Many of our best loved hymns celebrate God’s gift of love, and some of them we’ve sung this evening. St Paul’s wonderful words in I Corinthians 13 tell us that love is the best and most enduring thing we can possess; St John reminds us in several places that love is of the very nature of God; in 1 John 4 verse 16 we read “God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” The word mothering speaks of a human love that reflects the love of God, a love that will cherish, nurture, build and transform.
Stafford is my home town, and my brother’s recently enrolled me in a Facebook site called “Stafford Remembered”. I’ve spent more time than I should at my computer keyboard lately looking over the fascinating old pictures posted there, and shared memories. Things from way back in my childhood became sharp in my mind as old photos triggered them. A picture of the old Stafford Market reminded me of a time when I can’t have been more than four years old. It was a Saturday, and I’d gone to town shopping with Mum. We were going into the market, through the arcade of shops in the old market entrance.
I was supposed to be holding on to the handle of my brother’s pushchair, but I let go. Town was fun, and I wanted to look around. Some of the windows in the arcade were very reflective - so I stopped to look at myself and pull a few ugly faces. Maybe if I made a really ugly face I might crack the window - Mum used to say that an ugly face would crack mirrors. But then I remembered Mum saying that if I pulled a horrible face I’d stick like that if the wind changed, so I stopped.
I stopped and looked around; and Mum and the pushchair with my brother in it were nowhere to be seen. And suddenly all the people around me seemed very big and strange. Ahead of me were the doors into the market hall. Mum must have gone in, but I couldn’t see her. It was all so crowded. I can still remember the feeling of panic, and I think I probably started to cry.
Whether Mum heard me crying or just noticed I wasn’t there I don’t know, but suddenly there she was. So I stopped crying, though I soon started again when Mum told me off. What she said was, “Don’t you ever go off again like that!” That seemed unfair when really she’d gone off and I'd stayed where I was! (Though I know what she meant.)
So there’s one memory of mothering. I’ve plenty of good memories of course: being cuddled and loved, getting presents, going to nice places, and things like being allowed to scrape out the mixing bowl when Mum made cakes on a weekend. But I do also remember getting into trouble and being told off when I was found out, and maybe being sent to bed early. And that is also mothering, because mothering involves both love and guidance, and guidance requires discipline and correction, from time to time at least. To love someone is to want the best for them, and that sometimes needs some hard words.
Tough love, I suppose. But mothering is also tough on the person doing it. It involves sacrifice; sometimes to provide for others you must do without yourself. One old man I used to visit years ago used to tell me how in hard times his mother would claim she’d already eaten at suppertime, when in fact she was doing without so that everyone else could have enough. Paul writes of love that “there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.”
So for me Mothering Sunday commemorates not only our actual mothers but all the ways in which we experience a love in our lives that conveys and reflects the love of God: a love that protects and provides, that nurtures and disciplines, that helps us to become ourselves, and that encourages us to grow, to discover and to dare. Love that is costly and sacrificial, that reaches our and gives what can hardly be afforded; and love that allows us to find our own wings, and to make our own way, that doesn’t imprison us, but sets us free.
The greatest of all symbols of love is the cross, for it is at the cross that Jesus shows us most fully what divine love is. The sacrifice he makes there both convicts us of our sin and liberates us from the sentence of death our sin brings upon us. On the cross Jesus gives all he has, all he is, and even as he hangs there dying he continues to care for those dearest to him.
Mothering Sunday is worth more than a card and a bunch of flowers. I’m so grateful to those who’ve mothered me over the years, not only my own Mum but many other special people. In their love I’ve been helped to discern and discover the love of God. I hope I can play my part in doing the same.