A Sermon For Mothering Sunday
The Rector's sermon from our Parish Eucharist for Mothering Sunday on 22nd March. This service was held
behind closed doors, but live-streamed on YouTube. Please note that this was before the order to close our churches fully on Sunday evening.
There’s a lot going on at the moment. On the one hand, it’s Mothering Sunday – always celebrated on this fourth Sunday of Lent. We would normally be handing out daffodils and celebrating. On the other hand, our world – and our country within it – is facing an unbelievably huge challenge. The invisible menace of a virus, Covid 19, means that we cannot do what we would normally do.
My usual theme for a Mothering Sunday sermon is to stress that we should think about today as Mothering Sunday and not Mothers’ Day. To think of it as Mothers’ Day creates a lot of issues for a lot of people. It idealises what it means to be a mother, which is not always helpful. Most people can never reach this ideal, for a lot of reasons. I know of people who will not come to church on Mothering Sunday because of this. Mothering Sunday should be a day when we think about and celebrate the values of what it means to mother. And mothering is something that we all of us do, to some degree or another. Mothering includes many values: nurturing, nourishing, guiding; protecting, caring, loving; carrying, comforting, supporting. I am sure that you can think for yourselves of many other values as well. But they are values that we can all of us represent, we can all of us embody in our behaviour to others. We are all capable of mothering.
The idea of mothering brings us back to what seems to be the origins of Mothering Sunday. It was nothing about mothers at all. It was the day when people would go back to the church that they thought of as their ‘mother’ church. This might have been the church they were baptised in; it might have been their local parish church; it might have been their cathedral – the mother church of their diocese.
With coronavirus, our world is being pushed to its extreme limits. We are being inundated with advice, instructions, closures, limitations on movement, and so on. Everything is moving so quickly that what we are following one minute is changing the next. If you are anything like me, the last days will have left you feeling scared, feeling vulnerable, feeling helpless. For me as a priest, to have our churches closed is clearly necessary, but it is a sucker punch which has thrown me totally off balance. We’re having rapidly to think of different ways of doing things, of continuing our worship, of responding to need. The same, of course, can be said of many people. Children adapting to being at home. Workers with nothing to do, or on unpaid leave, or at worst, laid off. We are all staring like rabbits into headlights, not sure where to go, not sure what the next steps might be. So we’ve all panic bought toilet rolls and clogged up internet grocery shopping sites.
The reality is that amongst all the chaos – and let’s name it – it is chaos, we actually need to be mothered. We need to know that we are cared for, that we are loved, that we are comforted. We need the enfolding embrace of a warm, mothering hug.
We need the place where we feel safe. I would like our church over the coming weeks to try to offer this sense of mothering. No, we cannot meet together as a congregation. No, we cannot meet one-on-one. But we will be continuing to offer what we can. We’ll hopefully expand our offering on YouTube to provide that continued sense of connection. There’s our prayer at home booklet available in churches and on our website. We’ll publish updates and information on the website. If we hold your contact details, we’re looking at ways in which we can stay in touch. If anyone needs anything – practical help, or just a chat – leave a message with the church office by phone or email and someone will get back to you. And all this applies to those who are regular members of our worshipping congregations and those who are not. We can’t make this crisis go away. We can’t pray it away either. That is beyond our control. But what we will do is the best we can do to provide the mothering that you need. And we will do this for as long as it takes.
Mother of Julian of Norwich, a mystic from the 14th and early fifteenth century, had a vision in which Jesus saying to her: ‘all shall be well; and all shall be well; and all manner of things shall be well’. At the time of these visions, Julian herself was unwell. She believed herself to be on her deathbed. She was herself struggling to understand her sufferings. But Jesus insisted – all shall be well. It’s hard at the moment. There are some hard weeks, hard times to come. We have to hold on to the hope that, as Mother Julian witnessed to, at some point all indeed shall be well. Hope is at the very centre of our faith – a death miraculously transformed by resurrection. This hope now needs to be at the centre of all our lives. As your mothering church, we will try to bring this to you.
This evening, as darkness falls, join with me and others across the country in lighting a candle to represent this hope. Put it somewhere visible – in a window, outside – so everyone can see. A powerful witness to the belief that all shall indeed be well. And a reflection of mothering comfort at this time of great anxiety.