The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mothering Sunday sermon


Well, here we are, smack in the middle of Lent, the Church’s primary penitential season. “And how is your fasting and discipline going Mrs. Brown?” “Very well, thank you Father. And oh, by the way Father, if we are in the middle of Lent, why does is appear that we are preparing for a party downstairs in the Parish Hall today?”

Mothering Sunday. Refreshment Sunday. Historically, the Eastern Church observed this Sunday in the middle of Lent as a feast of the Holy Cross. Following that example, the Roman Church kept its station today in the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, where a relic of the Cross was kept. And, by the way, in passing, relics are not parishioners who have been coming to Divine Services for so long, that they actually know when to sit, kneel, and stand, and have most of the prayers memorized.

This practice of the Roman Church celebrating today at the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is the reason for the frequent references to Jerusalem throughout the specially appointed readings for today: in the Epistle, in the Introit, Gradual, Tract and Communion Verses. And the nature of those references, “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem,” “I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord,” and so on, present us with a somewhat festal attitude. This is sometimes also marked by the use of rose-coloured vestments instead of the purple ones of the rest of Lent.

This day has been known by several names: 1) Mid-Lent Sunday, for obvious reason; 2) Laetare Sunday (from the Latin first word of the Introit - “to be glad”); 3) Refreshment Sunday, partly because it comes at Mid-Lent, and partly because of the Gospel where we read of the feeding of the 5,000 - folk who were very much refreshed. The Collect also prays, “by the comfort of God’s (sic) grace may mercifully be relieved” - refreshed. In the previous version of the Canadian Prayer Book (1918), the first lesson at Mattins today was Genesis 43, at the end of which Joseph’s brothers are refreshed by a feast laid on for them by their brother in Egypt. And we might note when we come round to our Communion Hymn that it indicates that it might be used on Refreshment Sunday; and 4) Mothering Sunday, because of the English customs appropriate to the day when we remember the Church as the Jerusalem which is the Mother of us all. We read from St. Paul this morning in his letter to the Galatians, “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all.” Among the various long standing customs that have arisen around the naming of this as Mothering Sunday, were practices that involved the Church, whereby the folk around the diocese made an effort to visit the cathedral, their mother church, and make offerings for its maintenance. Apparently, after the Reformation, the idea of an offering was transferred to literal mothers, and a few practices sprung up around that: young women working in service away from home were given the day’s freedom in order that they might visit their mothers; and, the blessing of flowers brought to the chancel, as we witnessed this morning. The traditional practice here was that young children brought the flowers to the chancel screen during the divine service, and after they were blessed, gave them to their mothers as gifts. Mothering Sunday.

Here, at the risk of being a little too topical, and wandering away from the explicit directive that sermons are not to be a vehicle for the expression of personal opinions, may I wander for a moment. My wandering is both related to today’s intention in that it deals with the family, and is also very topical in terms of imminent government legislation.

Many of us have done much wondering, some of us are even indignant, about what appears to be happening to the family in our society; and the particular concern, I may be way off base here, is that same-sex marriage will knock our society right off the rails in terms of the family. Again, I may be way off base here, but it seems to me that if we wish to approach this purely from a societal concern perspective, we might be trying to close the barn door after all of the horses have run out. Which is to say, the family, with much encouragement from sociologists, has already undergone such a massive beating over the past several decades, that one must truly ask whether granting a privilege to a rather small percentage of the population is really going to do much damage.

Yes, from a religious, specifically Judeo-Christian perspective, we might simply state that it is contrary to God’s revealed will. But that, of course, is rarely satisfactory to the unchurched, especially where the issue has become the darling of the press and even the government.

Then, yes, we are right to be concerned based on the arguments that the lobby has used to convince the government that such legislation is not only reasonable but in fact necessary. The concern being that the bases for their arguments will, in spite of the government claiming otherwise, open the door for further changes that will inarguably damage the fabric of our society. We very often hear the cry, “What about, this or that group’s ‘rights’?” Etymologically, the use of the word “rights” is in fact rather difficult to tie down within this particular context, and the lobby groups, the government and the press have been very clever in stretching its proper application just far enough to convince the average person that it is being used correctly against the topic in discussion. However, truthfully, the proper word that should be used is “privilege,” as in something that falls outside of the claim of “rights,” based on an inherent claim anthropologically. Rights vs. privileges.

Another misused word that comes to mind is “acceptance” where in fact we should be using “tolerance.” As in, we tolerate alcoholism, but we do not accept it, either as a healthy, normal type of behaviour, or as consistent with the teaching of Holy Scripture. It is important to mention that, in tolerating it, it is also incumbent upon us as Christians to follow our Lord’s example of helping anyone, regardless of circumstance, so that we also attempt to help those who are afflicted with this dreadful disease. Tolerance vs. acceptance.

I could get into all kinds of observations here about imbued biological directives in all species of higher vertebrates, including mankind; and I could mention all kinds of statistics that should be cause for alarm in terms of the erosion of family life and family values; but that would take many pages and would wander even further away from a true sermon.

Rather, I should like us to return to contemplate our Christian vocations at a very fundamental level. The First and Great Commandment is for us to love God with the entire fabric of our being. The Second is like the First – to love our neighbours unselfishly and without judgement. Why do I mention these? Well, within the context of my wandering, I have had concerns as I listen to discussions about the bounds of our parish where people speak of homosexuals as if they were the worst type of sinners imaginable. Well, good people, beloved of God, are any of us ever proud, angry, jealous, intemperate in food, covetous or envious of other’s possessions or positions in life? These are some of the seven deadly sins; too often ignored by many churchgoers as inevitable and therefore inconsequential, not worth confessing. I have met a number of homosexuals, especially when I was living in Vancouver, who, in addition to being under the burden of societal rejection, were otherwise very devout Christians, readily confessing their faults before Almighty God, far less guilty of many of the seven deadly sins than I. How can I despise homosexuals when I am a greater sinner than many of them? How do we stack up in terms of the Second Great Commandment when we tear such people to pieces before we’ve even spoken to them, and who in the eyes of the Almighty might just be less unworthy than I am?

Am I opposed to same-sex marriage? Yes, but not because of some conditioned dislike of homosexuals based on a stereotypical image that is not representative. It is a combination of it being contrary to God’s revealed will; the anthropologically and etymologically invalid argument used in its favour and the attendant damage to society that may be realized by other groups achieving similar types of legal status; the mounting statistics that indicate that the nuclear family is in fact necessary for raising well-balanced children; and, the simple fact that marriage gains them little if nothing in terms of benefits and such that they don’t already have.

Why do I bring all of this up on Mothering Sunday? Well, it is most certainly topical in terms of the family and how we define it. Childhood without a father is biologically abnormal, potentially psychologically damaging. Childhood without a mother is biologically abnormal, potentially psychologically damaging. Children have the biological and God-given right to two parents of opposite sexes. While our government presumes to grant what they are calling a right that flies in the face of this, when in fact it can never be more than a privilege in the sense of an anthropological and moral peculiarity, we must be prepared to weather yet another storm of the befuddled, bamboozled, and brainwashed masses shouting at us that we are out of touch. I, for one, would feel very impoverished had I not had the opportunity to know either my mother or my father. That is an absolute right, not just privilege, for everyone. Out of touch? You be the judge.

Is Mothering Sunday a medieval vestige, out of touch with modern society? Are we being sexist in the opposite sense when we ask someone to be “Mother of the Year?” Judge ye this, brothers and sisters: the Church, which is the bride of Christ, is our spiritual earthly Mother; the Jerusalem above, our heavenly Mother. Do we honour both? Yea verily. Is it so very wrong for us to ask one of our earthly mothers to be representative for us on a particular Sunday, so that we may obey the Commandment to honour our mothers?

“O Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst come to live among men as the child of a human mother: Bless us, we pray thee, as we gather in Thy house, mother Church, to worship Thee and to thank Thee for our mothers. May their children be nurtured in Thy discipline and instruction, and their homes be havens of peace and love, made fragrant with Thy presence; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.