March 14 2021

Mothering Sunday 2021

Margaret Atwood, who wrote The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a hugely ambitious writer who wanted above all else to be a successful author of best-sellers, so she made a pact with the devil. The devil told her that he will make her the most successful of author of her time, not just in her own country but internationally. But in return, he says, “I want the soul of your daughter, your grandmother, and the soul of your mother.”
“Ok,” says the writer.
“You agree? asks the devil, surprised.
“Hold on,” says the devil, “… what’s the catch…?”

The story is funny, of course, because Atwood is showing just how driven and ambitious an author she herself could be.

Well, today is Mothering Sunday, and there won’t be any selling of souls. But apparently nobody really knows why it is Mothering Sunday. It is the fourth Sunday in Lent, and it has been suggested, for instance, that at this point halfway through Lent, it had been customary at one period for a child away from home, an apprentice perhaps, or a maid in the big house, to be allowed home for a short visit to see their parents. Another not dissimilar theory is that it was customary to return to your home church, or to the mother church of the diocese.

An alternative thought (and this also seems likely to me) is that the name arose from the epistle of the day, always give at this season, which contains the verse referring to “Jerusalem, mother of us all.” So Mothering Sunday would be like a nickname and a reminder, similar to “Stirring up Sunday” when the collect, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people,” comes as a convenient reminder to start thinking about preparing your Christmas puddings, as it comes on the 25th after Trinity.

Mothering Sunday is a special day for all of us, mothers and fathers, parents and non-parents alike, because today we look at ourselves, and see that we are children.
Motherhood is synonymous with loving because love is caring, looking after, helping to grow, in exactly the way we have been cared for and helped to grow ourselves, and often the purest expression we know of that is the relationship between a mother and her child.

Love is very often thought of in terms of “completing” two people, — two individuals who possibly feel incomplete by themselves, but who might be joined together in one by love.

Love does bring people close, but possibly never closer than a mother and her child, two people who were in reality once one. Plato expresses a nearly similar notion when he suggests that the force of attraction and desire between two people is an expression of their original state before they became separate entities.

I detect a desire in us to see this unity. I think the popularity of love stories that end happily ever after, although optimistic, reflects a genuine feeling, as powerful as the good cowboy in the white hat overcoming his evil rival. We cannot know the intricacies of other peoples’ relationships, and what seems like a happy marriage on the face of it, may have endured terrible upsets. However, we may still see it as a sound relationship, and may often congratulate the couple on it, because we are possessed by that desire to see unity.

Mothering Sunday is a special day because it is like a little mirror we hold up to ourselves and our lives in the world, and we see reflected in the tiny glass a complete microcosm of existence. If we look carefully enough into that reflection we will find every expression of human experience and feeling. There is love, and there is pain, there is hard work and there is joy, there is self-fulfilment and there is self-sacrifice.

All right, you may think, that’s all well and good so far. But as the devil in Margaret Atwood’s story said, “Hold on, what’s the catch?” The catch is that when we start to actually enumerate the qualities we are thinking about, we are likely to get into very deep water. Consider the following from Proverbs chapter 31:

10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband trusteth in her, and he shall have no lack of gain.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff [for spinning].
20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

Deep waters indeed, and there’s the catch. We are not super-human, and neither were our parents, and in a nutshell, it is pernicious to suggest that we should be and does more harm than good. When I first became a father I was introduced to a concept which has helped me ever since, it was that of “good enough” parenting.

Today we give thanks to our mothers and fathers, not for being perfect, but for loving us despite our faults, and despite their own ! Amen.

A Prayer for Parents, by Rev Derek Smith:
Spirit of Love, whom we have come to know through the affections we have for each other, we give thanks this day for the love of parents.
Over the years they have fed and sheltered our bodies, and encouraged us in our schooling and our games. They have often understood us when we were hurt or afraid, and at times have been angry or displeased when we did what they thought was wrong… and yet they never ceased to care for us. For our parents we give thanks.

We who are mothers and fathers would learn to distinguish between loving and possessing. May we free our children to live their own lives. May we provide them with opportunities for fresh explorations, as well as giving them havens of security. May we understand their sensitivities and fears… May we allow them to discover and to hold their own values, and not expect them to adopt ours. For our children we give thanks.

As the children a step out to meet life with confidence, joy and excitement, may we all know the true bond of mutual love and mutual caring. For each other we give thanks.


Sunday Service homilies from the Minister during coronavirus period