16 May 2017

The Gift of Mary

Author: Teresa Burnett-Cole  /  Categories: Miscellaneous, Spirituality  / 
According to Hallmark Cards 27th July is Auntie’s day; 3rd October is Grandparents day, 21st June is Father’s day; 20th February is Pet’s day and today is Mother’s Day. In fact, find a relative and the card manufacturers will invent a day for it. I am sure that very soon there will be a great Aunt twice removed day.

So today apparently is Mother’s Day – unless of course you are in church, in which case ministers across the country reminding you that today is not Mother’s Day, it is Mothering or Family Sunday, and we will come to why in a little bit.

So what do you find on your cards from Hallmark or the card factory? Teddy Bears? Roses? And what does the lectionary give us as a bible reading for Mothering Sunday? John 19. Mary standing at the foot of the cross watching her son die. Anyone get a card this morning with a picture of that? I will buy you a round of beer for anyone who can find me a Mother’s Day card with a picture of Mary standing at the foot of the cross.

The biblical picture of Motherhood isn’t quite the saccharin image that we have from Hallmark.

In our first reading we have Hannah – finally finally giving birth. This is Hannah living in a polygamous marriage, trapped for years in the pain of infertility, taunted by her sexual rival, made to feel not good enough because she could not have a child.

Then we have Mary. Mary the teenage mum becoming pregnant when she is not yet married. Mary the young widow – we don’t know exactly when Joseph died, but we know that by the time Jesus is a grown up, Mary is maybe 45 or so, and Joseph is dead. Mary who stands at the foot of the cross watching her son die. Mary – and this is a powerful image – Mary in Michelangelo’s powerful statue of the Pieta, cradling her son’s dead body.

The biblical image of Motherhood doesn’t quite match that of the card manufacturers where nothing is ever difficult and everyone has 2.4 children.

Except of course that even plain and sailing motherhood isn’t quite like that.

One woman who had three children was asked, "If you had it all to do over again, would you have children?" "Yes," she replied, "But not the same ones.”

Another mother says, "The joy of motherhood is what a woman experiences when all the children are finally in bed."

In the church we are careful not to call this day Mother’s day, because there are people in our own congregation and in every congregation who find Mother’s Day difficult. Everyone can mother other people and everyone needs mothering. There are those like Hannah struggling with infertility or those who never met the right person or who for whatever reasons can’t have children. There are those like Mary cradling the dead Jesus for whom today brings up thoughts of grief. We have at least two members of our congregation who have seen their adult children die before them. There are many others for whom it is the loss of their mom that is painful. We may not all be mothers or have mothers but all of us need mothering.

There’s a well-known saying, origin unknown, “It takes a village to raise a child,” in other words, every single one of us needs more mothering than any one mother could ever provide. And although motherhood is a unique honour and challenge, all mothering takes place within families and communities and networks of support and influence.

In our reading “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?

There is 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. In John 7:5, we are told quite starkly, “Not even his brothers believed in him.”

So it seems that what is happening here between Jesus the Saviour and the two people at the foot of the Cross who believe in him, is that a new family is being created.

Verse 26 again: “Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, ‘He is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘She is your mother.’ From that time the disciple took her to live in his home.”

A new family is created in the shadow of the cross. Through the blood of Christ, 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!”

Apparently, the mother to give birth to the most children ever was Mrs Feodor Vassilyev who lived in 18th Century Russia. She gave birth to – wait for it – 69 children! 27 pregnancies including 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. Only two of the children died in infancy. Those of you who think your children are a handful – be glad that you are not Mrs Vasilyev!

69 children!

But the family formed at the foot of the cross is bigger than that. The family that little Thomas was baptized into today includes not just the 100 or so people here this morning, but also 2 billion other people around the world. Don’t worry Thomas, you don’t have to send all of them Christmas cards. “It takes a village to raise a child,” in other words, every single one of us needs more mothering than any one mother could ever provide. The story of John being entrusted to Mary and Mary to John is the start of a new family which is incredibly supportive. I can speak of the ways I have been supported by people in this congregation – but I know many of you have even more ways of how you have been supported by the motherly love of this congregation. Thomas, you have entered something quite special today.

In John’s Gospel – John represents all of us – that’s why he is never given a name – just referred to as the disciple Jesus loved. It’s like one of those films where you don’t see the main character because they are behind the camera – John is behind the camera – we see the Gospel through his eyes. So when John is entrusted to Mary, we all are entrusted to Mary. And because death is not the end for us, because Jesus has defeated death, that relationship continues. That’s why many Christians over the centuries and still today think of Mary as being a Mother to us. John 19:27 “Here is your mother.” “Woman, here is you child.” Jesus’ mom is now Our Mom.

Mary is also an example to us. As former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams puts it, “For centuries, Christians have kept coming back to the idea that what happens in Mary is what has to happen to some degree in each of us. She, uniquely and once for all, says a yes so complete that her entire material life is changed by the coming of God to her; God's everlasting gift of himself that is the Son, the Word, emerges from her to begin that life which will change everything in creation. But we are called to the same job, to give God room so that we may be changed, so that the eternal Word will live in us and speak and act in love to others.”

Many of us are tempted to think – if only our children were better behaved, life would be easier. Don’t bet on it! Mary had a great son in Jesus – and look how hard her life was!

The good news that we can think of Jesus’s mom as being our mom – because death is no longer the final barrier – is also good news for all who have come here today to remember earthly mothers who no longer with you. Death has been defeated, so in that new family the church, your mothers in heaven are not separated but united with you through the love of Jesus.

But do you notice something about Jesus and Mary his mother in our reading today?

The roles reverse!

“Even though Jesus is dying he begins to mother her. She becomes the child. He calls her ‘Dear Woman’ and then proceeds to place her into the arms of his very best friend. He provides a shelter for her…

...In the same way today he wants to mother us. He notices us, even in our worst moments of pain, shame and humiliation, he is there for us. When we have our crosses to bear, he is there for us, just like Mary was for him.

It was Jesus who described himself as a ‘mother’ – a mother hen who longed to gather her ‘brood’ under her wings, and give them her peace, if only they would let her.

There are SO many lessons that Jesus teaches us from the cross itself. He shows us the way, by his own example, how we ought to forget our own selves, our pain, our miseries and complaints, and give love like that of a mother to others.”

So today, as we give thanks for our human mothers and all they did for us, let us remember the motherly love of Mary and Jesus to us, and be inspired to show that motherly love to others.
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