Mothering - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons


John 19:25-27

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25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

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One of the things I have been delighted to discover about our congregation here at St Bride's, is what a wonderfully diverse group of people we are - in terms of our ages, backgrounds, family circumstances and careers (past or present).  And that is also, incidentally, one of our greatest strengths.  It may well be an easier task to set about growing a congregation where everybody looks pretty much like everyone else, and everyone agrees with everyone else.  But it seems to me that that is emphatically not what the Kingdom of God looks like.

However, despite our many differences, there are two things that every single one of us here today has in common - regardless of who we are, and where we are from.

The first is that each one of us has, or has had, a mother.  She may have been a wonderful mother, or a terrible mother; she may have been someone with whom we were (or are) very close; or with whom we have had a very difficult relationship.  She may have died many years ago; she may still be very much with us today; or alternatively, perhaps we never even knew who she was.  But, nevertheless, we all had one.  And whoever she was, and regardless of the circumstances of our birth, she gave each one of us a very precious gift - which is the gift of life.

And the second thing that we all have in common, interestingly enough, is another mother - this time, our mother the Church.  And just as with our biological mothers, each one of us will have had a very different kind of relationship with her, too.  Some of us may have grown up within the Church and never left; others of us may have discovered the Church more recently; some of us may find her a very comfortable and congenial place to be; others of us may come reluctantly, or simply out of a sense of duty.

But regardless of the precise nature of our relationship with her, our mother the Church offers each one of us another very precious gift - which is this:  it doesn't matter who or what we are; it doesn't matter what it is that has brought us here today; it doesn't matter what our relationship with the Church has been in the past, or is in the present - regardless of all of that, she is always here for us, just as the love of God is always here for us.  All we need to do is to open our hands, and open our hearts and receive it.  It really is that simple.  That is why one of the things that I love about the Church of England is that we have a duty of care to everybody in our 'patch' regardless of who they are.  If they wish to receive our ministry, it is there for them.

So, those are two things that we all have in common.  And to those two, I would like to add a third, which I suspect may be true for most of us, if not all.  Because I would hazard a guess that the majority of us here today, regardless of our background and circumstances, have at some time or another received a form of 'mothering' from someone who was not our biological mother.  It may have been a step-mother, or a foster mother, or a childminder; or an aunt or a grandparent; or a wife, or a sister, or a teacher, or it may simply have been a friend.  It may have been someone much older than us - or someone who was actually younger than we are.  It may even have been a male, rather than a female - which, interestingly enough, has good biblical precedent: after all, it was Jesus himself who, in Luke's Gospel, wept over Jerusalem saying: "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings" - which is a wonderful, and expressly maternal image.

The point being that the precise details really are rather unimportant.  The key thing is that, at a time when we really needed it, there was someone who was ready to give us love and support of a motherly kind.

So, while I am, of course, totally in favour of today being a day when everyone is especially nice to their mums, if they happen still to have them (after all, I am one myself) - it is very important to remember that Mothering Sunday is actually about considerably more than that.

So, let's run a bit further with the idea of Mother Church for a moment.  For Christians the Church should rightly be experienced as a place of safety and nurture; a place where we are enabled to grow and to flourish; a place where we hear the word of God, and are fed, and challenged, and inspired, as members of a community of love and service.  But just as importantly, the Church is also a place from which we must then depart and go out into the world, confidently and courageously, equipped to embrace the opportunities we are offered, and to meet the challenges that we face, bearing the light of Christ, and knowing that we can then return and come home again for refreshment and renewal.

But for this to be possible, the Church needs to be the right kind of mother for us: a mother that is endlessly nurturing and supportive, but never controlling; a mother that encourages us to explore; to discover who we truly are; to discover who God truly is, rather than forcing us into pre-established roles and identities. 

Because mature faith is just like a mature relationship with the best kind of mother who creates a home where we know we are always welcome, but also equips us to leave - enabling us to depart into the world, supported by that life-giving relationship - a relationship that is always a joy, and never a burden.  And it is by going out, as part of the community of our Mother, the Church, that we can be channels of that love and grace for others.

So, what is it that determines whether or not our own Mother Church is a good mother?  The answer to that will depend to a considerable extent upon us: upon the kinds of people we are; and the type of community we create when we come together, Sunday by Sunday.  Because as the American theologian Craig Dykstra once observed, 'People cannot be introduced to or incorporated within a repenting, praying, and serving community unless there is one.'

As today is first and foremost a celebration of Mother Church, I am very much of the view that absolutely everyone should receive a gift - not simply those of us who happen to be mothers.  Usually this takes the form of flowers (which we may well be doing here again next year).  But this year, we are making a virtue of necessity, and doing something a little different. 

A little later in the service, the children from the Sunday Club will be giving out bookmarks, which double as prayer cards, which contain the special prayer for Mothering Sunday; but also a picture of St Bride's, and a lapel badge of our wonderful spire - as a reminder that our church is far more than an extraordinary historic building.  For she is our Mother Church.  In the same way, it should remind us that we are not merely a congregation, but also a community.  A community that has the scope to provide comfort, and healing and joy; to lift the spirits of those who come here feeling burdened, or afraid, or alone. A community where we can learn to bear one another's burdens, just as a mother loves and supports her own child. 

Because, as our gospel reading reminds us, in that astonishing moment in St John's account of the crucifixion, we are charged to be here for one another:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother: 'Woman, behold your son.'  The he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'  And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

And thanks be to God for that.



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