Scripture for the fourth Sunday of Lent (Mothering Sunday):
1 Samuel 1.20-28; Psalm 127 (sung); Colossians 3.12-17; John 19.25b-27
“You who are on the road / Must have a code that you can live by.” So wrote Graham Nash for the song Teach Your Children Well in 1968. We are all on the pilgrimage road of life, and so we all need a code that we can live by – plainly evident as the response to the pandemic has manifest the best and worst of human nature.
We learn to live in community in the same way that we learn to be spouses or parents – pre-cognitively, and later, as children in our families. We come to celebrate that gift of parenting on Mothering Sunday – an occasion of some delicacy, since not everyone has had positive experiences of motherhood or family life.
The origins of Mothering Sunday are believed to be broader than simply a celebration of maternity: despite some dispute about the matter, there is a tradition that Mothering Sunday began as a return to the ‘mother church’ of those away from home (usually in service).
Regardless of the accuracy of that notion, it contains a truth: that for many generations, the church, as much as the family, was the focal point of communal life in the cycle of birth, marriage and death. Just as we learn the basics about family life, long before we are consciously doing so, from our parents and the families around us, so the code by which people lived then was learnt through immersion in or association with the church.
That is no longer the case – just look at the precedence of self-interest over common good in the hoarders’ behaviour – although one could argue that the basic morality and ethics of the world around us have still been deeply influenced by Christian teaching and example.
The realignment of communal bonds from family to faith has deep roots in the Church. John’s gospel describes the words of Jesus to his mother and his disciple from the cross, in which he established a bond between the two to replace the blood line.
So, as Mother Church (which means us!), what are we teaching our children well? What are we teaching our children during this time of isolation? What are we teaching about sacrifice? About values? Isolation is reminding us how much we are communal, interdependent beings.
Graham Nash was inspired by a 1962 photograph by Diane Arbus, ‘Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park’. It depicts a child with an angry expression holding the toy weapon, and prompted him to reflect on the cultural implications of messages given to children about war and other issues. We may not have progressed very far in more than 50 years, as our children today are still raised amongst images of anger, conflict and violence – and now, selfishness.
On this day when we ponder the gift of life when each of us was ‘given to light,’ as the Spanish express birth, we rightly give thanks for those who carried us physically, but we also rightly give thanks for all those who have carried us in the womb of the mother church and shaped and formed us: those who taught us well.
We inherit a responsibility to carry that teaching forward. Our children are a gift to the community, not just to their parents.
“Feed them on your dreams,” wrote Graham Nash. May the dreams be the valuable ones for which Jesus gave his life, leaving him to realign bonds of family from the cross: dreams of humility in service, of peace, of justice, and of loving our neighbours as ourselves.