FOR THE BRITISH, BUT AMERICANS PLEASE READ
What I have to say will initially make more sense to my U.K. readers than to those in North America. The reason for this statement is that in North America Mothers’ Day has been totally separated from Lent and specifically from Lent IV, often called Mothering Sunday. In Great Britain the Greetings Card and Flowers industries have made use of the “mother” in “mothering” to call it “Mothers Day” and churches have joined in with the natural human desire to celebrate human motherhood. In so doing the meaning of “Mothering” and of Lent IV have got lost.
The last part of the Gospel reading for Lent III [Luke 11] in the traditional Eucharistic Lectionary contains the exclamation of an excited woman about the mother of Jesus and then the reply of Jesus to her. In this exchange is a word to the British about Lent IV.
“Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that you have sucked.”
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
In his reply to the woman Jesus does not deny the blessedness of his mother. What he does is to accept what the woman declared and then invite her to see that there is a higher blessedness than the blessedness of a mother, even of Mary, delighting in her son’s success.
Human motherhood, however necessary and beautiful, belongs to the order of creation and not to the order of the kingdom of God and eternal redemption. In contrast, hearing and receiving the message of the Gospel of the kingdom of God and obeying the same is the means to eternal life and membership of the kingdom of God of the age to come. The happiness of the mother is pure and lovely but belongs to this age; the happiness of the true disciple is also pure and lovely but belongs to the age to come and is permanent.
Of course in Mary the mother of Jesus was the twofold happiness – that of the joy of motherhood (in her case a unique experience of motherhood) and that of the joy of discipleship for she was the disciple of the Son to whom she gave human birth.
What then is the message from Lent III to Lent IV? That the important celebration of human motherhood must not be put before the more important celebration of the Motherhood of the Church (see the Epistle for Lent IV, “The Jerusalem above is free and is our mother” Gal.4:26). “Mothering Sunday” was coined because of pilgrims going to the mother church of the diocese, the cathedral, on this day with gifts.
For clergy and laity who wish to be relevant (whatever that really means) it is much much easier to handle Mothers’ Day than Mothering Sunday. Human mothers are there and can be seen and blessed. In contrast the Church as our Mother is more elusive and moreso in cultures where individualism reigns. However, as the learned and enthusiastic Protestant, John Calvin said, “You cannot have God to be your Father, unless you have the Church as your Mother.”
It is in this Mother’s lap that we heard and hear the Word of God and receive the Sacraments. It is at this Mother’s breasts that we are fed the milk of eternal life. It is this Mother who yearns and prays for us and it is with this Mother in the company of the Blessed Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the holy angels that we shall by grace spend eternity.
The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon February 2002.