This Sunday is Mothering Sunday. A day when we recognise and give thanks for the many different strands of motherhood – both physical and spiritual.
We perceive in the Gospel reading, a mother watching her son die and yet the compassion that Jesus had in asking a friend to take in his mother and love and respect her as his own mother. An act that involves so much emotion and comprehension to allow Mary to grieve yet giving her the chance to process that grief while remaining in loving community. Wrapped up in all this, is the brief nod to the consolation that comes from others, and in this case, this comes from the disciple.
An etiquette that wasn’t just about honouring the customs of the Jewish culture but was about being human. Acknowledging the rawness of grief, but enfolding that into a family situation. Bringing and holding it in community. Something that can be lost in the passage written by Paul. Although Paul is writing to a community, the Corinthians, these are words that can serve to meet each of us in our own needs. We will never know what the afflictions were that the Corinthians were being affected by, but we do know that God consoles us as we console others. Something we can only do, if we are in community.
Mothering Sunday is about community. It’s about allowing ourselves to be a part of a community. Historically, around the sixteenth century, Mothering Sunday was less about mothers and more about Church. People would make a journey to their ‘mother’ church once a year. This might have its origins in the annual pilgrimage one sees across the world in different traditions and indeed religions. Or in the grand estates of wealthy landowners who allowed their estate workers to travel home for a day off, to see their parents on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
The ‘mother’ churches, which may or may not have been a cathedral, would have provided a service to commemorate the coming together of families. Life more or less surrounded the church, so people would have gone to church, followed, I guess, by community gatherings to allow various folks to catch up with each other.
In contemporary society, that sense of community has become more dispersed. We have at our hands various forms of social media – social, while being passive. We don’t need to talk to anyone any more. We can just text, or email, or send an image. But that in itself is not enough. It is so easy to withdraw from the world and not interact with others. The sense of community changes with our expectations. Or, are our expectations dictated by our use of social media? Do we find ourselves subtlely changed by what we perceive the etiquette of social media expects of us? The desire to be in contact and able to converse with others and articulate ideas is central to the development of societies, and therefore of community.
The Church celebrates community on Mothering Sunday. Communities that have come together in many churches across the world, gathered by those who love and nurture others. Those, who have endured afflictions as Paul describes, who are able to console others. Who are willing to allow God to work through their afflictions and consolations to reach out to others. Because, as Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”
The process is reciprocal. As God gives to us, so we give to others. Unbelievably simple in concept, like so much of what Jesus’s theology is, yet incredibly complex in actually setting out to achieve it. Human emotions get in the way, as painful memories come to the surface, that might inhibit what we feel is being asked of us. Then there is the draw of social media where we can be absorbed into a passive, unspoken world where we don’t have to interact with real people. The danger there is that we don’t deal with the grief that sits in our hearts. Being in community makes us interact with others, where others can listen.
Communities, and here in St Peter and the Holy Rood, need to be places where the young and the old, the vulnerable and the quiet can come and be. Be present and feel safe. Feel that they can begin to trust those around them. To reach out in their time of need and know that we’ve got their backs. In this community, I hope we can continue to support and nurture those who need to grieve or struggle through what Mothering Sunday might mean to them, and continue to reach out, not just on one day but continually, just as the disciple who Jesus loved did, the day he took Mary into his home.