Mothering Sunday

  1. Meditation

Motherhood was not easy for Mary. She was young, inexperienced and unmarried. Her pregnancy was viewed with suspicion. Her baby was born far from home in difficult and dangerous surroundings. When she took her son to the temple, only days old, Simeon’s prophecy for his future was both ominous and exciting. Jesus’ childhood gave her cause for concern and in adulthood, it was clear that his life would become increasingly dangerous and he would be marginalised. Mary had to learn to put her own feelings to one side to support him in his mission. Finally, she suffered the worst thing that can happen to a mother, she had to watch her son die a tortured death.

Mothers' pain

JONATHAN SACKS, the Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, speaks of his mother as a living role-model for celebrating life in enhancing the lives of others. In her 80s, she is "still visiting the sick, doing acts of kindness and finding happiness in unexpected places"*. It is a tribute that, on Mothering Sunday, encourages us all to give thanks for motherhood, mothers and the gentle graces associated with so many of them. It is a time, too, to be aware of the sensitivity of mothers to suffering.

Ministry to those who are bereaved means sharing grief, when injury or death has made tears flow from parents overwhelmed by their loss. For a mother, facing the loss of her own flesh and blood, how can she hold back those tears? Nor should she, for it is right to cry. Can there be anything more painful than to see her child suffer pain or death?

When Simeon, described in St Luke's Gospel as a "righteous and devout man", received the baby Jesus into his arms, his gratitude overflowed. Having seen God's act of salvation - he described it as the "consolation of Israel" - Simeon was ready to "depart in peace". But in his prayer - a eulogy in praise of the Messiah - there is an important parenthesis. To Jesus's mother Mary, he addressed a significant prophecy.

"A sword," he says, "will pierce your soul." His saving work would bring suffering not only to her son but also to her. Mary, it is certain, "heard" these words and pondered them in her heart. "Life, sadly, is inescapably unfair." So Minette Marrin recently wrote in this newspaper. How dramatically true this is in the life of Jesus.

He encountered injustice at so many points in his life - that he, described as "the King of the Jews", should be born in a stable, there being no room for him elsewhere; that he, from the time of his birth, should be a target for Herod's terrorism, taken hastily to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the innocent children; that he, the very incarnation of goodness, should be hounded by soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, harangued by rulers and priests, hustled along the road to Calvary for crucifixion between two robbers; what justice is this? Yet it was all ominously present in the picture of the suffering servant in Isaiah, an interpretation of the Messianic role on which Jesus clearly drew.

Despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, oppressed, afflicted, wounded, non-violent and utterly truthful, yet "it pleased the Lord to bruise him". Simeon seemed to have this very picture in mind when he prophesied Mary's grief and pain.

Mothering Sunday is a gift through which we can magnify the joy of motherhood, but acknowledge too the pain it can bring. Somewhere, however, within the pain lie the seeds of salvation. It is appropriate on Mothering Sunday to give grateful thanks for that gift, too.

* Celebrating Life, Jonathan Sacks, Fount (HarperCollins), 2000

2.   Meditation

Motherhood was not easy for Mary. She was young, inexperienced and unmarried. Her pregnancy was viewed with suspicion. Her baby was born far from home in difficult and dangerous surroundings. When she took her son to the temple, only days old, Simeon’s prophecy for his future was both ominous and exciting.

He encountered injustice at so many points in his life - that he, described as "the King of the Jews", should be born in a stable, there being no room for him elsewhere; that he, from the time of his birth, should be a target for Herod's terrorism, taken hastily to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the innocent children;

When Simeon, described in St Luke's Gospel as a "righteous and devout man", received the baby Jesus into his arms, his gratitude overflowed. Having seen God's act of salvation - he described it as the "consolation of Israel" - Simeon was ready to "depart in peace". But in his prayer - a eulogy in praise of the Messiah - there is an important parenthesis. To Jesus' mother Mary, he addressed a significant prophecy. "A sword," he says, "will pierce your soul." His saving work would bring suffering not only to her son but also to her. Mary, it is certain, "heard" these words and pondered them in her heart.

Jesus’ childhood gave her cause for concern and in adulthood, it was clear that his life would become increasingly dangerous and he would be marginalised.

that he, the very incarnation of goodness, should be hounded by soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, harangued by rulers and priests, "Life, sadly, is inescapably unfair." How dramatically true this is in the life of Jesus.

Mary had to learn to put her own feelings to one side to support him in his mission.

hustled along the road to Calvary for crucifixion between two robbers; what justice is this? Yet it was all ominously present in the picture of the suffering servant in Isaiah, an interpretation of the Messianic role on which Jesus clearly drew.

Finally, she suffered the worst thing that can happen to a mother, she had to watch her son die a tortured death.

Despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, oppressed, afflicted, wounded, non-violent and utterly truthful, yet "it pleased the Lord to bruise him". Simeon seemed to have this very picture in mind when he prophesied Mary's grief and pain.

Mothering Sunday is a gift through which we can magnify the joy of motherhood, but acknowledge too the pain it can bring. Somewhere, however, within the pain lie the seeds of salvation. It is appropriate on Mothering Sunday to give grateful thanks for that gift, too.