A couple of weeks ago I was reading a rather good novel called Away with the Penguins. In it one of the characters decides that she does not like the description of herself as single, because she is actually attached to many people. I instantly fell in love with the phrase and decided to alter my FaceBook status along these lines. It’s not an option. So instead, I posed the question to people – how are you attached to me? I got lots and lots of replies, reminding me of attachments that go back to primary school, through work, through travel, through training and courses – and yes, through family.
The children’s book ‘Guess how much I love you ‘is about a conversation between a young hare and an adult. Although the animated version makes it a father and son, in the book it could just as easily be a mum, a dad, an auntie, a grandparent … and maybe that’s part of its appeal over 25 years or more. All of us can show big love to someone else, and particularly to those who are feeling small for whatever reason. But today is Mothering Sunday – Mother’s Day, so we might expect to focus on the love that many of us have been blessed to know at the heart of our lives through family and home.
I am going to be honest and say that preaching on Mothering Sunday is one of my least favourite things – I have no mother anymore, and I do not have any children of my body or my household. Which is why thinking about attachment is a good place to begin – and links directly to what was going on in our short Gospel reading today. This reading is a little bit about mothers, but a lot more about who and how we make attachments, especially as those who are followers of Jesus Christ.
Every incident in John’s Gospel is carefully placed to help us think about who Jesus is, and what it means for those of us who try to follow him day by day. Jesus is dying on the cross, and notices two people who are going to be immensely impacted: his mum, of course, but also his good friend. He makes an attachment between these two people, suggesting they become as mother and son to each other, even though there is no formal kinship connection. Throughout his ministry Jesus often posed challenging questions about family dynamics. He looked round at his own mother and siblings, who faithfully followed him, and then widened the family circle to include all who are following him into relationship with him and each other. This moment on the cross is recognition that his followers are making a new kind of family, living out a new kind of inclusive, embracing love.
So on Mother’s Day/Mothering Sunday we should indeed pause for a moment and give thanks with joy for good mothering. Some of us can do that by talking to and blessing with gifts the mothers and grandmothers who are still with us, and whose love has helped us over many years to know love. These special people may have helped us learn wisdom, discover the meaning of care and have helped us know what it means to be loved by God. But that is not everyone’s story. For many, human family relationships are damaged, broken or non-existent – and in his brokenness on the cross Jesus acknowledges that pain.
So let’s also take a moment to reach out and think about all those we are attached to – or have attached to us – especially those we know through our faith journey. Take a moment to name some of those we worship with and pray with week by week: give thanks for grandmas, mums, sons and daughters in the faith, for kindness and hospitality, faithful welcome, generous service. The reading tells us that love is expressed practically – John took Mary into his home. We can’t do that just now, but we can but take a moment to give a call or even send a note to someone who may be finding this Mothering Day particularly difficult for whatever reason. Or we can tell someone how much we appreciate them as part of our life’s journey.
Guess how much I love you? Says Jesus. Enough to make sure you know love every day of your life. Guess how much I love you? Echoes John to Mary – enough to meet your needs and share your life. Guess how much I love you? Silently whispers Mary – enough to share the mother’s love I have with those you ask me to love. We too can reach out to one other and open our hearts with love, affirming bonds of attachment, friendship and love. As we do so may we discover more of God’s great unfailing mothering love for each one of us, now and always.
Revd Canon Sandra Millar