As we move through the fifty days of Easter we learn more and more of how the risen Christ is present among us, and in our Gospel this Sunday we move from the deep connection we have with Jesus as the Vine and we the branches to his central command to love as he loves us. It’s significant that we read this on Mothering Sunday, when our secular calendar encourages us to appreciate and acknowledge the love of our mothers. Not all women are mothers and not all mothers are loving so I choose to speak of this day as ‘Mothering Sunday’. By renaming this day I want to acknowledge those women who choose to take a mothering role – whether they have children or not; women who live out the command we receive from Jesus in our reading this Sunday, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’
Amy Carmichael was a remarkable woman who worked as a missionary in Japan and then in India. One of the things she is remembered for is rescuing girls from temple prostitution and raising them with other children in an orphanage. She personally oversaw their care and education and was called Amma (Mother). Her life was not an easy one and often lonely, living for many years on her own in illness and pain – but it was none-the-less deeply fulfilling as she sought to live out Jesus’ command. She wrote,
“He said, ‘Love … as I have loved you.’ We cannot love too much.”
I think also of Dr Catherine Hamlin who dedicated her life to care for women who suffered from obstetric fistulas – often discarded by their husbands and families in Ethiopia. The young women she treated regard her as their mother, both for her work as a surgeon but also for her genuine humanity and care. Where they were discarded as rubbish by their families, at the hospital they were welcomed, embraced (literally) treated with dignity and through surgery given back the opportunity to live a full and active life.
I think of Puah and Shiphrah the Hebrew midwives in the story of Moses, how they defied Pharoah and let the baby boys live. We can think of Deborah whose brave leadership entitled her to the name, ‘Mother in Israel’. The story of Naomi in the book of Ruth hold both tragedy and love, tragedy in a mother losing her husband and sons in death, and love in the compassion and loyalty of Ruth whose steadfast dedication turned Naomi’s life around. And of course there is the story of Mary and the pain she lived with in seeing her son Jesus die in torture on the cross, and how she became a model of faithful love for the church.
The stories in the bible about women, the way Jesus treated women, and the stories in our own age about the significant achievement women have made affirm the place and dignity of women in our lives, at a time when focus on wage parity, outrage over the way women are mistreated in politics and business highlights inequity and abuse in our society.
Jesus in our Gospel this Sunday insists that we remain in his love by obeying his commandments, but in the Gospel of John, Jesus’s only gives one commandment: love one another. By loving each other as Jesus has loved us, we become part of the love of God. Such love is not easy. We will not like or agree with everyone, but we are called to practice loving by our actions and often our actions can lead our emotions, enabling us to see the dignity of every human being and love them as Christ loved us.
The other day I had the privilege of going to Cheryl’s commissioning as Principal of PLC. What warmed my heart was to see how the children and teenagers regarded her as a mother figure in their lives. So let us thank God for all those who have nurtured us, who have gone out of their way to befriend and support us whether they are mothers or not. But let this also prompt us to find ways of mentoring and support others in our turn.