Succentor - The Revd Rachel Young
If we go into a card shop, we can see the very definite message that Mothers’ Day is about showing our appreciation to our own mother (usually by sending her a pink card...)
In the church, Mothering Sunday is rooted in the practice of visiting your mother church on one Sunday in the middle of Lent – the church where you were brought up, or where your family still goes.
Neither of these explanations is adequate for us; we could raise objections to either of them – what if we never knew our mother, or were brought up by others? What if we have no links to a mother church?
Our readings this morning shed light on a much broader and more complete understanding of this celebration.
Someone asked me last week why our New Testament reading had been chosen for Mothering Sunday. After all, it’s fairly obvious why the stories of Hannah and Samuel, and of Jesus giving John to his mother Mary, might be chosen for today; but our New Testament reading puts those into a larger context.
Hannah and Elkanah found it difficult to conceive. As devout Jews, they went to the Temple in Jerusalem every year to offer the required sacrifices; and Hannah wept her heart out to God. She promised to offer her firstborn son to God to work in the temple as a nazirite, a common practice in those times.
She took him after he had been weaned, probably about aged three; and when she returned every year, she brought him a new little robe to wear as part of his ceremonial outfit.
The story glows with thanksgiving and love.
At the foot of the cross were Mary (Jesus’ mother), his mother’s sister Salome, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Mary Magdalene and the disciple whom he loved, John.
John and James were Salome’s sons, and therefore Jesus’ cousins.
Perhaps Jesus’ brothers didn’t yet believe in him, and so Jesus felt compassion for his mother and gave her to John. A circle of familial love: son for mother, mother for son, cousins for each other, nephew for aunt. And then we heard the apostle Paul talking to the Corinthian Christians.
He describes the God of all consolation
“who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”
Suddenly we have a new theme to consider – affliction, suffering. Not just love. And the place of divine comfort – or consolation and encouragement – in the face of these.
This divine comfort is a more invigorating activity than is meant by the English words ‘consolation’ or ‘comfort’. Comfort as Paul conceives it may take the form of empowerment to endure sufferings. It is ‘comfort’ that enables a person to stand on their feet and face life as it is. And then he explains that we are caught up in all of this because of the suffering of Jesus. Suffering and consolation are intimately connected with Christ.
Paul believes we share Christ’s suffering; consolation comes through Christ. As Christians, we enter into the pattern of Christ’s dying and rising, we suffer with him and he with us; and through this, ultimately,
there is no situation in which we cannot know
the consolation of God.
From God alone comes all comfort. This is good news for us all. Because life is full of suffering. And the love of mothers for their children is one way to experience the consolation and comfort which originates in God – but only one way.
It is a good example; although, nowadays we would broaden the description to include the love of a good parent or guardian for children in their care.
Hannah and Mary had their fair share of suffering:
Hannah and Elkanah’s suffering was infertility;
Mary at foot of cross was watching her son Jesus die... Somehow, seeing her distress, Jesus showed her his love by giving her John. John and Mary could comfort one another;
they knew consolation directly through the suffering of Jesus on the cross.
What about us?
How does this link into our experience of life?
What are our experiences of knowing God’s love through suffering?
All of us know the suffering that we see around us in the world – in our local neighbourhoods, perhaps in our own families or friendship groups, perhaps in the people we spend our life working for, or further afield in the news reporting that we cannot escape. And many of us know suffering in our own lives.
When we are caught up in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, then we can know the love of God – even though our circumstances may not be full of joy. The challenge for us – set by Paul – is that, having experienced the consolation of God, we must then console others;
having experienced the love of God,
we must show his love to others.
So that we, and they, can be given the comfort that enables us to stand on our feet and face life as it is.
For Paul, there is a strong link between believing and doing. It’s no good just believing, we have to show what we believe in what we do.
And one of the ways we can do this is by taking up the challenge he sets us, and responding with love and thanksgiving – like Hannah –
to the love that God shows us.
- When we ourselves suffer
and are shown love by others…;
- when those we love become ill
or reach the end of their earthly life…;
- when we respond to the suffering
we see around us in the world…;
we are participating in the suffering of Jesus and the consolation that can be known through him.
We are part of the ebb and flow of God’s love and compassion for the world.
We are part of the way in which humanity is enabled to flourish and God’s kingdom is seen on earth.
This is the love in which mothers – parents, guardians – participate in particular, and which we celebrate today.
Mothering Sunday is all about God’s love,
however we experience it.
Later in this service we offer flowers
to mark the love that is shown
by parents for their children.
And today we can all be caught up
in the love that God has for us all,
his consolation which we can experience
despite what life throws at us.
The comfort that gives us strength to carry on.