Every year in the middle of the Easter season western culture has celebrated Mother’s Day since its inception in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in West Virginia USA. It caught the imagination of President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 and soon spread world-wide, as an opportunity to give thanks for our mothers.
However, this practice does have ancient precedents, because during the Middle Ages the custom developed of allowing those who had moved away, to visit their home parishes and their mothers on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, and this became ‘Mothering Sunday’ in Britain where it continues today, but on the date of Mother’s Day.
When I was studying Reformation History in Scotland, our professor described how the medieval church calendar was ‘cluttered up’ with saints days, and often more than one saint on each day. On Saints days there were special Bible readings that focused attention on the saint being celebrated.
What happened in the Reformation was to sweep all that away and replace it with a clear focus on Jesus. The Reformers wanted people to hear the gospels read from beginning to end rather than in a piecemeal way interrupted by readings about saints.
We are the inheritors of this reformation tradition with its gospel focus. However the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960’s saw a huge renewal within the Catholic Church that rapidly spread across most mainline Protestant denominations.
One major impact has been adopting the three year lectionary, where we read Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C, with passages from John’s gospel read every year. The clear intention of this lectionary was to ensure that we are given a healthy diet of Bible readings – deepening our knowledge of the Bible and so fostering Biblical literacy. The conviction behind this move is that it is through reading and studying the Bible that we encounter the very Word of God, Jesus Christ, and are nurtured in faith.
So, for many there is a strong resistance to allowing anything to interrupt the cycle of readings, by focusing on all the ‘secular’ festivals we are encouraged to celebrate. Many of these are very worthy issues, like ‘World Environment Day’, ‘Harmony Day’, ‘National Reconciliation Week’, ‘Refugee Sunday’, and so on. Often we can accommodate some of those themes in a Christian Service, especially in our prayers and reflections in sermons, however, any of these worthy issues need to be held within the realm of God’s missional work of creating order out of our chaos, and harmony from our discord.
Mother’s day, like Father’s day is an opportunity to express gratitude to God for those who have mothered and nurtured us, but it can also be fraught with other emotions for those whose experience of parents has not been healthy, or whose experience of being a mother has been challenging, or for those who are not mothers, so we need to hold them to God as well. My own parents were very loving and consistent in their parenting which has been only positive for me, and I have been given strong and healthy role models for which I am grateful.
This week I invite you to join me in giving thanks to God for all who have mothered and nurtured you in positive ways.