On Mothering Sunday we get, as you’d expect, lots of visitors and especially families. Our uniformed groups also come as it is a parade service. I was taking the service at our neighbouring church so the priest I live with was left in charge. She gave an interactive talk with a quiz so a change from the usual kind of sermon – here’s what she did. The gospel reading was Luke 2.33-35
Did any mothers here this morning get breakfast in bed? Did any children take their mum breakfast in bed?
General chat with congregation about things do on Mothering Sunday.
To get us into thinking a bit more about Mothering Sunday I want us to start with a quiz so I can find how much you know about this day. We will do this one side of the church against another. I’ll ask one side of the church and if they don’t know then we will pass it to the other side. Simple scoring – one point for each right answer.
Q1 Is Mothering Sunday on the same date each year?
Q2 What day in the church’s calendar is it kept on?
A 4th Sunday of Lent
Q3 What other names are there for this Sunday in the church’s year? One point whether you get one name or more.
A Refreshment Sunday or mid-Lent Sunday or Laetare Sunday – that comes from the introit of the Latin Mass – Laetare Jerusalem – Rejoice Jerusalem.
Q4 How many centuries back can we trace the keeping of Mothering Sunday in England?
A To the 16th Century
Q5 Originally Mothering Sunday had nothing to do with our own mothers, but with another kind of mother, do you know what?
A Mother church – the Cathedral Church – it was the day you went from your village to visit the Cathedral Church.
Q6 In the old days – Victorian and pre-Victorian, what did people who were “in service” – that’s servants – do on Mothering Sunday?
A Go home to visit their mothers – it was often the only day off they got all year. And they were given a gift to take by the housekeeper of the big house – eggs, flowers or sometimes a cake
Q7 What is the traditional cake associated with Mothering Sunday?
A Simnel Cake – unfortunately it now seems to have been transferred to Easter by supermarkets, but this was the cake by which you could break the Lenten fast. Is anyone having Simnel Cake today? Another way tradition seems to be changing is that our Mothering Sunday, is becoming more Mothers’ Day in America and this is what most people now call it.
Q8 When is Mothers Day is in the USA?
A 2nd Sunday of May – the day it is also celebrated in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Japan, and many other countries. But if you were Norwegian it would be the second Sunday in February and if you were Argentinean it would be the second Sunday in October.
Although on this day, Mothering Sunday, we do remember our mothers and we give them cards and presents as people do in other countries on their Mothers Day, it is important that we remember that here in Britain it is still a church festival – we have gradually added on to it remembrance of our mothers, but it was originally about our mother church, the Cathedral, and it was also a day on which the church often remembered Jesus’s own mother, Mary.
Let’s think first of mother church – The idea of mother church is wider than just our Cathedral church, in our case, Southwark Cathedral at London Bridge. Mother church is a phrase that was used about the church from earliest days. The church was the place that nurtured people – looked after them, gave them their values, and for many of the centuries since the time of Jesus, in Christian countries it has been the church that has educated the young and cared for the sick and dying. It is not a coincidence that many of our hospitals are named after Saints such as St Thomas’s and St Bartholomew’s hospitals in London. And still today many young people are educated in church schools – here in Caterham Valley many children go to St John’s primary school which is our own church school and at secondary level, many children round here go to St Bede’s, the joint Church of England/Roman Catholic school.
The church became the place of care and nurture, because this was an essential part of the Christian Gospel – our epistle today tells us that as God’s chosen ones we should clothe ourselves with compassion. And so from earliest times the people of God cared for others and Mother church has for many years been an apt title. The church as a place which nurtures us, cares for us, and educates us. Just as mothers care for us, nurture and educate us, so has and does the church. It is appropriate on this particular Sunday to give thanks for the church’s role in nurturing, caring and educating.
This Sunday, as I said, has also been a day for thinking about Jesus’s own mother and our gospel reading today takes us to Mary and the encounter Mary had with Simeon in the Temple when she and Joseph took the baby Jesus to be presented there on the 40th Day after his birth. How did it feel for Mary to be told that her son would be a sign who would be opposed and that a sword would pierce her heart? Mary is such a symbol of what it means to nurture and care, a symbol of compassion and we cannot be compassionate without real engagement and feeling what others feel.
It is often in the mother/child relationship that the greatest love and the greatest pain are experienced. This doesn’t mean other relationships, Father and child, husband and wife, friend and friend, cannot be as intense – of course they can. But symbolically mother and child, and particularly Mary and Jesus, symbolise that intense pain that can only come from real love.
All close, intense relationships can go wrong – and as we give thanks today for mothers and mothering, I don’t want us to forget that many people never experience “mother” love in its ideal sense either as children or mothers; and we should also remember that mother church has not always nurtured but sometimes smothered rather than mothered and sometimes been plain destructive of human well being.
But on this Sunday, it is appropriate that we remember and give thanks for the very best that our three mothers have brought us:
Mother church – for nurture, care and education
Mother Mary – for bringing to birth our saviour, Jesus
And our own Mother – for giving us life itself.