The fourth Sunday of Lent – also Mothering Sunday
Scripture for the week: 1 Samuel 1.20–28; Psalm 127.1–4; Colossians 3.12–17; John 19.25b–27
There are various stories and theories about the origin and meaning of Mothering Sunday. At the heart of many is the idea that children in service were allowed to go home to their mothers and their mother churches on the middle Sunday of Lent. The church played a central role in family life.
All parents at some point have to face the prospect of separation from their children; children have, eventually, to experience separation from their parents. The idea of Mothering Sunday being rooted in sending children away – or letting them go – plays a central role in many biblical stories of motherhood.
Hannah, who has prayed so earnestly for a child that Eli, the priest thought she was drunk, when finally given her heart’s desire, gives the child, Samuel, back to God. Mary, enlisted as the bearer of the Christ child, and entrusted with his nurture, has to give Jesus back to God – in a heart-searing, painful way.
But this is not one-way traffic. Isn’t this what God does for us – to give us life, to give birth to us as individuals and as peoples, to nurture us, and then to let us go? God, of course, pays careful attention to our well-being even after letting us go.
The characteristics of mothering are broad and diverse – and, in the Bible, never sentimental, or soppy, or over-romantic. Think of the mother of Moses, willing to let go of her son to save his life; or Sarah, Ruth, Rachel, Leah and Rebecca, each of whom demonstrates a different aspect of mothering. In the new testament, Mary accepts her fate as bearer of Christ, and then is told and lives to see that a “sword will pierce your heart.”
We need someone to look after us, to defend and protect us, to help us to learn who we are and what our purpose might be, to model trust, faith and joy; someone to risk loving us, even though it may bring pain and loss; and ultimately to love us enough to allow us to go our own way. Our earthly parents fulfil those roles, of course; but when they – or we – fall short, we have the mothering presence of God.
As members of the church, we form the body of Christ in the world. And, as the church has done since its formative days, we inherit the mothering role of God that Jesus shows us.
Mothering Sunday is an opportunity to give thanks for motherhood, and for the mothering presence of God, both directly, and through others who share this role with us.