For Reflection: this week Benjamin reflects on the cost and wisdom of Motherhood for this strange season.
If you have ever suffered a serious bereavement you will know the advice to be aware of “the first of the firsts”; the advice to be careful with yourself as you come to the first birthday, the first Christmas, the first special day like Mothering Sunday after the death of someone close to you.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
This week we have passed a different milestone. Mothering Sunday 2021 was not the “first of the firsts”. Rather it was the “first of the seconds” we will mark as we continue to walk together through this year of pandemic and lockdown.
It is not quite a year since that fateful Monday evening when the Prime Minister confirmed the beginning of the first lockdown. But before that you will remember the ten days or so as our world and horizons began to quickly shrink; as suggestion turned to guidance, and guidance turned to command.
In the midst of this came our first online worship which fell that year on Sunday 22 March. By that point, although lock-down had not begun, our regular worship in Church was already paused. Because Mothering Sunday is the fifth Sunday of Lent, and because the dates of Lent move with the date of Easter, this year – with Easter earlier than last year – we have found ourselves a few weeks before the formal first anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic at the “first of the seconds” we have been asked to live through.
Naturally this reality brings to the surface a great deal of challenging emotions for us all. If we focus simply on this day we see this reality clearly. For businesses reliant on the commercial heft of Mothering Sunday we have a second time when the tables will not be full with family celebrations. For those who have been isolated from family by shielding or distance or both it is a second time when we are unable to visit and spend time with one another on what it such a precious day for many
Whatever the reality of the day might be recognising it as the “first of the seconds” of this Covid-year draws into sharp relief the challenge that we have all been asked to live with.
One of my concerns as we have passed through this year is that I have often found that those who I have encountered have tried to put a brave face on the strange realities of this last year. Many might reflect that their context has been easier than others, that their experiences have not been as trying as others However this should not minimise the reality that this has been a costly and tiring time for us all. Yes, we can be thankful for what we have had, but we must also be honest about the cost to us all for all the things we have lost as we start to come again to the all the seconds of this pandemic time.
Coming to this realisation on Mothering Sunday throws this into stark reality. Like many other days in our Church calendar we share Mothering Sunday with the recognition of the world around us. The focus of the world on Mother’s Day stresses the warm and joyful aspects of this day. When we thank our mothers and all those who love us into life with gifts and treats and love.
But this commemoration also sits for us in the pattern of our Church year as well. Always falling in Lent there is for us all a little grit in the oyster of the day. Year by year I find myself reflecting on readings which don’t immediately sit with the wider perception the world has for Mother’s Day.
From the Old Testament we hear of the unbearable choice that Hannah took as she gave her longed for child Samuel as a gift to God, drawing out the time until the baby was weaned before making a decision that few of us could make.
Our Gospel reading today comes from the very end John’s Gospel. As Jesus hangs on the cross he looks at his mother and one of his closest friend:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’
Jesus in compassion for their suffering asks them not to have pity on him, but to love and care for one another as much as they have loved and cared for him.
These are rich and challenging readings. Readings that take us to the heart and truth of our faith. But are they readings for Mother’s Day as the world knows or expects it?
Well perhaps this year, of all years they are.
As we come to the first of the seconds, we can all recognise the cost of this year. There is no one for whom this year has not been a challenge. No one who has not felt costliness of lock-down. No one who has not felt the anger and frustration and grief that has accompanied this year in all its levels.
It is into these realities that these readings truly speak. What we find in all them is not simply a story of the cost of motherhood. What they also speak of is of the world and life that God brings even through the cost of motherhood.
Hannah, through the courage of her faith, gives Samuel into the care of Eli. And it is though Eli’s guidance that Samuel recognises that he is called by God to midwife the golden age of the nation of Israel as he anoints first Saul, and then David as King.
At the foot of the cross, in that place of ultimate cost and grief, Jesus shows us that life can grow and flourish again. Not perhaps as we might expect it, but perhaps as God wills it.
In this season of Mothering Sunday, as we recognise in this first of the seconds the cost and grief of this past year, we might also look for those ways in which God has brought us to life through the love of others this year. Through the compassion of other, the kindliness of neighbours, a recognition of the gifts given to us but hidden in plain sight.
None of these should mask or downplay the cost we have lived by. The wisdom we hear from our readings is that as we experience the mothering power of God’s love this day we discover the truth of that through, and not despite of, the cost and challenge that Moses’ mother or Mary and John knew all too well.
And fed by that wisdom, as we continue to look to the other “seconds” of this time we recognise again and again the new life that God’s love midwifes even in the darkness and confusion of the world we have been living through.
Questions for reflection
- Where have you felt the true cost this year?
- Have you been able to find God in that costliness?
- How have you been able to love others into life in the midst of this costliness?