This blog was adapted from a sermon given by Emily Nielsen Jones at Nyamira Girls School in Bondo, Kenya, on Mothering Sunday in the Anglican Church — March 12, 2023. There was a huge deluge of much-needed rain outside but the powerful voices of the 2,270+ girls singing their hearts out could not be overpowered.
There are many things we are observing today on this Sunday. It is the season of Lent, this past week we celebrated international women’s day, this month is women’s history month, and today I hear in the Anglican church it is Mothering Sunday. We’re observing a lot!
In researching Mothering Sunday, I learned that on this day, we’re invited to remember Jesus’ mother, Mary, and her role in the last moments of Jesus’ life here on Earth. And likewise we honor the legacy of our mothers and their mother’s mothers and all the women in our lives who mother us and who mother life. It is no accident that it was Mary and a small group of women who were with Jesus to the end at the foot of the cross. They were there because they loved him. Not in some abstract religious way, but in a very human way. Mary gave birth to him and loved him in a way which would not let her leave his side.
Can you imagine what the world would be like without all the sheltering and fierce love of our mothers and all the women in our lives who mother? Who work so hard to protect us from harm and to give us opportunities that sometimes they did not have? More than anything, they long for a better world for their children and they will sacrifice so much to put their children’s needs before their own. Do you know amazing women like this who mother you and who mother life for your community?
The primal love of a mother for her own children is an embodiment of a sacred love that lies at the center of all things. Long before we came to name God as a male God and dishonor the humanity of women and girls, there was a long history, including within Judaism and Christianity and many other religions, where we knew God as mother giving birth to all things. It’s in the Bible! Isn’t it interesting that we do not hear these verses much in church?
Can a mother forget her infant,
and be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even if she should forget, I will never forget you. — Isaiah 49:15
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. — Isaiah 66:13
[Y]ou whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am the one who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. — Isaiah 46:3–4
You have been my guide since I was first formed, my security at my mother’s breast. To you I was committed at birth, from my mother’s womb you are my God. — Psalm 22:10
As I think about what I most long for today on Mothering Sunday, it is to honor all the mothering love in our lives by reminding us all that this is straight from the heart of our creator. By naming and honoring God as mother, we can elevate how we see ourselves: We are all made in the image of God, male and female alike! And therefore banish from our world the patriarchal stigmas that blame women and girls for evil in the world and worse — treat them more as property than as full persons with equal worth and dignity.
So on this Mothering Sunday during Lent, we are following Jesus to the cross and pausing to remember and honor the mothering love of God that we saw in Mother Mary which walked with Jesus in his suffering and also walks with each of us every step of our life journeys. The mothering love of God is seldom talked about in church because sometime long ago a shift happened in culture and religion and we came to honor men as an image of God and dishonor women as inferior, unclean, and not Godlike. This stigma continues to this day, and has led to so much needless suffering in the world.
Because it is Mothering Sunday, let us break this norm and use Mary as a window into the very heart of God. Even though we seldom name her in church, the same feminine spirit which is seen as hovering over creation in Genesis walks with us in a quiet yet powerful way and is nearer to us than even our breath itself. She cheers us on every step of the way to be and become all we are meant to be. As with Jesus, the mothering love of God suffers with us and shelters us when we are in need and offers us strength and solace to keep walking our path even when it is hard.
So let us pause and in our hearts honor all the women who have mothered each of us — our grandmothers, mothers, aunties, teachers, friends. We can all mother one another by celebrating each other’s joys and having each other’s backs when we are struggling. Close your eyes and imagine this mothering love spanning the globe… and history… together all whose mothering care holds our hurting world in their arms…
Thank you mothering God for this force of nature that is like a collective blanket of love wrapping our world in a fierce and sheltering kindness without which the world would just fall apart. Bless and keep all of our mothers and all those who mother. May we honor them and bestow on them the high calling and status that is their divine birthright as daughters of the most high. May we each feel her nearness now and throughout this next week.
Let us remember and honor Mother Mary who mothered Jesus and who is an image of the divine maternal love that we heard about in all the Bible verses which were read which show God as a protective, laboring, fierce yet nurturing love that shelters us in her womb and at her breast. Not because we did anything to earn it. Just because we are her child.
So much of mothering love is taken for granted and Mary too often gets left out of the story. We tend to remember Mary more at the beginning of Jesus’ life than at the end. And we’re encouraged to see her in such a holy and pure way that we almost can’t relate to her. In researching Mary, I read that it is likely that she was about 12 years old when she was betrothed to Joseph. Like so many girls who got pregnant during the pandemic, Mary was a teen mother. Like today, there was a lot of stigma if a girl was pregnant out of wedlock. Take a moment and just hold this image in your heart of Mary as a scorned teen mother.
So to honor Mary — who knew the dishonor and stigma that patriarchy’s man-made rules have assigned to women and girls from birth to grave — we are honoring ourselves and the maternal heart of God. When we honor Mary, we are also remembering to give her back her dignity. She has been cursed by the church and by culture, blamed and shamed, but before all that stigma, she is the mother of all living.
Take a moment now to imagine Mary picking up and holding her grown son as she did when he was a baby. Holding her bruised and beaten son close to her heart in the final moments of his life. Let this image of mothering love who mothered Christ in his last hour be an image of God you carry with you of how God likewise mothers us in our suffering. While he cried out to God, “father, why have you forsaken me?” maybe he also felt the comfort of the loving gaze and arms of his mother?
May we all be mindful to extend this mothering love to each other as co-image bearers of God, each of us here to co-create with God, to lighten each other’s burdens, and reflect back the love and shared dignity we all possess as God’s children. And last but not least, may we each take the time to mother ourselves. In each conscious breath, we connect with the love that is at the center of our being and at the center of all things, always there waiting for us to return to the breast of God. And in this embrace, may you remember who you are and find strength for your next step.
Thank you mothering God for all the ways your spirit surrounds and nurtures each of us as we go through our day. Thank you mothering God for all the women in our lives who mother us and protect us from life’s storms. May we walk in the footsteps of Jesus who, like our mothers, suffers with us and offers new life to emerge out of any suffering and death we experience. Mothering God, be with us, bless us, and keep us. I pray. Amen.