Materials for Worship on Mothering Sunday

Nerys writes,  Once, when one of my children was mentally unwell, I had a conversation with a wise consultant psychiatrist about stookies.  ‘Mrs Brown’, he said, ‘The medication I’m giving your son will act like a plaster cast on a broken limb. It will protect his mind, enabling it to mend.’ Looking back at that difficult time when Davie and I often felt useless as parents, I realise that our role also was to act as stookies, supporting and protecting our child until he had recovered and had the strength to be independent of us again.

A plaster cast, just like scaffolding on a building, is a temporary measure. Once the house has been built, the scaffolding is removed and put away. In Stanley Spencer’s painting, ‘The Hen’ from his Christ in the Wilderness series, the mother hen guards her chicks by gathering them under her wings but a time will come when they will be able to fend for themselves. At that point, the mother hen will need to let them go.

In our Gospel reading for Mothering Sunday, Luke 2.33-35, we read of  Mary being warned by wise and faithful Simeon of the cost of motherhood. After you’ve read it, I invite you to reflect on a hymn by Gillian Collins which traces Mary’s relationship with Jesus throughout her life.

Mary, joyful mother, resting from the birth,
do you sense the future for your Son on earth?
Angels, shepherds, wise men, all foretell a King,
but like every mother, you’ll know suffering.

Mary, anxious mother, searching for your boy,
Jesus does not mean to anger or annoy.
He’s still in the temple, asking questions deep.
This disturbing memory ponder now and keep.

Mary, hurt, excluded, standing in the cold,
Jesus inside preaching, challenging and bold,
seems now to belittle all your love so free.
Who will be my family? Those who follow me!

Mary, watching sadly by the cruel cross,
who can know your thoughts now, grieving in your loss?
Was it all for this, then? All your years of care?
He cries, “It is finished!” You weep with despair.

Mary, new disciple, in the upper room,
waiting, watching, praying – Spirit’s coming soon.
Mother of the Christ-child, suffering, faithful, true,
we have now a Saviour. God be praised for you!

For Mary, as for most human parents, there was a process of letting go of her child as he grew up.  A time normally comes when the stookie or the scaffolding of practical parental care is removed and put away. But this isn’t true of God’s care which is eternal. In the painting which is based on Luke 13.34-35, Jesus’ is depicted as the embodiment of God’s desire to gather together the whole of creation. See how his body encircles the mother hen and her brood providing a protective refuge. Notice the expression on Jesus’  face. Do you see anxiety? Perhaps he is concerned for the  other hens in the picture which are outside the circle of his protection. In the foreground, between his left arm and his feet,  there is a way for them to enter.  A little bird is coming to land. Look again and see that this is not a chick but a sparrow. There is room for everyone in the spacious, abundant love of God.  Is there perhaps sadness also in Jesus’ face?  Maybe he is contemplating  the cost of this love.

You may wish  to spend a moment with the painting, allowing it to speak to you of God’s unconditional love for you.

I find that Spencer’s paintings are like icons. The more you pray with them, the more you see. Another layer of meaning was revealed to me the other day. As I contemplated Christ’s body protecting the vulnerable mother hen and her chicks, it came to me that we are Christ’s body. This painting can be seen as  an image of the church in action, providing a space where all God’s children can receive love and healing.

We are reminded in today’s epistle, the opening prayer of Paul’s second letter to the Christians at Corinth, 2 Corinthians 1.3-7,  that ‘God comforts us in all our trouble so that we can then comfort people in every kind of trouble’. The word translated ‘comfort’ which is repeated so many times in this passage, is very rich in meaning according to  Professor Tom Wright.  It is, he writes,  when ‘one person comes near another, speaking words which change their mood and situation, giving them courage, new hope, new direction, new insights which alter the way they face the rest of their life’.  This is our calling here at St Mary’s, as part of  Christ’s body in the world. Our purpose is to provide this kind of comfort to all we know within our community and to those we don’t know in the wider world.   I invite you to take some time to  pray for them now.

At  church today there is an opportunity to make a donation to the Mothers’ Union Make a Mother’s Day Appeal. If you wish to give a  gift  which will help empower women and girls in developing countries to flourish, you can make a donation directly to the church’s  bank account, marking your payment Make a Mother’s Day  in the reference field. Our Bank Account details are Vestry of St Marys Episcopal Church, Sort code 831809, Account number 00279983