Today’s gospel passage
Today is the third Sunday in Lent – also known as Refreshment Sunday as we are allowed to take a break from our Lenten fasts and to be refreshed by decent food and wine again. Tomorrow, however, we are back on the bread and water. It is also, of course, Mothering Sunday – or as Hallmark refers to it, ‘Mothers’ Day’. And yet our Bishop has asked us to focus on being agents of social transformation, and the lectionary readings have a little to say about mums but not much and not very much that is encouraging or inspiring.
This week I worked with one of our schools on a Mothering Sunday activity day, we looked at how important it was for Jesus to be born into a family, how important it was for God to experience having a mum. We thought about how most of Jesus’ friends ran away from the foot of the cross and hid, how even God the Father had to turn away from the sin that Jesus was carrying, but his mother remained there, keeping her eyes focussed on Jesus the whole, painful, torturous, heartbreaking time. We thought about how God was referred to as a mother hen… and of course we thought about our own mums and made them posies and sweeties and cards.
The mum in this story is scared. Both she and her husband risk being excommunicated, being cast out from the synagogue – the cultural focus of the community not just the religious centre. The only statement that she is prepared to make is that this is her son. She will not abandon him, but she cannot stand by him as he grows in faith and boldness despite the insults of the Pharisees. So why does the Mother Church in all her wisdom give us this passage to consider today of all days?
Perhaps we need to go back to the origins of Mothering Sunday and try to peel our thoughts away from breakfast in bed and luxury chocolates. Mothering Sunday was originally the day when you would return to your ‘mother church’ – this could be the local cathedral or it could be the church where you were Christened. For those ‘in service’ (think Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs) it was a rare day off when you were allowed to go ‘home’ in order to ‘go a mothering’. Customs grew up around this annual pilgrimage, posies picked on the way home were given to mum and a Simnel Cake was often baked as a gift. Although the cake was rarely eaten before Easter Sunday due to Lenten observances, the 11 balls of marzipan which decorated the cake, representing the 12 disciples minus Judas, remind us of the need for repentance and prayer lest we too should fall from grace.
So Mothering Sunday is really about the return to church, the return to our worshipping communities, the places where we belong and find ourselves at home. Does that fit with being agents of social change?
It seems to me that our society is very good at seeing problems and trying to cover them with sticking plasters, rather than trying to get to the root of the problem, the heart of the matter. Jesus worked in completely the opposite way, which may have been one of the reasons why he was so heartily disliked. It seems that the man at the heart of today’s story was well known, we read ‘those who had seen him before as a beggar’; He was well known, but only by his limitations, those he had grown up with saw him as a blind beggar, Jesus saw him as a visionary. As his sight is returned, the man grows in courage and although he begins by only recounting what has happened to him, with little explanation of how or why it happened, or even who it was who enabled him to see, his eyes and heart widen enough for him to be able to proclaim
‘Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’
– enough to have him cast out of the synagogue.
And what happens when he finds himself excluded? Jesus comes and finds him. Today we may find our numbers have grown a little as people come along to church to experience the giving and receiving of posies, but I imagine many more people will still be in bed, or preparing to go out for lunch. There may be families of great affluence in our parishes who can really pamper the mothers in their midsts. There may be others who have little or nothing financially and the gifts that are lavished upon them are ones made at school. There may be mums on their own trying to make the day feel special when it feels lonely and even more difficult than normal. There may be grieving mums. There may be families with 3 generations of mums gathered together for a feast – the youngest mum being in her teens. There may be pregnant teenagers trying to hide feelings of morning sickness and shame.
Today we are to encourage each other to be motivated to do something positive for the communities we live in. To think about what offends us about the way our society is run and to think and pray about what we can do to make a difference. I can’t help but think that we need to open our eyes to the people living around us, and today of all days, to think about the family relationships that may be struggling and ways in which we as a church can support them. And maybe we do need to start at the root? The root of our gospel story is enabling people to change, to see things as they may be rather than as they are. At the root of our tradition of Mothering Sunday is the return to church as a family. Perhaps one way we could become agents of social change is by forging stronger relationships with our baptism families, and perhaps we could have begun by sending out invitations to ‘come a mothering’ with us today? If we want to do more than stick plasters on top of wounds then offering ourselves in support of parents and families before they find themselves struggling may be the way to go about it. Indeed we are encouraged in our Lenten prayer-life, focussing on the Rule of St Benedict, to think about how we can develop a right sense of the holy activities of work, education and contribution to family life. Is this just for us or for our interaction with our communities.
Jesus went out to find the no longer blind beggar. Are we prepared to go out and find those who have been cast out from society? Can we help them to visualise a place where they can belong? Can we see ourselves as being the ones who enable that to happen? If so, where do we go from here?