A day of mixed emotions
I WONDER what you do on Mothering Sunday? Is it a special day for you in some way? Does it involve cards, visits, presents? Is it a happy day? Or a difficult day? Or maybe sometimes, for some of us, a bit of both?
Mothering Sunday was traditionally the day when people visited their ‘mother’ church – possibly their parish church, or the church where they were baptised or, more often, their cathedral. In the past, it was also a day when those ‘in service’ were allowed a day off to visit their mothers, often the only day of the year for a family to get together. Today the focus is more on honouring mothers and thanking them for all they do or have done for us. But it can be a day of mixed emotions, can’t it?
For some it’s a time to give thanks, to give or receive presents and cards, and to rejoice in the goodness of God in the provision of our mothers and, for some, a time to give thanks for the gift of children.
For others, it’s a time of excruciating pain. There will be some Christians who avoid church on Mothering Sunday, because the pain of loss, or childlessness, or distance, or estrangement is simply too much to bear. Some will have a duvet day, staying under the covers and waiting for the day, and the pain it brings, to pass.
The Bible is full of stories of women, some who experience the agony of childlessness, and some who experience both the joys and the pain of motherhood. Think of Moses’ mother hiding him in the bullrushes to save him from death, and Mary, initially overwhelmed with joy at being chosen by God to carry His son, then giving birth in a stable, and later having to flee as a refugee to a neighbouring country to avoid the genocide inflicted by a despot. Later she would watch Jesus’ ministry unfold and marvel at his miracles, his healings and his wisdom. But as Simeon foretold when he held the baby Jesus in his arms, a sword would pierce her soul. Mary would see him crucified. Sometimes we find ourselves in these biblical narratives somewhere, sometimes rejoicing, sometimes weeping.
I have found that whatever is going on in life, whether I am rejoicing or weeping, I can bring both my joys and my sorrows to the God who knitted me together in my mother’s womb, and who can be both father and mother to me. We tend to think of God as ‘Our Father in Heaven’ but there are lots of images in the Bible that show God in female terms – think of the woman searching for her lost coin, or of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and saying how he longed to gather them, ‘As a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’. In the Old Testament, there are images of God as a mother eagle stirring up her nest, then catching her offspring on her wings, and as a mother bear fiercely protecting her cubs. And verses like this one from Isaiah Chapter 49, verse 15:
‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
And have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will never forget you.
See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.’
God’s love for us is unconditional and unfailing. Whatever’s happening in life, we can find refuge in the shelter of his wings.
Rev’d Penny Cuthbert, Associate Vicar, St John’s Caversham