot of the cross as her son hung from it. She had the courage to be there for her son when he needed her support, no matter what the cost to her. Somehow she found the strength to stick it out, to be alongside him in his hour of great need.
And this is both a privilege and a requirement of parenting, of both mothers and fathers, to endure and to go on enduring, no matter what the cost to yourself.
Perhaps it’s reasonably easy to stand alongside your children in their hour of need, when they behave properly and grow up into responsible, law-abiding citizens. But I wonder what it’s like when your children don’t turn out to be the sort of people you hoped they’d be?
I wonder what it’s like for the parents of offspring who are accused of a terrible crime? I guess it doesn’t make too much difference to a mother whether her child is innocent or guilty. The pain she feels must be beyond imagining, because love goes way beyond concepts of innocence or guilt. Love endures whatever the cost, whatever the pain.
The sort of love God has for us, is the sort of fierce, protective love a mother has for her child, only more so. God’s love for us goes beyond concepts of innocence or guilt. He will be standing there at the foot of our cross, whatever that might be, whether we deserve to be hanging there or not. He will stay alongside us throughout, enduring but not condemning.
And if that’s the sort of love God has for us, then we need to find that sort of love not only for our own children, but for everyone else as well. It means suspending judgement about other people. It means standing alongside them no matter whether we think they’re innocent or guilty – that concept is immaterial. It means sticking with them no matter what the cost, no matter what the pain.
“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.” And endurance, and pain, and strength, and above all, love. For the hearts of mothers, at their best, mirror the heart of God.
God of love,
passionate and strong,
tender and careful:
watch over us and hold us
all the days of our life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A reading from the book of Exodus.
A man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children, ’ she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, ‘because, ’ she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’
Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.
Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 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.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.