Mother’s Day is a religious holiday

Lessons of the Day: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

This is the 7th Sunday of Easter.  The theme of the day: relationship, unity, the holy bond of belonging. In the collect we pray:  Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before.

In the Acts, they choose another to fill the place of Judas, the betrayer, to make whole the body of apostles and to belong as witness to the resurrection. In the Epistle, we are reminded that we belong to the Son by faith and through that we belong to life. And in the Gospel from John, through his prayer to his Father, Jesus asks for our protection – reminded that we belong to him because the Father gave us to Jesus and in that we also therefore belong to the Father –  All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. Its about belonging – a holy belonging to God, to Jesus, to one another, a holy belonging in Trinity, in community, in love.

And so, how fitting it is that that this 7th Sunday of Easter should coincide with our national celebration of Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day, I am persuaded is an important religious holiday on the American calendar. I can see my mother wince and flinch in disagreement. She viewed this day with disdain: she maintained that she was our mother 365 days a year and there was nothing worth noting about that fact. No cards, no candy, no gifts. It was all a ruse of the greeting card and florist industry. Well, my mother was wonderful but she was wrong about some things; so despite her disagreement I want to make my case.

Mother’s Day, is a religious celebration.  Religious, not because of any scriptural roots, there aren’t any. Religious, not because of any historical churchiness, mothering has always been lifted up as a holy vocation, a particular theological connection to the devotion to Mary, the mother of our Lord, but no one day was set aside. Religious, not because of any Episcopal connection, those who started Mother’s Day had no particular connection to any denomination. 

But, at the same time, the genesis of Mother’s Day was not the saccharine commercial venture of Hallmark greeting cards or chocolate manufacturers.

No, Mother’s Day has its beginning in the years immediately following the American war to end slavery, when throughout the land women were left to grieve the death of fathers, sons, brothers, husbands… So many cherished sons killed in battle or dead from unattended wounds inflicted by war, leaving mothers bereft, weeping for the loss of their children.  In 1870, just five years after the end of our war while we were a nation still in mourning, in Europe, war was once again set to break out, this time the Franco-Prussian war.  This became the impetus for Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist and women’s rights activist from New York, to gather with a small group of women, mothers who had lost sons. They went to the capitals of Europe to plead for peace.  Alas, they were not granted a voice in the deliberations.  They returned to the U. S. and on June 2nd, they issued a call to observe the first Mother’s Day.  Women were asked to meet in public squares to promote peace and to save children from war.  I believe Mother’s day is religious because in its origin it expresses a vision of the world at peace. A vision described by the prophets and embodied in the ministry of Jesus.

Sadly, but commonly what has purity in the beginning becomes contaminated by lesser means over time.  The public parade of women for peace continued as an annual event on June 2nd for several years in major cities in the United States, Ireland, England, Scotland, and Switzerland.  Women pressed for a national day and finally in 1913, after o ur own Spanish-American war and on the eve of the First World War, Congress set aside the second Sunday of May, but by this time it had become less a public protest against war, and more a private observance driven by commercial interests and reducing the content of this day to the trite sentimentality that my mother found so demeaning and distasteful.

Mother’s Day can make us a little edgy. Mothers are embarrassed if too much is made of it. Children, even adult children don’t know exactly what to do… How much to do.  For those whose mothers have died, this is often a time of renewed sadness.  For those who for whatever reason did not have children, this can be a particularly uncomfortable day.

So, there is POTENCY to Mother’s Day – in joy and grief, happiness and sadness, hope fulfilled and love long-for – and that potency makes it religious.

Mother.  Belongs to all of us.  Mother, none of us would be here except for the women who shared in our conception, gave of their own bodies resources through the long nine month period of gestation, labored on our behalf to bring us to life.  In theological terms whatever we know about the giftedness of life, the fact that we did not give ourselves life, it is given to us… this we know because first there was a mother for each of us.  Further, what we know of trust and distrust, we know because there was for us a mother, maybe our biological mother or maybe another, female or male, or several, who through the early years of our total dependency, mothered us: fed and cared for us, holding, responding, ignoring, cooing, correcting, tending our bruised bodies and souls.  THINK. Much of what we know about the saving activity of God we learned at our mother’s knee.  Our capacity for trust, the most essential religious task, is expressive of our relationship with whoever mothered us.  And it is clear we have all received a sufficiency, for we would not be here this morning without it.

Mother.  The image of mother like all religious words carries an immense weight.  We have endowed it with a perfectionism that defies reality but IS suggestive of the saving activity of God.  The perfect mother, the one who answers our every cry;, sends us off in the morning clothed and fed, equipped to meet the day; awaits our return with cookies and a warm embrace; comforts us when we are afraid; laughs at our silly jokes; intercedes, does battle on our behalf with thoughtless teachers and bullies; holds us when we have been rejected or mocked; weeps with us when we have been betrayed.  Mother, the one who rejoices in our triumphs, confirms us in our failures, gentles us through our disappointments.  Mother, the one we expect to understand us and forgive us again and again and again.

Regardless of the extent to which a given mother does or does not fulfill all these deep human yearnings, the fact is, the expectations we have of the perfect mother are what we have come to understand is our experience of the love and mercy of God.  Mother’s day reminds us that we are born for relationship. One is only a mother in relationship and for sure at the heart of the Christian message is the declaration that God, the creator is related to the creation in a sustained relationship: that is probably why we persist in talking about god as ‘father’, the parent:  Jesus as ‘son’.  Mother’s Day allows all of us to have an immediate experience that we are born out of, into and for relationship.

And finally, I think Mother’s Day is religious because it defines for all of us, male and female a calling, a vocation, a ministry.  I believe all of us men and women are called to give new life to this world, maybe in the form of a baby, or maybe in the form of a work, or an idea, or an effort that brings life and hope to the world.  I believe God means for all of us, women and men, to mother, in the sense of nurturing one another and the world around us.  We are to be purposeful about this work of feeding and clothing, educating, delighting, laughing, understanding, holding, correcting, binding up the bruised and broken.  That is our calling as the ecclesia, the church.

In this time when so many parents around the world grieve for the loss of their children:  in this neighborhood and city, throughout the U. S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, throughout Africa, indeed across the entire world.  In times like this when children themselves become instruments of death and destruction, this Mother’s Day may be a time for all of us, men and women, to retrieve a sense of that first Mother’s Day when women journeyed to the centers of public debate, pleading for peace, peace, and not war, interceding on behalf of children everywhere, seeking for ways to secure a future for their children and their children’s children.

Mother’s Day, 2018.  I ask you now to pray with me:  In thanksgiving, espically for those women who gave us life. Let us pray for those whose mothers died that they may rest in peace, especially… Let us pray for all who mourn the death of their children, especially… And finally let us pray for all women and men who are about the work of mothering, especially the members of this congregation that God will grant us imagination, strength and courage.  Amen  


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