There’s no doubt that this year we celebrate Mothering Sunday with a difference. For the first time in history instead of doing all we can to invite you into church we’re actively discouraging you from attending. All the church trappings of the day are gone – the flowers, the singing, the children running up and down the aisle, the priest trying to keep a straight face as their best laid plans for the service are overtaken by the children’s excitement.
Mothering Sunday is a joyful occasion, and rightly so, because we celebrate with thanks all the mums – biological and adopted – who have nurtured us and given us our first and often deepest glimpse of what it means to love selflessly and completely. On this day we also give thanks for the Mother Church which loves and nurtures us. For many the words we hear Jesus say from the cross in today’s gospel reading – “woman behold your son” – mark the beginning of the ministry of the church, as Mary becomes the adopted mother of all Jesus’s disciples after his death. So today is particularly poignant, as for the very first time – on Mothering Sunday of all days – the doors of the church are closed for public worship.
But perhaps that closure of our church gives us an opportunity to recognise today the pain and loss that can be experienced in relation to mothering, even as we celebrate the goodness and the beauty. We remember today mothers we have loved and lost, we acknowledge the brokenness and loss that so many privately experience, and the sheer challenge that motherhood can bring even in the most ideal of homes. As today’s reading recognises, the power and need of a mother’s love can be felt most poignantly in times of tragedy from which none of us are exempt.
For me as a priest in the mother church, I have never felt that love and commitment for this community more powerfully or more poignantly than I do today. But as any mother knows, when one opportunity to express love is removed, through kids moving away or a change in life circumstances beyond our control, another avenue for expressing our care always opens. Through the sheer force of longing to reach out, we all always find new ways to support and nurture one another.
Just as Mary in today’s reading finds herself challenged to direct her love for her son outwards towards his beloved disciples and the wider world, so we as a church are suddenly required to get creative in how we reach out. “Game on”, as the expression goes! What a fantastic opportunity we have to reimagine how we express our care, to hear afresh the needs of our community, to engage in new ways with the people we live.
We do so taking our inspiration from the very best of the nurture offered by so many mothers and exemplified by Mary. And we do so with immense gratitude to God for the love he pours out for us, and for the examples of so many wonderful people that he sets before us. I pray God’s abundant blessing upon you today: however you are spending this Mothering Sunday I pray that you may experience how deeply you are held in love.