Mothering Sunday started as a day for honouring our mother churches. It is a day when people would visit the church they worshipped in as children, where they received the sacrament of baptism. This is a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.
In recent years, that might have meant visiting the cathedral where the bishop baptised several communities at once. But prior to that, it will have been a time when people returned to the area they’re originally from – much like the Holy family in the Nativity story when St Joseph and the BVM Mary had to travel back to Bethlehem for the census. Only, Mothering Sunday would have been more of a pilgrimage.
These days, we tend to see Mothering Sunday as mothers’ day. And rightly so, a day to thank and celebrate or remember our mothers. It is one of the few constants we have in life that we all have or had a mother. We are all fallen, and no one is perfect, and some family situations are less than desirable, but generally speaking, that maternal relationship is an unbreakable bond. Our mothers are the first people to love us unconditionally, the first person to show us that true sacrificial, self-giving love.
That is what love is to Christians; it is willing the good of the other. It is not about us; it is about everyone else. Mothers, more than most, tend to understand that.
Our Lord and Saviour’s mother was no different. Our Lady was greeted by an angel and asked to be the mother of the Son of God. She was asked to give birth to and to raise the Saviour. No small request. And in her fiat, Mary said yes. She consented to becoming the new Tabernacle – the carrier of God - and in doing so, she became the new Eve – rather than corrupting Adam, Mary creates a new perfect Adam. It could be said Mary, therefore, is the perfect Christian; she shows us how to live lives in Christ – by following his direction implicitly.
Mother Mary was with Christ throughout his life, to the very end. And in his final moments, Jesus gave her to us when he founded his Church. Jesus entrusted Mary to his beloved disciple John. “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”
And that is why the Church has a special relationship with Mary, because as Christians, we are called to follow Jesus as she did, and in his words, he told his disciple, “behold thy mother”. To take her into our homes, as our own. She will watch out for us, as any mother would, and we can hold her in our hearts and in our intentions, as any child would.
In Morning Prayer, we pray the Benedictus, but in its place, during Evening Prayer, we pray the Magnificat. This is also called the Canticle of Mary or the Ode of the Theotokos. Theotokos is the Greek word for Mary, meaning the one who gave birth to God. Or, more literally, ‘God-bearer’. When the Word was made flesh, Mary became Mother of the Lord.
The Magnificat is taken from Luke’s Gospel (1:46–55); it is a hymn of praise by Mary. It begins, “And Mary said…”
My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded: the lowliness of his handmaiden:
For behold, from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him: throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel:
As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.”
We usually finish with a Doxology, a short praise to God, in the form of the Gloria Patri, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.”
We say this prayer every day, those of us who follow the Book of Common Prayer, but it is worth reminding ourselves on Mothering Sunday that it is not our prayer; it is Mary’s.
In this prayer, Mary rejoices in the privilege of giving birth to the Christ – the promised Messiah – she glorifies God in his divine power and mercy; she prophesies the transformative power of Christ, the proud being humbled and the humble being lifted up; the rich going without and the hungry being fed. She exalts God for fulfilling his covenant – his promise to Abraham in Genesis.
“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
And blessed we are. Through God’s chosen people, he bore a Son who died on the cross for our sins, and resurrected for our redemption. He offers us salvation, because Mary said yes.
Mary guides us to her Son, and we follow her direction because the only way to God the Father is through her Son, Jesus Christ.
Today is also the Fourth Sunday in Lent, otherwise known as Laetare Sunday.
It means we are mid-way through Lent. It is a time to pause and reflect on our Lenten fast, not in order to feel guilt or regret if we haven’t managed to stick to it a hundred per cent. But to remind ourselves why we are doing it, and perhaps get ourselves back on track. Remembering those 40 days in the wilderness where Christ was tempted by but conquered the devil.
Laetare is a day when churches are allowed to put flowers back on the altars, wear rose-coloured vestments, and generally have a bit of relaxation from the penance of Lent to remind ourselves that Easter is within sight. It is a day of hope, looking forward to the coming days of ultimate hope – that of eternal salvation offered to us through Christ’s passion, death and resurrection on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. So stay strong, stand firm in the faith. Keep at it!
If we were celebrating Holy Communion today, we would have begun with the introit for Laetare, which I would like to end this sermon on:
Rejoice ye with Jerusalem; and be ye glad for her, all ye that delight in her: exult and sing for joy with her, all ye that in sadness mourn for her; that ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations. Psalm: I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord.