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

Monday, March 19, 2007

Reverencing Motherhood

Father Peter's Sunday Sermon for Mothering Sunday:

Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice thou barren that barest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

There is a great deal of female imagery in chapter 4 of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which is probably why the verses from it were chosen to be read today, the day designated by the Church as Mothering Sunday.

Motherhood is a reality of Christian life in many ways. Leaving aside the obvious biological aspect, other parts of the reality of Motherhood stretch back into the age of Moses, when God commanded, Honour thy father and thy mother. Yes, Dad is included in that commandment, but let’s ignore Dad for now – this is Mother’s day. The images of Motherhood then reach forward from Moses to the Cross and from the Cross penetrate to the very heart of Christianity.

I have often wondered about the need of Mohammedans to have several wives, seeming as a result to reduce women to the status of baby factories. That is not honouring thy mother. Nor is it honouring motherhood or womanhood.

In Christianity it is forbidden to have several wives, especially at one and the same time. Now, at the risk of my personal safety, I could rabbit on at length about why one wife is a blessing, but multiples of them would be a curse. But I won’t go there. I have not reached my age without learning a few things about protecting my personal safety! Let me just say that folded into the sacrament of marriage is the concept of monogamy, of honouring one woman as a gift from God. Also folded into the sacrament are the pains, the blessings and the glory of motherhood.

Where the Christian is truly blessed, be they man or woman, is that we may have only one husband or wife, but we have several mothers.

First, we have our natural mother, of course. But soon after we are born, hopefully, our natural mother is a Christian and we will be taken to be baptized into Mother Church. The one Holy Catholic Church is what Paul speaks of when he says the Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all.

It is the bride of Christ, as St. John saw in his revelation, And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. In that new Jerusalem everything involved in motherhood will be perfected.

St. John continues, And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Rev.21:3,4.

This is the promise of the new covenant brought in by Jesus Christ through the Cross. And from the Cross we receive another mother -- Mary, Theotokos, the God bearer, our Holy Mother.

What greater honour could Mary have possibly received than to be chosen as the spotless virgin in whose womb the Incarnate Son of God was conceived and carried for nine long months.

What greater honour could all womankind have possibly received than that one of their own was chosen to bear the world’s redemption.

What more reason could we have for honouring women, our human mother’s and motherhood itself, than that God did not abhor the virgin’s womb.

On the Cross, St. John tells us, When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing there whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy Son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother!

It is understood from these words of Jesus Christ that He gave His blessed mother not just to St. John, but to all of us. That is the interpretation carried in the prayer following the Salve Regina as sung at Walsingham, which contains the words, O Mary, recall the solemn moment when Jesus, thy Divine Son, dying on the Cross, confided us to thy maternal care. Now there are those who dispute this interpretation of those words of Christ upon the Cross, but there is a prayer of St. Augustine in which for me the matter is put to rest. It contains the following paragraph:

Woman incomparable, thou art both bodily and spiritually Mother and Virgin. Mother of our Head, who is the Saviour, thou art Mother also of his members, even of ourselves; for by charity thou hast co-operated in the birth of the faithful into His Church. Thou art the beauty and dignity of earth, O Virgin, and hast ever been the type of the holy Church. By one woman came death, and by another even by thee, O Mother of our God, came life.

Let me close by quoting a section from one of my dogmatic theology books.

The love and reverence given by all Christians, until the Reformation, to our Lord’s Mother have been of the highest spiritual and moral value. They have inspired the ideal of chivalry towards all women; they have supported the teaching of St. Paul that in Christ men and women are equal; they have strengthened , as perhaps nothing else could have done, personal purity and the ideal of the Christian home. They are one of the most precious parts of the Christian tradition, and the sects which have cast them away have suffered immeasurable loss.

After the Mass today, we will go downstairs and one of the things we will do there is honour Heather, our Mother of the year. I sincerely hope the words I have just read will allow us to do that in genuine Christian love and respect. But I hope they will allow us to go further.

Let us love and revere our Holy Mother Mary. Let us Love and revere our Holy Mother Church, the bride of Christ. Let us love and honour our earthly mother. Let us love, honour, cherish and protect the very idea of Motherhood and the women in whom this God given gift and responsibility resides.

Peter Jardine+
Mothering Sunday (Lent IV) 2007