What is Mother’s Day about?
The celebration of our human mothers only goes back to 1914 in the USA, where it is celebrated on May 9th, the anniversary of the death of the mother of its American promoter, Anna Jarvis.
The custom of celebrating motherhood in Lent started here in 1920 when Constance Smith suggested that the Bible reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent would be a suitable pointer to thanking God for our mothers:
“But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4:26)
There is huge value in reminding ourselves annually of the care shown by our mothers and honouring them in this way through sending flowers, cards and Simnel cakes. The care shown by mothers also reminds us of the “brooding” of God’s Spirit over chaos before creation began (Genesis 1:2) and of Jesus’ longing to protect his own Jewish people in Jerusalem (Luke 13:34). We celebrate motherhood as an image of God’s love creating life and protecting his children.
Mother’s Day (as it is known outside the Church) has largely ceased to be a religious occasion in the UK, as in the USA. Anna Jarvis regretted the growing commercialisation of the day, even to disapproving of pre-printed Mother’s Day cards. “A printed card means nothing,” she said, “except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
As we nonetheless continue to thank God for his gracious provision of motherhood, we can also reclaim the original meaning of that text for the Fourth Sunday of Lent about the Church. The Church, wonderfully composed of all in Christ from east to west, young to old, on earth and in glory, gathered around His throne, is our mother. For centuries Mothering Sunday has seen people gather at their local “mother” church or cathedral.
In the text from Galatians above Paul is making the point that God’s people are free in Christ. In the context, he draws the contrast between the children of Hagar, Abraham’s slavegirl, and the children of Sarah, his wife. He then makes a radical claim that those who see Jewish law, instead of faith in Christ, as the way to be right with God are not children of Sarah but of Hagar, because only those in Christ are free from sin and law. Those who are children of the promise by faith in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, are free, children of God’s heavenly city Jerusalem. She is our mother.
I think it’s brilliant that in the middle of Lent we have this text. It reminds us that:
- earthly mothers are remarkable, but belonging to our heavenly mother the Church matters even more
- membership of God’s family rests not on what we do but on what Christ has done in fulfilling the Law of God, and paying the price on the Cross for us who broke it
Paul goes on in the remainder of Galatians to apply these truths by calling us who are free in Christ not to let ourselves become slaves either to law or to sin again.
Let’s pray that the Freedom message of Mothering Sunday will set many free to know and live for Christ, secure in our heavenly family as we honour our earthly one.