I’VE NOT always been a fan of Mothering Sunday.
There were a few years where I’d either hide in the kitchen at church or avoid going altogether. Sitting through a Mothering Sunday service would often leave me feeling sadder than usual about not being able to have my own children.
Maybe you share some of these feelings, too. If you’re grieving the loss of your mum, or a child, or if you’re facing unwanted childlessness, Mothering Sunday can be especially difficult. You might also be wondering why we’re looking at the story of Jesus’s death on a day like this.
Well, Mothering Sunday falls in Lent, and our passage today (John 19.26-27) offers comfort and challenge that can reach all of us, whatever we’re facing today. As mother-and-child moments in the Bible go, this has to be one of the most moving. Set against the backdrop of the torture of a Roman cross, the loving concern Jesus shows for his mum is so human and so like Jesus.
Even as he dies on the cross, he is not only making it possible for people to have a right relationship with God, but for them to know hope and security in life now. “Here is your son. . . Here is your mother.”
It’s beautiful. But it also raises some interesting questions.
Why does Jesus do this now? Has it only just dawned on him that his mother, a widow about to lose her eldest son, will need someone to take care of her? And why, when he has a whole bunch of biological brothers, does Jesus choose John, one of his disciples, to take on the responsibility? Why did St John think it necessary to include this very personal moment in the middle of his account of the final words of Jesus?
To put it simply: John gets Jesus. He opens his biography of Jesus by telling us that no one has seen the Father, but the One who has been with the Father since the beginning (some translations use the great phrase “nestled in the Father’s bosom”), has made him known.
What has Jesus made known to us? The overwhelming, undeserved hospitality of a God who wants to adopt each of us as his children.
John is eager for us to see how Jesus is reaching out to us from this intimate relationship with the Father — that, in elevating the outcast, feeding the hungry, defending the oppressed, and comforting his mum, Jesus is simply continuing to do what he sees his Father doing. He’s promoting the hospitality that God has always advocated by “setting the lonely in families” (Psalm 68.3).
As well as making arrangements for Mary’s future, Jesus also provides for John. In language reminiscent of a legal adoption, Jesus asks them to take responsibility for each other. It’s a huge thing he’s asking: hospitality like this is costly. But he knows they will follow him in this, just as they have followed him thus far.
AT THE heart of adoption is an offer of hospitality. You’re welcoming a child not just into your home but also into your heart. It’s a commitment to allow yourself to be interrupted and shaped by loving another.
My husband and I chose to adopt our children. The day we welcomed our little girl into our home, it was snowing. She was uncertain about us and this strange new life. So we found ways to melt her fears with love, and the hardest times became the means of us becoming a family. Then, five years later, we did it all again with our son.
When he arrived, he wouldn’t let us go. His whole being was tuned into a profound desire to reach out and pull us close. Our daughter welcomed him with so much love and courage, eager to offer her new brother the hospitality that she had received. But we could see that a storm was raging inside her, too.
A few months into the adoption, our son began to eat and sleep a little better. One afternoon, he took his first few faltering steps. When my daughter reached with both hands to scoop him up and hold him close, I thought I had never seen anything so victorious in all my life. It was a sign that we were all ready to grow in this new family.
THIS year, in the UK, 40,000 children and young people will enter the care system. That’s 109 children every day. As of September 2018, there are 2730 children waiting for adoption in England alone. Of these, 41 per cent have been waiting for over a year.
Statistics like these are difficult to hear. We can feel powerless in the face of children’s suffering, unsure what we should do. Adoption isn’t the path to parenting for everyone, and it certainly isn’t reserved for people who can’t have their own birth kids. Welcoming a child into your life who is suffering the wounds of separation carries its own unique set of challenges.
But, on this day that is difficult for many of us, it seems right to pay special attention to the children who are waiting, because the need is so great. Currently, there are almost three times as many kids on the Adoption Register as families able to adopt them, and the number of registrations from adoptive families continues to decline.
I’ve met many adopters. Some are older, some younger. Some are married, some are single. Some already have kids, others don’t. There’s not a certain type of person who chooses to adopt. But the call to offer hospitality to the vulnerable in our communities is broader than fostering or adoption.
So how might God want to stretch your vision for hospitality? How might people experience the hospitality of God, through you? As I prepare to head back to my own church to celebrate the many ways we parent and protect those in our care, my prayer is that we will see how greatly we are loved and longed for by our heavenly adoptive parent.
I pray that in grasping hold of the welcome we’ve received, we will be eager to pass on the miracle of hospitality to others.
Rachel Gardner is the President of Girls’ Brigade England and Wales; Relationship Lead of Youthscape; and a trustee of Home for Good.
This sermon is due to be delivered at a Mothering Sunday service at One Church, Brighton, which will be broadcast live on Radio 4’s Sunday Worship at 8.10 a.m., and available afterwards on BBC Sounds.