Saturday, 5 March 2016

A Mothers' Day sermon from prison: John 19 25-27

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas 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. (John 19.25-27)
We have a short Gospel passages today dealing with Mary the mother of Jesus, taking us back to the time where Jesus shows his concern for her even at the moment of his death. Traditionally we see Mary as the obedient young woman accepting the Angel’s message that she will have a son, and that has led to all sorts of religious ideas of Mary as the ideal mother. In this passage we see the responsibility of a child towards his mother. It's not a passage which sits very comfortably with the modern celebration of Mothers’ Day.

Mothers’ Day: in the church it is usually called Mothering Sunday. What’s the difference? Most people use the terms interchangeably but they are different.

Mothering Sunday started off as a religious celebration when Christians went to worship at the mother church – generally the local cathedral. That practice had fallen by the wayside by the twentieth century. Across the Atlantic in America and Canada, however, the Mothers’ Day celebration had become very popular and British organisations began to see the business opportunities in it and promoted it so well that by the 1950s it was well established in the U.K. to the extent that the two celebrations have become totally confused with each other. Mothering Sunday has become Mothers’ Day and in churches up and down the country children will be giving their mothers bunches of daffodils and prayers are said to celebrate motherhood.

I actively dislike Mothers’ Day. There, I’ve said it: hate me!

I’ve sat through plenty of Mothers’ Day services where there were women in the congregation who had never had children or who had lost children or had struggled with infertility or had suffered miscarriage after miscarriage or who never wanted children. How are these women meant to feel today?
My mother died a couple of years ago so as it currently stands Mothers’ Day is rather meaningless to me, and trying to get my own children to talk to each other about what to do for my wife today has been a bit like flogging a dead horse! As a family we are in danger of bickering the day away – which seems to defeat the object of a special day of celebrating, affirming and making a fuss of my wife, while she sits there with a long suffering look as if to say, “One day a year; one day and this is the best you can do!”

Of course the modern Mothers’ Day is a triumph of consumerism with its roses and chocolates and it's built around the principle that we do actually want to celebrate our relationships with our mothers. What if we don’t? What if it wasn’t a happy relationship? I’m really not sure that the idea that’s being sold to us about Mothers’ Day rings true for everyone.

Of course we must also acknowledge that for many here today this is a difficult day because we would like to spend time with our mothers, or watch our children with their mothers, and can’t.

No. I don’t like Mothers’ Day at all.

I think we need to acknowledge those feelings. Imagine the seat beside you is occupied by your mother, or by the mother of your children and that you could say just one thing, one sentence to her. What would it be?

On your seat is a post-it note and a pencil. Take a moment to think and write that sentence: the one thing you’d want to say. You won’t have to share it with anyone. I won’t read it out - I won't even read it. You can be completely honest. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or handwriting. If a picture or a symbol makes more sense, go with that.

But before you do, consider: is it about saying thanks? Is it about your sense of having been let down or is it about your sense of being the one who did the letting down? Is it in some way about you forgiving or asking for forgiveness?

We can’t change the past, but we can change the way we think about it: we can stop those feelings messing with our present by choosing to deal with them now – or at least by choosing to begin to deal with them now.

I’m going to collect those slips of paper in this basket and place them on the altar: in doing so, we’re symbolically leaving our hurt, pain and bad memories or our positive and happy memories with God.

Let’s do that now.

My wife’s church has struggled with these ideas, with the fall-out of brokenness from difficult upbringings and bad relationships. They have made a deliberate choice to change the wording of the Lord’s Prayer to begin, “God in Heaven, you who are Mother and Father of us all.” Then it continues in the traditional way.

They have acknowledged that the only perfect model of parental love is found in God’s love. If our own experience of being parented or of being a parent is painful – too painful to contemplate even, they have found comfort in pushing those experiences to one side and focusing on the love of God as the true expression of parental love.

I’ll be honest: it hasn’t always been easy but it has helped some people to recognise, in ways they hadn’t before that they are truly loved and have always been truly loved, sometimes in-spite of what they are or what they have been. The comfort here is that no one is beyond the love, the compassion, the understanding and the forgiveness of God. No one.

There is a prayer that I’d like to share with you:

God with a mother’s heart,

You gather us as your children.

You comfort us and hold us in your warm embrace.

When we hurt, your arms enfold us.

When we are afraid your wings protect us.

When we are hungry you feed us with the bread of life.

God with a mother’s heart,

Your love surrounds and supports us,

In good times and tough,

In the midst of joy and pain,

Always and everywhere.

You will never leave nor abandon us.

God eternal and loving,

God with a mother’s heart

We thank you this day

For being part of your family.


For later in the service

A time of prayer:

We take a stem and place it in the vase as we pray and remember…  

Mothers who are at the beginning of the adventure - either expecting or have recently had a child. In those early days may they have courage in the changes and hearts full of love. 

God of care, God of nurture, hear our prayer

We take another stem and remember mothers who struggle with the task, those who feel overwhelmed by the responsibility, perhaps very young, perhaps with a child who is difficult to care for. 

God of care, God of nurture, hear our prayer

We take another stem and place it in the vase and pray for those mothers who are ill or frail; who struggle that they cannot do for those they love the things they once could. 

God of care, God of nurture, hear our prayer 

We take another stem and remember children in the world especially those who have lost their mothers or who have mothers that do not care as they should. 

God of care, God of nurture, hear our prayer 

Finally, we pray for ourselves - asking that the things of God would be born in us and that we would know the nurture and compassion of the God who created us and loves us as passionately, tenderly and completely as a mother. 

God of care, God of nurture, hear our prayer Amen

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