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Mother's Day & Christian Family Sunday

May 12, 2024

By Rev. Rhonda Pigott Thorndale

Psalm 23

John 10:22-30

Happy Mothers’ Day and Happy Christian Family Day to all.

Many of us remember ourselves as young children proudly presenting our moms with glitter-and-glue-globbed macaroni necklaces, cards with verses or handmade coupons for free hugs. Maybe you remember breakfasts served in bed, hand-picked bouquets of flowers, quite often dandelions or special meals out with the whole family. These were tender and lovely examples of how we honoured our mothers on this very special Sunday.

But for many, Mother’s Day is far from this ideal narrative. It is a day filled with complicated emotions, grief, and conflicting realities. Maybe you’ve lost your mother recently, or you are weary from years of struggling with infertility, or you are estranged from your adult child. Psalm 23, that Louise shared with us is a Psalm of comfort.

Now many of us are grandparents or great grandparents as our children and grands have grown up.

Maybe you were raised by someone other than your mother, another man or woman who was there for you. Mothering can happen in many different ways.

This Mother’s Day, may we all take time to celebrate the people in our lives, whether biological, adoptive, foster, step, or spiritual, who made a positive difference to us. And may we also remember and honor those who grieve.

A bit of history… Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele, but the clearest modern precedent for Mother’s Day is the early Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.”

Once a major tradition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, this celebration fell on the fourth Sunday in Lent and was seen as a time when the faithful would return to their “mother church” for a special service.

Over time the Mothering Sunday tradition shifted into a more secular holiday, and children would present their mothers with flowers and other tokens of appreciation. This custom faded in popularity before merging with the American Mother’s Day in the 1930s and 1940s.

The origins of what is honour as  Mother’s Day dates back to the 19th century. Before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs" to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

Another precursor to Mother’s Day came from the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe. In 1870 Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace.

There were other early Mother’s Day pioneers including Juliet Calhoun Blakely, the duo of Mary Towles Sasseen and Frank Hering. Some have even called Hering “the father of Mothers’ Day.”

The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1912 as a result of the efforts of Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis. Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. She argued that holidays were biased toward male achievements, urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood. By 1912, many other churches, towns and states were holding Mother’s Day celebrations, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association.

Jarvis’ saw Mother’s Day as an intimate occasion—a son or daughter honoring the mother they knew and loved—and not a celebration of all mothers. For this reason, she always stressed the singular “Mother’s” rather than the plural. She soon grew disillusioned, as Mother’s Day almost immediately became centered on the buying and giving of printed cards, flowers, candies, and other gifts.

Moving on, a story from a friend. It was late in the evening and a wife noticed that her husband was standing looking down at their baby’s crib.  As she stood there silently watching, she noticed that a whole host of emotions could be read on his face, disbelief, scepticism and amazement.  He repeatedly stood back, shook his head, and said “amazing”, all the while beaming from ear to ear.  The woman was deeply moved by his rather unusual display of emotions.  She quietly entered the room and put her arms around his waist and whispered: “A penny for your thoughts?”.  And what was his reply?  “Isn’t it amazing!  When you take the time, really look closely, and think about it, how can anyone make a crib that like that that sells for only $500!”

There can be no doubt about it, mothers and fathers can be very different!  Today we celebrate both Mother’s Day and Christian Family Sunday. We all see life differently, just as these two parents to be did.

Some time ago I read an interesting article about the changes that we go through as we age, and the author noted how our needs change as we go through life.  Babies are totally dependent for absolutely everything; food, warmth and protection.  While the child is still dependent upon adults for protection and the necessities of life, he or she learns life’s skills, socialization too which includes having good role models to follow.  What a teenager needs in life is very different from what a senior needs.  And yet there is one constant or need in life that never ever changes; that is the need to be loved and to know that we matter.  It makes no difference whether we be a newborn, ninety-nine years old or somewhere in-between, we all need to be loved and to know that our lives are of value to our families.

In recent years there has been a lot of debate about what constitutes a family and even when we have decided what a family is, what qualities or characteristics make it a Christian family?  There are many answers to these questions but perhaps the best one in today’s scripture.

One day while Jesus was in a house teaching, there was a bit of a commotion outside.  His mother and brothers had come looking for him and wanted him to come home.  But what was Jesus’ response?

He said that whoever does the will of God is his brother, sister, and mother.  Jesus said at numerous other times, more than anything else, God’s will is that we love. Jesus knew that our family are those we live with or are related to but he broaden the definition of family.  Our family is everyone whom we love and since we are called to love everyone, ultimately everyone is a member of our family! 

Some people might object that this all sounds so very nice in theory but to be realistic, we can’t even like everyone else, never mind love them!  But what we have to remember is what Jesus meant by the word love.

When Jesus said that we should love one another, he used a very specific Greek word; agape.  Agape does not refer to a romantic type of love.  Agape doesn’t even require that we like the other person.  What agape does require is that we respect and look for the best in the person.  This, as the Bible understands it, is what love is.  Love is more than a feeling; it is a choice or conscious decision.  This is not to deny the reality of the love we have for our children, or the passion of romantic love.

Expanding our concept of family brings us double and triple the joy if we already have a loving and trustworthy family. We tend form our own families in our lives, this church family for instant. The love and trust that we may or may not get from our own families, we may receive from our chosen families. Remember the word agape allows us to include the whole world.

On this Mother’s Day and Christian Family Sunday, let us look at people in our lives and respect and honour our global families. Remembering God’s family is so much larger than what we usually perceive as a family.

Let us love one another, forge loving, respectful and trusting relationships in our lives with all people, be a trusting and loving family to others, and be filled with joy and gratitude from our loving relationships. Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who are mothers, women who don’t have children but can be mother figures, and men who act as mothers. Happy Christian family day for all of us. Amen.

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