Today is Mother’s Day. A day in which we each think of our mothers, and of course, our childhood’s, I hope that for most of you those memories are warm, and bring back feelings of safety and security and nurture, like the mother and child nestling together at bedtime in our reading today. And I pray for all of you, whose memories are more difficult,and are colored with tragedy, and especially for you who remember pain and terror as your companions in your youngest days. May each passing year put more healing time between you and those days.
And I think of all those who are actively mothering right now, with all its frustrations and anxieties and demands: may you be graced with moments that will become sustaining memories as these pass. May you be assured that you are probably doing better than it seems. May we all hold mothers in a warm and comforting embrace, recalling, remembering, reliving, forgiving. Let us be motherly to mothers: intercede for them against harsh judgements and resentments and unwillingness to forgive.
and today, we cannot help but think of the most famous and reknown mother of all, the biggest mama of history, Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus, the blessed virgin mother, the queen of heaven, the mother of us all, the mother of God.
Growing up a liberal Protestant -- out of the anabaptist traditions of Germany, and then among the Unitarians of New England, the Blessed Virgin Mother was a distant, remote and somewhat silly figure. Devotion to her seemed strange. I grew up in Youngstown Ohio, a city which was filled with Roman Catholics, and I saw the shrines to her in the backyards and in the front yards of my neighbors. I must admit we snickered some. Even though we were friends and played together, we were very conscious of being Protestant vs being Catholic. We would yell and mock and even throw little stones at the school from Immaculate Heart of Mary School when it lumbered through the neighborhood. Somehow, we thought they thought they were better than us. You would think I grew up in Belfast. The statues of Mary were everywhere, surrounded by flowers in the spring and summer, and even in the winter, plastic flowers grew at her feet, indestructible, emerging from the snow. She was slim and beautiful and always so calm and usually wore a sky blue cape. She seemed more a sad and shy older sister than a mother.
And this of course, is one image of Mary -- the innocent maiden -- really just a girl. There are four visions of Mary in the New Testament, and each vision is provocative -- almost an archetype of the ways that adults think about their mothers. So, I want just go through them -- not as biblical scholarship, but as triggers for our own memories of our own mothers, on this, Mother’s Day.
Let us remember first Mary the Innocent, the virgin, and yet of surprising strength of purpose. She is our mother, but we never know that mother of ours -- she is the mother before we are born.
I have a photograph of my mother standing in the kitchen of the first parsonage my father ever lived in -- they were just married. The house is probably still standing somewhere down in Rock Village in Middleborough, Mass. The kitchen looks more like a kitchen in a summer cabin. My mother is impossibly young in the picture and she is not smiling. She looks so vulnerable. I cannot look at that picture without feeling enormous tenderness for her.
Many people think of Mary as being the face of the divine feminine -- and a Christian reworking of the pagan Goddess -- the great Mother Goddess which some say is the divinity of pre-history. I don’t doubt it, but consider what a contrasting vision the Virgin Mary is. The Mother Goddess is fertile and maternal and generous and overflowing with children, with milk, and life. She is lush and wide and a sacred symbol of all that is cyclical and generous about the Earth which gives us life.
Mary, on the other hand, is pure and young and inexperienced -- one imagines her holding the baby cautiously at first, fussed over by a midwife, reassured that she will get this motherhood thing.
Instead of earthy, ethereal. She was pure and that is why she could be the vessel through which the pure, immutable, unchangeable, God could take shape and form and enter into time.
But this young innocent mother, who is devoted to her child, is the subject of so much of our longing and our art. The madonna and child -- how many paintings?
On this mother’s day, we remember our Mothers, as the young mother we never knew, innocent and devoted.
After the stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy, we next see Mary in the Bible as the rejected mother. It is a story in both Matthew and Luke -- Mary and her sons -- the mother and brothers of Jesus come to him while he is preaching, and they cannot get to him because of the crowd. And he denies them - no, his family are his disciples -- the ones with whom he is working. They are hearing the word of God and doing it.
We do not see Mary’s reaction to these words. Sent away by her son. We know, however, Mary’s reactions, because so many of us have lived this story ourselves. Some of us have played all the characters in this most human of dramas. This story of rejection is part of growing up -- an essential step in defining ourselves.
Mother’s Day is so poignant and emotional is that we carry this memory with us, and the roses and gifts and brunches are small tokens of our remorse and guilt, now that we are on the other side of that temporary chasm that is adolescence and young adulthood.
And on this mother’s day, we remember our mothers in this moment of our life together.
And the third time that we see Mary, the Virgin Mother, in the biblical narrative is the Sorrowful Mother. The one watching her son being arrested, tried, beaten, scorned and crucified.
The sorrowful mother. I also had a sorrowful mother. As the emotional center of a family, mothers are the ones who teach us how to grieve. There were two deaths in my growing up years -- my mother’s sister and then my mother’s mother each died of cancer while I was in grammar school. I remember her stricken face on the telephone, her tears, the days of sadness. It was terrifying to see her so sad, for her grief revealed that some sadnesses cannot be fixed and made better.
There is wisdom in such sorrow, a wisdom born of brokenness, a light that shines through the cracks of such brokenness.
And on mother’s day, we remember our mothers who taught us how to grieve.
May the grief of all mothers be assuaged on this day, and those who sorrow for the loss of their mother be comforted. Let God lay thy healing hand on these hurting hearts.
And the last story of Mary in the Bible is this strange story in Revelation 12 -- a mythic summation of Mary’s life, retold as though it was the end of a summer blockbuster movie made for teen-aged boys. Mary as pivotal figure in a cosmic story. She is about to give birth to the Messiah, it seems, and Satan, it seems, wants to snatch that baby, but Mary is protected by an army of angels, led by Michael. Mary does not fight herself, but must flee on the wings of an eagle and hidden and protected in the deepest wilderness. Satan even sends a river to wash her away and the earth opens up to swallow up the river.
This is a rich story. You are that baby. Whether you are a boy or a girl, you are that baby in the cosmic struggle for salvation that is your life. What on Earth can that mean?
And what does it mean that your mother must be protected and kept safe and nurtured, so that you can do what you need to do in life? I urge you to play with this story. I cannot interpret this story for you, but one of the things that is said of Mary is that she is the Mother of us All. After all, if Jesus is our brother then Mary must be our mother and we are all children of God.
Mary is also said to be the mediator, one who protects us in the cosmic struggle of salvation.
May we all be saved and protected in this cosmic story of life.
So, on this mother’s day, we remember each of our Mothers, in all her ages and stages. May we pledge to protect the mothers among us. And let us allow ourselves to be protected by mother love once again.
Hymn Number 409.