Mothering Sunday and the cross

John 19:25-27

Being Lent, we gather at the foot of the cross, yet today is Mothering Sunday – originally a pagan festival, held in honour of the Mother goddess Cybele. After Constantine converted to Christianity, the Roman Empire began to celebrate it as a Christian Festival, honouring the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mother Church. During the 16th-century, domestic servants were given the day off so that they could go home and see their own mothers. Often it was the only day of the year when families could come together.

By the mid-20th-century, Mothering Sunday was not celebrated in the UK, but it was revived by American soldiers who came to Europe to fight during World War II. The US troops celebrated it on the 2nd Sunday in Lent but when it became widely used through the nation again, we revived it for the 4th Sunday in Lent which is when it originally was throughout history.

So it’s not a commercial event. Really it’s a beautiful and thought-provoking moment in the midst of our Lent austerities. Coming as it does during Lent, it is appropriate this morning to link Mothering Sunday with the crucifixion of Christ through our Gospel reading.

As we turn to this Gospel reading, we are first confronted by the sheer pain of this moment…
A dying son.
A bewildered disciple.
A mother whose heart is breaking…

Mary knew what it was to suffer, as many of us do. Mary suffered when she gave birth in a filthy stable, far from home. Mary suffered when she heard that Herod wanted to kill her baby. Mary suffered when she was forced to become a refugee in Egypt. Mary suffered as she watched a whole nation misunderstand and taunt her son. And here, at the foot of the Cross, Mary suffers again as she watches her beautiful baby boy being crucified for a crime he has not committed. Her soul was being torn apart that day.

Parents experience anguish over our children many times throughout their lives. Some in our fellowship have known and carried pains the rest of us cannot imagine. Perhaps Mary might be a figure of compassion and solidarity, as one who identifies with pain?

And, as Mary thinks about her son, so Jesus thinks about his mother. He knows how much she is suffering – watching her in pain was torment enough, let alone everything else he was going through in those moments. It’s almost certainly the case that by the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary was a widow. More grief and bereavement and loss. There is no mention of Joseph after the episode at the Temple when Jesus was 12 years old. Every time Mary is mentioned in the Gospels – at the wedding in Cana, when she brings Jesus’ brothers and sisters to see him and so on – there is never any mention of Joseph, who, presumably had died.

Jesus knew her agony and he was aware that, after his own death there would be no-one to care for his mother. As an oldest son, that concerned him and so he says tells his mother and his friend they’re to care for each other. Even in his dying moments, Jesus’ concern was for the future well-being of his family.

All that being said, I think there might be something deeper still going on in this passage. Jesus entrusted Mary to the disciple John, but he didn’t entrust her to his brothers and sisters who were still alive. We know that he had four brothers – James, Joseph, Simon and Judas – and some sisters who are not named. That seems a little strange. Surely one of them could have looked after their mum into old age? But Jesus doesn’t pursue that option. Why? What else is going on here?

This is because there’s something quite profound about what Mary and the disciple John represent to us here. Because here are two people who are there with Jesus at the foot of the cross, two people who believe in his mission, two people who believe in his claim to be the Son of God – the Lord and Saviour of the world. This is in stark contrast to Jesus’ brothers, we know they didn’t believe in him. So it seems that what is happening here between Jesus and the two people at the foot of the Cross who believe in him, is that a new family is being created. Through the shedding of blood, a new home, a new community comes to life – a new family is born.

It is here, at the foot of the cross as Jesus sheds his blood and a woman embraces a boy and a boy embraces a woman – it is here that the church is formed.

Here in church, in this season of Lent, we gather at the foot of the cross, continuing the work that Jesus started that day – the formation and deepening of the church, proclaiming the same truth that was acted out that first Good Friday.

Here, in Farnham, is a new community.

Here, in Farnham, is a new family.

Here, in Farnham, is a new fellowship.

We are blood relatives. Not through our blood but through his, shed on the cross for us all.

Mary and John formed the church in their relationship with each other. They offered one another comfort. They strengthened each other. They encouraged one another and shared hospitality together. These, surely, must be the hallmarks of our church today: love, comfort, support and hospitality. This is what Jesus had in mind when he formed the church from the Cross that first Good Friday.

So, Mothering Sunday is so much deeper than sentimentality and human parenthood. It’s a time to celebrate those from whom we have known the love of a Mother, yes, but it’s also a time to give thanks for Mother Church, formed in the blood of Christ at the foot of the Cross.

Mother Church: where we find comfort and support and encouragement and love and hospitality.

Today, we are grateful for our blood relatives – not our biological relatives, but our fellow members of the church, who share faith in Jesus Christ.

In all we do, let’s be sure to celebrate all those we love with thankful hearts.

Similar Posts