Seventh Weekend of Easter (C/RCL): Mothers’ Day: “A Jewelry Box, Tombs, Wombs and Mother Jesus”
May 7-8, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Lucille Adelmann, Sue Ardito and I spent all day Friday and half of Saturday in Long Branch, serving as Holy Trinity’s voting members to Synod Assembly. There were over 300 attendees. I know many of the church leaders, but see most of them just once or twice a year. As one acquaintance greeted me, I quickly ran a facial recognition scan in my head and decided she was one of the pastors recognized for retiring this past year. “Congratulations!” I said. She happily responded, “Thanks, want to see her picture??” Oops. She hadn’t just become a retiree; she’d just become a grandmother! So I saw beautiful, multiple photos of the grandbaby. The newly minted grandma was beaming and ended our conversation by saying, “I had no idea how wonderful this would be.”
If all children only knew how deeply they are loved or even how deeply they have been loved by those who have gone ahead to heaven! Since it’s Mother’s Day weekend I’m going to focus on women here and say that a mother’s, a grandmother’s love is so powerful that a thimbleful could be enough to carry us through a lifetime. If we only knew. If we only remembered. If we only believed it, even after they’re gone.
It’s another show-and-tell day here at Holy Trinity. Before I bring out my treasure, though, I have to retell a story some of you have heard before, so I hope you don’t mind. I’m the youngest of 3 daughters: Sharon, Sally and Mary. Our mom died when I was 7. I held onto memories of her as tightly as I could, replaying them in my mind so they’d never get fuzzy. We didn’t talk out loud about her a lot or ever. This was back in the days when silence was the acceptable response to death.
As I grew older, I realized I was the little caboose on the train, arriving 6 years after my middle sister, born to a mother who was 42 years old. I wondered if I was a surprise. My mother wasn’t around and I certainly wasn’t going to ask my Dad, so I decided all on my own that I must have been. Then I worried that in addition to being a surprise I was an unhappy one at that. I shared that with my closest aunts and a trusted neighbor; they all assured me that wasn’t the case at all! But I still wondered and worried…
… Until our stepmother unearthed our mother’s jewelry box from our father’s dresser drawer where it had been sadly but safely stowed away. She encouraged my surviving sister and me to go through it years after Mom’s death. We found the star sapphire ring and the scarab bracelet we remembered so well. We found a beautiful dove pendant she had received for her Confirmation and the gold cross I’m wearing today, the one with the child’s tooth marks and the engraved date of May 16, 1912. When we thought we had emptied out all the contents I saw a little tab on the floor of the jewelry box which I pulled, revealing a false bottom hiding another compartment. That’s where I found a little envelope holding a curl and marked “Mary’s first haircut” and this little case containing a tiny plastic-coated paper band on which is handwritten, “Georgia & LeRoy Champion, 3/27/57, F [for female!], 1:14 PM.” My mom had tucked away a lock of my hair and my newborn hospital bracelet among her treasures. Years after her death the Holy Spirit made sure I knew it, too! Of all the wonderful things I’ve found over the course of my life, these are the most precious to me. In assuring me of my mother’s love, they assure me of God’s as well.
Today’s Gospel is from St. John, his account of the Last Supper, part of what’s called “the high priestly” prayer that Jesus prayed the night before His death. In Jewish tradition the high priest was the most important one who performed sacrifices, prayed, interceded to God for the people. Jesus is our High Priest and our Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In this high priestly prayer Jesus is asking the Father to make us one, to bond us together like He is bound to the Father -- like a mother is joined, heart to heart, to her child, whether she gave birth to that child or not.
This Mother’s Day, May 8, is also the day on the church calendar when we remember the English mystic Julian of Norwich. She was born in the 14th century, around 1343, about 150 years before Luther was born and before Columbus sailed to America. She was an anchoress, a religious who lived alone (except for a cat she was allowed to keep) and who lived a life of prayer; she also served as a spiritual director. She had a couple intense mystical visions in which she saw the crucified Christ; she turned them over in her heart for years and then reflected on them in a work called “Showings [Revelations] of Divine Love.” It is the first book written in English that is known to be authored by a woman.
Lady Julian lived in a dark time in human history. She survived 2 outbreaks of the Black Death and the bloody Peasants’ Revolt; the Hundred Years’ War spanned much of her lifetime. That much death gave religion a sober, threatening edge. Jesus was often depicted as a downright scary Judge; just look at the images of Him over the western portal of European cathedrals. This distant, hell-threatening version of Christ gave rise to the cult of the saints who came to be seen as safer intercessors for humanity than the Savior Himself. But not so for Julian.
Almost 600 years ago, swimming against the tide of most of the theology of her day Julian wrote:
“As truly as God is our Father,
so truly is God our Mother.”
For Julian “mother” was a beautiful way for us to name our God, and to name Jesus in particular:
- Jesus who nourishes us not with milk but with His own Body and Blood;
- Jesus who births us into life through His Passion, death and resurrection;
- Jesus who said, “How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matt. 23:37)
- Jesus whose self-sacrificing love exceeds our ability to get our arms around it.
Of this Mother Jesus Julian said:
This fair lovely word “mother” is so sweet and so kind in itself that it cannot truly be said of anyone or to anyone except of him and to him who is the true Mother of life and of all things.
Jesus is the one and only “perfect” Mother. The rest of us have to settle for being “good enough,” as the pediatrician/child psychologist D.W. Winnicott has described even our best efforts. It is an unimaginably huge blessing to have a mother who is physically, emotionally, spiritually present and able to nurture us throughout childhood, into adulthood. I believe God holds a very special blessing for those women (and men) who parent children whose mothers are not able to be physically or emotionally present to them, because of death, custody issues, addiction, physical or mental illness, imprisonment, war or other conflicts.
In preparing to lead our Lord’s Prayer study I came across this stunning statement which gives every parent and every child hope (which includes all of us, since each is a child of human parents and of God) -- hope that Christ our Mother will transform every tomb, literal or figurative, into a womb of risen life: “Christ Jesus can never resist reaching into a grave when he finds a Christian. He pulls us out and brings us to newness of life day after day.”1 Finally, He pulls us out and brings us to life everlasting. As I found out when I pulled the tab in the bottom of my mother’s jewelry box: death does not have the last word. Maternal love, divine love, is stronger than death. Someday I imagine our mothers and other loved ones will tell us in person, “I had no idea how wonderful this would be.”
1James Arne Nestingen, “The Catechism as handbook for the Christian’s worship, prayer and calling,” Lutherske Fordypningdager, U-tube.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham