Each time I set out on the journey that ends with those momentous words … I therefore proclaim that they are husband and wife
I know that I, and each loving and hopeful couple, will soon be exploring what it actually means to utter those well-known phrases …
for better, for worse;
for richer, for poorer;
in sickness and in health;
till death us do part.
We will talk of the need to wrap these solemn vows in the having, the holding, the loving and the cherishing that each will also promise to the other.
As we explore what the language of these centuries’ old promises really mean, we will also speak of those ‘pinch points’ that are encountered by every married couple … those ‘pinch points’ at which the commitment of every pair of star-crossed lovers will be tested.
One of those ‘pinch points’ comes, not when each couple realizes what it means to belong to one another and to become one (as it says in the preface to the marriage service), but when they come to the point of no longer using their real names.
I am not speaking about those affectionate nicknames we give to one another … I am speaking of that day when we stop being ‘Janet’ and ‘John’ (or whatever) and suddenly become ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’.
The dawning of parental responsibilities leads all who are blessed with the privilege of parenthood into an unknown world … and … should more children come along, it doesn’t get any better … Each precious bundle of vulnerability is different in the way he or she struggles to find their own identity in the world.
And … as each child evolves from new-born to young adult, we continue to set aside our own identities as we join the enormous army of ‘Mums and Dads’ across the world.
Today is Mothering Sunday or, in its watered down, commercial version … today is Mothers’ Day.
It may sound pedantic, but Mothers’ Day does not provide us with any sense of what today is all about. Mothers’ Day reduces our celebration of motherhood into something that is transactional … a moment when a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates and, perhaps, a nice meal, is seen as adequate recompense for all that motherhood (mothering) means.
We all know that motherhood is an emotional roller coaster … it swings to and fro as it simultaneously swoops up and down … it is full of joys, and it is full of those sorrows that cut to the heart.
I did not have to look very far to find this contemporary account of new motherhood … new motherhood that began in Ukraine just a few days ago …
Yuliya gently rocks her new-born baby in the dank basement of a medical centre in Kyiv. Vera is only days old, but her life is already in danger.
“We’re sitting here in the basement, we’ve been crying,” Yuliya says. “It’s terrifying to see smoke and shelling. We’re doing everything we can to save our children.”
It took Yuliya two days travelling on foot from her home outside Kyiv before she reached the safety of the Regional Perinatal Centre.
With the devastating violence, Yuliya had no choice but to try to find a safe place to deliver her child.
She admits there were moments when she thought she might not make it here at all amid the shelling and explosions that have rocked the area in recent days.
“I had to travel across fields and through forests,” she says, adding that due to certain health issues, not every facility would have been able to help her safely deliver her child. “But,” she adds, “Thanks to God and the doctors, I now have a baby – and I am alive.”
But … what does being alive mean to Yuliya and her precious daughter, Vera?
Yuliya’s very modern-day story resonates with words we find in scripture …
In our OT reading we heard of the birth of Moses. The great prophet Moses was born in a time when the Hebrew people were being enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians. Even as he was born his life was in danger … simply because he had the ‘wrong’ parents. In desperation the mother of Moses hid the baby … she entrusted him into God’s loving care. Like Yuliya in Ukraine, I am sure that the mother of Moses thanked God that her child was saved from the horror going on around them.
In our reading from John’s gospel we encounter Mary, the mother of Jesus waiting at the foot of the cross … waiting for her son to know the release of death.
In this moment from the gospel narrative we see the love of God at work. As Jesus hung on the cross … even as his human life was ebbing away … he looked upon his mother and the disciple whom he loved and committed them into each other’s care.
As Jesus died on the cross his words and actions celebrated the God-given gift of human love … a love which St Paul celebrates in his letter to the Colossians, where he writes:
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and … just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and be thankful.
On Mothering Sunday we celebrate everything that is contained within these words … we celebrate the compassion, kindness, humility and patience of Mother Church … just as we celebrate those same qualities in our own mothers.
Of course, the growth pangs of human children can bring about times of disagreement and possibly estrangement … just as we see similar moments of disagreement and estrangement in the life of our Mother Church …
But we should not dwell on the negative … instead we are called to forgive and to clothe ourselves with the love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
In recent days I have received emails from a range of different on-line retail outlets. Each of those emails was offering me the option of ‘opting out’ of their Mothers’ Day marketing … just in case it caused me offence.
Every one of us can remember moments when the mother/child relationship has become somewhat strained, but … if such moments come to the fore today, of all days, we are called to remember those words of St Paul …
We are called to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient … and that is a responsibility that is laid upon both sides in this transaction of love and thankfulness.
Mary, the mother of Our Lord, began her journey into parenthood in the most unlikely and unpredictable of ways. Her son, like Yuliya’s daughter, was born in the most trying of conditions. From the moment of his birth, like little Vera in Ukraine, Jesus’ life was threatened.
Through the wisdom and the grace of God, Mary’s son grew into the man we know to be the Son of God.
The end of Jesus’ life on earth revealed the anger and the cruelty of humanity.
I hope and pray that little Vera will come to know a kinder and more compassionate side to human nature.
But … whatever befalls any of us … we are called to remember that, even as he hung on the cross, Jesus commended us into the love and care of each other.
Today we remember our earthly mothers, and our Mother Church … In these troubled and dangerous times, let us also put our faith in the God whose Son paid the ultimate human price in order that we might all come to know the glory, and the love, and the forgiveness of his Heavenly Father.
And, if we struggle with darker memories of our earthly mothers, or bitterness towards our Mother Church, let us not forget that both are human constructs and, as such, make mistakes.
Then, let us be humble as we forgive, and let us all allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, as we live out a life that is ever thankful for the love we have been given in this world.
Oh … and let us also be thankful that our mothers did on that day, however many years ago, give up her real name, in order that we might know her as ‘Mum’!