Wednesday, March 06, 2002

Holy Mother Church

There are many images or word pictures of the Church (ecclesia) in the New Testament - probably about 90!

We tend to use some of them very often and hardly notice others. And our use of this or that image tends to follow trends that begin somewhere (e.g., in the ecumenical movement or in an important R.C. document). So, for example, we have heard much recently of the Church as "Communion" and even "Community." And in the heyday of the charismatic movement it was all "the Body of Christ." At other times it has been "Family of God" "pilgrims and sojourners" and so on.

Some of the images have a definite feminine content not only in terms of grammatical gender but also in terms of what pictures and association of ideas they produce in the human mind. For example, the Church as the "Bride of Christ" (Ephesians 5:24ff.), the "spotless Spouse/wife" of the spotless Lamb (Revelation 19:7; 21:2 & 9; 22:17) and, of course, "Mother" (Galatians 4:26). Because of these images of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the whole Christian tradition - Orthodox, Roman Catholic & Protestant -- uses the feminine pronoun, "she" of the Church.

Catholics speak of "holy Mother Church" and even Protestants sing, "From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride."

What is conveyed to us by the image of the Church as Mother?

A mother conceives a child, bears him in her womb, gives birth to him, suckles him, feeds and cares for him, provides for and guides him, feels his pain and enjoys his successes and then is there for him for as long as she lives, however old and experienced he is.

So when we think of the Church as our mother we think of the Church as the s phere where the Word of God is preached and taught, the sacraments are administered, fellowship in the Lord and with others is provided, healing and nurture are available and given, prayer one for another is asked for and offered, and ministries of many kinds are available to every need. When the human being first as convert, then as catechumen, then as baptized believer and then as mature Christian experiences the nurture and care of the Church then he knows the Church as Mother.

In and by holy mother Church, who is the Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sinner hears the call of the Gospel and is brought to spiritual birth and so enters the kingdom of God; he is baptized in the Church and admitted to the Table of the Lord to be fed with heavenly manna and for the whole of his life as a Christian he is nourished and cared for by this holy Mother.

This holy Mother, the Bride of the heavenly Bridegroom, belongs not merely to space and time but also to heaven for she is the new Jerusalem in heaven (Galatians 4:26) whose loving arms, as it were, hold within them all baptized believers in space and time. In this sense the word "catholic" in the Creed has reference to the true universal dimension, to both heaven and earth, the invisible and visible worlds, for the Church is first of heaven and then of earth.

The Church acts as our Mother through the presence of the Holy Ghost and under the guidance of Christ the Bridegroom, and she provides nurture and care through the use of the Ministry and all the members.

So we can speak of being formed in her womb, being brought into the kingdom of God by her, of receiving milk from her breasts and honey from her table, of being given loving care from her hands, and of resting our weary selves in her lap. And we can say all this because we understand the use of images and symbolism as means of conveying important truths in attractive ways.

And as one leading Protestant Reformer wrote: " You cannot have God [the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ] as your Father unless you have the Church as your Mother." He was right as long as we realize that "Father" is a proper Name for the first Person of the Holy Trinity while "Mother" is not a proper name for but an image of the Ecclesia of God.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon March 6, 2002

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