Gracious God, pour into our hearts such love toward you, that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises which exceed all that we can desire; Amen
After living in this country now for over 20 years, you’d think finally we have got used to Mother’s Day being in May. Growing up this occasion, called Mothering Sunday originally, happens on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Mothering Sunday marked the mid-point of Lent and allowed for a minimalist celebration with the preparing and eating of simnel cake. This cake often baked by my dad consists of a light fruit cake decorated with marzipan. The marzipan was placed on top of the cake, and a second layer in the middle. There were also eleven marzipan balls placed around the top of the cake to represent the eleven disciples but excluding Judas Iscariot.
In days gone by those who worked in service were given the day off to visit their mothers. Often they would pick wild flowers on route which led to the practice of giving flowers on this day. The cake might be also given to the mother to provide joy during the Lenten season or as a cake to be kept for Easter celebrations.
These are some of the origins of this Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday of May, here in Canada as well as elsewhere in the world.
This day is always a day of contrasts. For some, we celebrate our mothers and all they have provided for us in our lives as role models, encouragers, supporters. For some, we no longer have our mothers with us. For some, our relationship with our mothers was complex and even strained or unhealthy. For some this day is hard for those who have never been mothers, or those who have lost children or been estranged from them.
So this day provides a multitude of feelings and emotions; some good which we celebrate and some not so good which we acknowledge, and it is important, to be honest about our own thoughts this day in relation to our own mothers.
In the last few days, for the second year running, we have given a flower and a card to women in our congregation who live in the Surrey area. Our apologies to those who live further afield but this doesn’t mean we haven’t thought of you this day. This was a practice at Epiphany over many years when all the women who came to church would be given a flower to mark this day.
We quite deliberately offer these flowers to all women, not just mothers, because we want them to be surrounded by God’s love on this day.
Of course, although the date of Mother’s Day does not vary; because of the date of Easter, we have a variety of readings used on this occasion. Today is an excellent gospel passage from Mother’s Day and as we prepare for the celebration of Ascension Day next Sunday.
The gospel passage from John describes Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure from them. Whereas (as we heard last week) he is the ‘true’ vine (God’s agent) the disciples are the branches. The disciples represent Jesus in the world, called to bear fruit, to do ministry in his name. This is the means by which God’s power is extended among the people of the world. And the call of the disciples is our call too. We have the responsibility to represent Jesus in the world, to bear fruit and undertake ministry in his name.
One part of that ministry this week has been the preparation and delivery of flowers to the women of our congregation. In a time when we cannot meet in person, it is a joy to distribute these flowers and we thank those who prepared and delivered them in the last few days.
In the gospel, we hear that Jesus has loved the disciples as God loves him. The disciples are to continue to love him, by obeying his ‘commandments’; in the same way that Jesus was obedient to God, even as far as his death on the cross. Jesus continues to be in a loving relationship with God, a love that leads to joy, ultimate joy. Jesus is the model for how we should live; loving us so much that he gave his life for us, his friends. We are friends not on the basis of what we have done for him but because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus has been as a friend to the disciples, sharing all that God had shared with Jesus. In John, love (called by one commentator: ‘the belovedness of friendship’) and mutual knowledge go together. Jesus has chosen and appointed those who care deeply and will always remain committed to him. We depend instead on Jesus who does the pruning to find us. All we need to do is to choose to abide in the love of God that draws us in, that we might then blossom.
As we find ourselves at the midpoint of spring we see the many wonderful signs of life and growth in the flowers in our gardens, on our decks and if we go further afield, growing wild in both urban and rural settings.
It is indeed a day to rejoice for the life God has given us and for the joys that come from our families, our friends and our Church. So today we rejoice (as we may) for our mothers and all they give and have given to us. And we also rejoice for other women who have inspired us by their grace and their love for their children, their grandchildren and others whose lives they have touched. We rejoice for the love that comes from God, through Jesus Christ, who calls us to love one another and to love God who first loved us.
Yesterday was the day we remember Julian of Norwich in the life of the Church. Julian was born in eastern England in 1342 and after a severe illness received a series of 16 images (often called showings). Julian became an anchoress, meaning she lived alone in a cell, dedicated to her faith, near St Julian’s, Church, Norwich, from which she took her name.
This quotation seems very applicable to this weekend, and this today, entitled
Love was his meaning. It is Julian who is speaking:
From the time that it was shown I desired often to know what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and move, I was answered in inward understanding, saying.
‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this? Learn it well. Love was his meaning.
Who showed it to you? Love
What did he show you? Love
Why did he show you? For love,
Hold fast to this, and you shall learn and know more about love, but you will never need to know or understand about anything else for ever and ever’.
Thus did I learn that love was our Lord’s meaning.
God teaches us through Jesus Christ that love was God’s meaning. That is the point of the gospel passage today, and also of the words of Julian. For all of us, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren, grandparents, great grandparents, friends, love was his meaning.