The true meaning of Mothering Sunday
Mothering Sunday John 19: 25b – 27
Jack frowned at the rack of greetings cards. "Can I help you?" asked the shop assistant.
"I'd like a card for Mothering Sunday" Jack explained. "But they all say Mother's Day."
"Same thing," came the reply, but Jack shook his head.
"No, they're not. The lady I'm buying it for isn't my mum" he said. "But she's been like a mother to me."
Jack was right. Mother's Day and Mothering Sunday might fall on the same date, but they're not the same thing. One celebrates mothers, but the other celebrates mothering. Originally, Mothering Sunday had little to do with human mothers: it referred to the Church, and indirectly to God, as mother of us all. Part of the observance of Lent, on that day the Church required Christians to worship at their "mother" church, the one that had nurtured them. As a result, people working away, perhaps in service, could return home and spend a day with their families. They might take a posy of spring flowers for their mothers. Sadly Mothering Sunday has gradually become a very commercialised event called Mother's Day.
Todays Gospel reading indicates that mothering isn't restricted to our birth mothers. As Jesus approached his death on the cross, his compassion for those who loved him never failed. People often understand this scene only in terms of Mary being taken into the disciples home and receiving his protection. But Jesus is also asking his mother to love and take care of his friend. Knowing that his mother and his closest friend would each need support after his death, he commended them to one another's keeping.
Jesus is saying to Mary, "Give a mother's love to my friend, be like a mother to him - mother my disciple." And to all of us who stand beneath the cross, and watch him dying because he loved, he says the same thing: "Mother my disciples." To the disciple, Jesus says, "Be like a son to Mary''. Whether we are male or female, God calls us to share his love with others. We are called to be Christ to our neighbour, and to see Christ in our neighbour.
This Gospel reading reminds us, that mothering must have an object. The concept of mother only makes sense if there is someone to be mothered: the "Here is your son" to Mary implies the "Here is your mother" to the disciple. He creates a relationship, that mirrors the very nature of God. The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that God is love, the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father, flowing through the Spirit and drawing us, too, into the very heart of God as the Spirit touches our hearts.
The love of a good mother for her children is an appropriate image for God's love for us. It certainly captures the way God puts up with our naughtiness, our sin, and yet still loves us. God himself gives us the pattern for parenthood which is the pattern for all our dealings with one another: strengthening, encouraging and forgiving; serving, loving and surrendering.
Let's make a point of calling today Mothering Sunday, not Mothers' Day, because today isn't only for mothers. Nobody should feel left out, because men can mother people, childless women can mother people. It's surely no accident that senior nuns are called Mother!
So today we give thanks: for our own mothers and all that they do or once did; for those who have been like a mother to us; and for God's mothering love for each one of us.