On Mothering Sunday at St George-in-the-East, our Housing Organiser Rhiannon Winstanley-Sharples drew on St Augustine to reflect on how we can all be “mothers of Christ” as we support one another in deepening our faith and organising for justice.
“When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” (Luke 2.39,40)
It’s been interesting to reflect on what I might say on Mothering Sunday as a woman who doesn’t have children, and I know there is probably a mix of emotions among us today. But however you have shown up today, whether Mothering Sunday is about the joy of celebrating your own mothers or your own motherhood, or today is a painful day as you reflect on loss or distance, I hope that you leave this service filled with hope and some understanding of how we all, at different times and stages, are mothers.
I’m always struck by the fact that so much of the Gospels focuses on Jesus’ ministry which he began when he was in his thirties, so most of his formative years are not in the Gospels. And yet in these two short sentences we see how seriously God takes these formative years.
In this passage we hear that Mary and Joseph raised a strong son who was both filled with wisdom and with grace. If we think about Jesus we might imagine that he was born fully formed, already full of wisdom and grace, because Jesus is God’s son, perfect in every way. And yet Luke suggests that Mary and Joseph had agency in Jesus’ spiritual and physical development. The american theologian Willie James Jennings says that one of the most powerful things about Jesus’ story is that God is willing to learn. If Jesus was fully human then He also had to be willing to learn because learning is essential to the human experience. Jesus was a learner as well as being a teacher. I find it amazing that God entrusted this learning for his son to Mary, a human who like us was broken and had experienced so much hardship. Yet she was the one who taught Jesus about God and the traditions of the Jewish faith.
But what does this passage have to say to all of us, not just to the mothers in the room?
Saint Augustine said when we help Christ to be born in someone, then like Mary we are “mothers of Christ” (see footnote). It was Augustine’s view that we become like Mary when we draw people to the faith, and nurture them in t.
Jesus spent more of his life learning and being nurtured by his parents than he did in ministry. So I want us to ask ourselves, where in our lives can we be mothers, whether or not we have children ourselves? And how might we, as a congregation, support the mothers who are part of this church as they support their children to grow in faith? In my work I hope that when I listen to people I am in some sense being like Mary, that I am learning how to nurture people in their own discipleship journey. I know from my own mother that when she listens to me, really listens to what I’m saying, that is when I feel most known. I really care about people in this Church, and in this wider community, being known and knowing that they are loved by God. It is through these conversations that I hope they see Jesus and, if Augustine is right, I am myself being a mother in these conversations.
Another aspect of how we ‘mother’ and enable people to flourish in their faith is by caring for people’s physical needs. We want our neighbours to have good quality housing that meets the needs of their families. Last week in our Lent listening after the service Fran shared about the campaign for affordable homes on Cable Street – about why this work matters to her as a mother and as someone who cares about this community.
On Palm Sunday after the Mass, a group of us is going to celebrate the opening of another affordable housing site in Lewisham and building our relationships across London with others who care about creating stable homes for their communities too.
Finally, I want us to think about sacrifice. Many of us know that being a mother includes sacrifice and indeed Mary sacrificed a lot to carry Jesus and risked being an outcast because of this. However, sometimes the sacrifices that mothers make are too great and we can work together to ease the burden. We don’t want mothers to have to work every hour of the day to ensure their children are fed, as so many people across our city do. Ivonne, along with others in our congregation, is involved in leading work at St Katherine Cree – the Guild Church for Workers in the City of London – to secure a Living Wage and ensure that mothers don’t have to choose between providing food for their families and being around to help their children with school work.
If mothering is about nurturing others in their journey of faith, then we want mothers to have the time and opportunity to do this. So I want us to hold up that ministry to fight for a Living Wage and also to be grateful for the sacrifices mothers make. Finally I want us to be challenged to sacrifice for others, sharing the burdens we all face, and becoming more like Mary, supporting and shaping those around us in their journey of faith.
Footnote – from a sermon by St Augustine
“Now having said that all of you are brothers and sisters of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mother? Much less would I dare to deny his own words.
Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ?
You became sons and daughters of [Mother Church] at your baptism, you came to birth then as members of Christ. Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become the mothers of Christ.”