Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent: ‘Mothering Sunday’; preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey on Sunday, 10 March 2024 by the Reverend Rebecca McDonnell (Colossians Ch 3: v 12 – 17; Luke Ch 2: v 33 – 35)

Let us take a moment of quiet to begin with prayer as we think about our own mothers with thanks or with lament – and for those who have mothered us throughout our lives, whether they be female or male, related or not.

To also think of those that we have mothered in our turn, whether they were our birth children or not, whether they were children or adults.

We lament in sadness, in anger, in pain the loss we feel at mothering relationships that never happened, or that were far from perfect, those that we wish had been different, those we had no control over, and those we have some responsibility for.

We come too in gratitude for those who have mothered us in childhood and in adulthood, for parents, teachers, kind friends and relatives, female and male – who have shown us glimpses of your love for each one of us.

Card companies, supermarkets etc would like you to believe that today is Mother’s Day, a day exclusively dedicated to biological mothering, which can be wonderful, and I’m not detracting from the joy today brings to many. It does mean I get spoilt a little today, although really my very favourite thing to get is something handmade from school, with squiggles and too much glue and glitter that speak the loudest about love. However, this can also lead to great pain in those who find a whole day dedicated to mums too difficult to bear, or you can be left feeling left out, or it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

In the Church today is Mothering Sunday, that halfway point in lent where we can relax our Lenten discipline and have a day of rejoicing. It is also known as refreshment Sunday, or Laetare Sunday taken from the Latin introit that begins ‘Rejoice, O Jerusalem.’ Personally, I think it a great shame that today has drifted so far from its origins, and from the chance to reflect on mothering as a concept that applies to everyone and celebrates all. Mothering is a great equalizer, everyone throughout the history of the world, and across every nation, has had a mother, and has been mothered by people in their lives (whether related or not) and probably offered mothering in some way to others. And God in turn mothers us, in Luke 13 Jesus says, ‘How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood her under wings!’ Jesus showed us the ultimate, unconditional love of a parent who was is full of mercy and forgiveness. (And rather more patience than a mum trying to get the kids ready for school!)

As we gather here together, we are reminded of two great mothers that we all share. Our blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, indeed Mother of God, in Greek ‘Theotokos’ God bearer. As patron of our Abbey church, we are surrounded by her image, and reminded that she is the one to whom we look for the ultimate example of mothering. Our Gospel reading today takes us back to Candlemas, to Jesus being presented in the temple to Simeon. He gives that wonderful vision of how Jesus would change and shape people’s lives, both Jews and Gentiles, destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel. Then he warns Mary that a sword will piece her own soul too, foreshadowing that moment when she would stand at the foot of the cross, looking upon the agony of her precious child.

Even when blessed with your own children, life is not always easy or wonderful as the trite greeting’s cards would have us believe. A mother’s life is a pendulum of both pain and joy. I don’t mind sharing with you that my youngest, Murdo, that you all know as an energetic and boisterous 4-year-old, was a very poorly baby. Seeing him lying motionless in an intensive care ward, tubes breathing for him, it very much felt like the worst pain imaginable, like a sword had pierced my soul. In these moments it’s the strength of faith that we draw upon, knowing that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for ourselves and our families, as witnessed by his mother Mary. She was brave, bold, faithful, and loving as the mother of God, and when I look up at our great West window, I am reminded of all she gave and all she was.

Which leads me to the next mother we all share, this very building we are sat in. This church could rightly be referred to as our mother church (we could say that about Salisbury Cathedral too, but the Cathedral here predates that!). The origins of Mothering Sunday date back to the 16th century, celebrated on the fourth Sunday of lent, when people returned to their ‘mother church,’ their home church or cathedral, with a special service symbolising the coming together of families. This then became a special day for those in service, in big houses or on farms, to have a day off to visit home, go to church, and spend time with their families. Our mother church is a gathering place for all to be welcome, we were hearing from Revd Jim last week about inclusivity, and who is missing from our congregation. This Abbey is the mother church to many, not just those here today, and all are welcome in her warm embrace.

This also reminds us of how we are called to be family ourselves, all part of the body of Christ. Our reading from Colossians tells us how we must bear with each other and forgive each other. Just as being a mother isn’t easy, so living together as a family has its challenges. But we are told to ‘clothe ourselves with love,’ to let the ‘peace of Christ rule in our hearts’ as we are called to be the one body. As we continue to journey together through lent, try to keep those words in your hearts, as seek to draw close to Christ in the oneness of a Christian family under one mother church, and as part of the worldwide community of Christians.

I pray you have a wonderful day, whether you are being taken out for lunch or afternoon tea, spoilt with flowers and cards, spending the day gathered with family. Or if today carries complex feelings of pain, loss, of something missed or greatly desired, may Christ meet you in that place of brokenness and bring healing and peace.    Amen.