What day is it today? Mothers’ Day – is the wrong answer! At least, it might be Mothers’ Day out in the world, but here in Church it’s Mothering Sunday, and that, in fact, is only tangentially about human mothers!
Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent, and it’s long been known as Laetare Sunday, or Refreshment Sunday – it’s half-way through Lent, and in days when people kept it rather more strictly than they do now, it was a day when you could relax the rules a little. And the tradition grew up that on that day, you went to the mother church in your area – often the cathedral, but it might have just been the largest church in your area.
Families went together, and it became traditional for servants to have time off to go home and see their families on that day, if they lived near enough. In the Middle Ages, servants may only have got one day off a year, and it was, traditionally, the 4th Sunday in Lent. Many servants had to leave home when they were very young – only about 11 or 12 – because their parents simply couldn't afford to feed them any longer. And, indeed, many of these children hadn't known what a full tummy felt like until they started work. But even so, they must have missed their families, and been glad to see them every year.
And today is also a day for remembering God’s love for us. We’re having the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent today, but if we’d had the traditional Mothering Sunday readings, we would have heard Jesus weeping over Jerusalem:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Your people have killed the prophets and have stoned the messengers who were sent to you. I have often wanted to gather your people, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you wouldn't let me.”
The image of Jesus as a mother hen! What we remember on Mothering Sunday isn’t just our mothers, although that, too, but above all, the wonderful love of God, our Father and our Mother.
We do give thanks for our mothers - this year it's all a bit special because it's my first as a grandmother, and Emily's first as a mother - and I texted my own mother this morning, remembering that it was her first as a great-grandmother. But we have to remember, too, people whose Mums are no longer with us, and to remember that some people didn't have satisfactory relationships with their own Mums, and some people have never known the joy of motherhood.
But we can all celebrate God's wonderful love for each and every one of us.
Oberstdorf as Austria, 22 May
2 hours ago