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Mothering Sunday

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

by Robert D. Crouse

St. James' Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia

March 16, 1980

“Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice with joy for her, all ye that mourn for her: That ye may suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.  Thus saith the Lord: As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you: and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” Isa.  66, 10-13


“Rejoice ye with Jerusalem”.  That is the ancient introit verse for this Fourth Sunday in Lent, and from its first Latin word, “Laetare”, “Rejoice”, today is sometimes called “Laetare Sunday”.  In the toils of our earthly pilgrimage as we make our way towards the Jerusalem of Christ’s passion, we are called to 1ook up and be refreshed by the vision of our spiritual home, “Jerusalem which is above, and is free, and is the mother of us all.”  And because St. Paul in today’s Epistle uses this image of motherhood, the day has traditionally been observed, especially in Britain, as Mother’s Day, or “Mothering Sunday” — a day on which sons and daughters would come home to visit their mothers.


For St. Paul, as for the Prophet Isaiah, natural mothering serves as an image, a symbol, of spiritual mothering, and it is a very rich image indeed.  Despite the wide-spread breakdown in family life, and the unfortunate devaluation of the role of the mother in recent times, the import of the biblical image is still no doubt fairly clear.  The role of the mother in giving birth to her child, her care in nourishing the infant, her task of training the child and inculcating those disciplines and virtues which make us civilized human beings: all this is part of what motherhood means, and all this has its analogue in the birth and development of our spiritual life.


“Ye must be born again”, Jesus told Nicodemus.  “But how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  No, of course not.  Still, there is a new birth; and “unless a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again.” There is a new birth, a new starting point, the beginning in us of the eternal life of God’s kingdom, God’s Jerusalem, the City of Peace, which is above and is free, and is our mother.  By God’s grace, we are given a new starting point, a new standpoint, a new context of life.  “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.”


But this new life of ours requires a lot of mothering, and will hardly survive without it.  We need the nutriment of Word and Sacrament, the Incarnate Word, Who has come down from heaven to be the life of the world, the divine nutriment of which the miracle story in today’s Gospel lesson speaks to us.  We need guidance and comfort in the childish confusions and distresses which are part of our growing up.  We need the inculcation of those virtues of faith and hope and charity which will make us mature citizens of God’s city.  We need to be civilized in God’s kingdom, and that requires a lot of mothering.


Our spiritual life requires a lot of mothering, and that is the proper activity of the Church.  That is what we mean by the “cure of souls.  “We are indeed reborn; we are indeed the sons of God.  But our infant steps are halting and uncertain; we stumble, and need a mother’s comforting.  Only slowly, word by word, do we learn to speak the language of God’s kingdom, the language of adoration.  Perhaps we’ve hardly even learned our letters.  Faith is indeed God’s gracious gift; and yet we must learn it day by day.  Hope must be tested by temptation to despair, and our charity must be refined from worldly loves, until our knowing and our willing become fixed upon the eternal good, from which nothing can separate us.  “For I am persuaded”, says St.  Paul, “that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor power, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Next Sunday, we enter upon the season of passiontide.  The Church’s calendar moves us towards a point of crisis: the dying of the Son of God.  Death is a crisis, like no other crisis; and it is inevitably and inescapably our crisis.  It is the final persuasion to despair.  Even Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”  Before that naked fact, all our worldly goods and hopes and ambitions seem to be reduced to utter nonsense, complete absurdity.


This Fourth Sunday in Lent, this “Mothering Sunday”, “mothers” us.  It prepares us to meet that crisis, to face it honestly and steadily, by establishing a certain perspective of promise; by setting before us a vision of a final and eternal good, a vision of the heavenly city, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.  By that vision our faith and hope are sustained and fortified; and even through the darkness and apparent hopelessness of Passiontide, we are to rejoice with, the heavenly Jerusalem; and our love is to be “delighted with the abundance of her glory.”


“For thus saith the Lord; As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”