Mothering Sunday Evensong
A Sermon preached by Canon Edward Probert, Chancellor.
Sunday 27 March 2022 – The fourth Sunday of Lent.
Mothering Sunday makes me squirm. For a priest it can’t really be ignored, because, rather along the lines of Christmas and Easter, with their hot cross buns, eggs, presents, nativity plays, feasting, and so on, it’s an occasion which may have started with the Church but is highly noticeable in parts of our society who never normally come to church. Mothers are honoured with cards and flowers, breakfast in bed, and so on.
All of which is lovely. But, as a Christian, what does it mean? And, as soon as you ask that question, you find it becoming rather a confusing jumble of caveats, expansions. Among the latter, for example:
it’s about Mother Church; or it’s about the cathedral as mother church of the diocese.
Then there are the pastorally awkward questions where the conventional nuclear family model doesn’t apply: what about women who have not been able to bear children?; stepmothers?; unwilling mothers?; what about children abandoned or abused by their mothers?; what about orphaned children?; what about families where there are two mothers, or two fathers? And so on, through the infinite breadth of human experience of motherhood.
The post-communion prayer this morning, which rather beautifully likened God’s feeding us with the sacramental food to the way ‘a mother feeds her children at the breast’, is an enriching image of self-giving and nourishment; but, then again, has its limits, since some mothers are physically incapable of breastfeeding their babies, and the majority in our society opt not to.
That image is a mammalian one, for we are a mammal species. Mothers in most other species (crocodiles, fish, frogs, bees, etc.) go about things rather differently. We humans interpret the things of God not only through the limitations of our human languages, but also through the limitations of our own experience. It’s at least as valuable to think of God as mother as it is to think of him as father, but neither is an adequate description for the creative and self-giving lover of us all. Mothers are imperfect, fathers are imperfect. God is not. But it is here and now that we meet him, as best we may.
What is good about this annual celebration – leaving aside the undoubted positive of the attention afforded to many women of all ages today, for mothers should be honoured, and so should all women – is the challenge it
offers to interpret the love of God through the prism of human relationships. And, to quote two different translations of the same phrase of St Paul, we see ‘through a glass, darkly’, ‘puzzling reflections in a mirror’. We see God in broken, limited ways.
But thank God for what we can see! When we experience glimpses of human goodness, human love, we add to our picture of a love which is beyond our understanding. Mothers, fathers, you and I, indeed all creation – we are works in progress. But where we receive, and where we give, love, we grow into the full measure of the purposes of God, from whom it all derives.