‘When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.’ John 19:26-27.
Brothers and sisters, this may seem like a stark reading on Mothering Sunday, which is often focused on our mums and mother-figures, and which is traditionally celebrated with flowers. But, as we look at this reading, and some of Jesus’ final words on the cross, we will find some important points to ponder today. If you have ever heard someone’s last words you never forget them. Someone’s last words reveal the heart of a person: who and what mattered to them, or what they thought most important to say as their final sentences on earth. Often, of course, someone’s last words are to, or about, their loved ones. P.T. Barnum, the famous circus owner, is reported to have said to his wife ‘Nancy, I want you to know my last thoughts are of you’; while Charles II spoke of his mistress when he said, ‘Let not poor Nelly starve’. Jesus’ words from the cross are no different, they show the heart of who He was, and they speak of those whom He loved. Jesus speaks of and to His mother, and Jesus spoke of and to those who follow Him. On this Mothering Sunday, let’s consider these words carefully.
Jesus’ last words to Mary and to the disciple, John, are a kind of formal act of adoption, by which Mary takes John to be her adopted son, and John takes Mary to be his adoptive mother. A new relationship is formed; a new family is created. In other words, Jesus isn’t merely expressing a general desire that Mary be looked after when He is gone, He is making a formal declaration: Mary really becomes John’s mother and John really becomes Mary’s son. Does John accept this new responsibility, this new adoptive relationship? It seems so, for in v27 we read: ‘from that hour the disciple took her into his own home’. Touching, you might think, but why is this important, and what does it have to do with us? Well to grasp this we need to understand something about John’s Gospel. This Gospel, even more so than the others, is a highly spiritual account; everything is carefully structured and laid out in order to point to a deeper and more spiritual meaning than just the recounting of the facts on their own. The critical example of this for our purposes is the title John gives to one of Jesus’ followers, the ‘Beloved Disciple’. On one level it refers to an actual disciple, most likely John himself, the author. However, the ‘Disciple’ is never named, and it seems likely that this is the case because the ‘Beloved Disciple’ is meant to be an ideal figure, one who represents every believer. If you like, every Christian is called to be the ‘beloved'. If this is correct, then, when Jesus speaks His last words to the ‘Beloved Disciple’ from the cross, in one sense, He is speaking to every Christian. Jesus is saying to each one of His followers ‘Here is your mum’. Mary becomes the mother of the faithful, the mother of the Church because Jesus bequeaths Mary, His mother, to be our mother in His last will and testament! Mary becomes my mother, and your mother, not through biology but through Jesus’ work on the cross, which even as He speaks He is accomplishing.
So what? Well, first, if Mary is my mother and your mother, and more importantly God is my Father and your Father, then we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters. We are, whether we like it or not, closer than just people who happen to go to the same building on a Sunday morning; indeed, we’re closer than just friends; you and I, are family! When we fully grasp this it should have a huge effect. How would you act if a member of your family was lonely? You’d go visit them, or give them a call. Think of your house bound Christian and brothers and sisters and act accordingly. How would you act if a member of your family was struggling financially? You’d lend (or give) them money. Think of the poorest in our church and act accordingly. How would you act if a family member was dying, or was mourning the death of a loved one? You’d rally round, visit them, send them a card, and help them in practical ways. Think of those in that position today in our church family, and act accordingly. When we realise that fellow Christians are brothers and sisters our eyes are opened to our responsibilities and we act. Second, if Mary is the mother of every Christian, then, we don’t just have brothers and sisters in St George’s, in Chorley, or even in our country; we have brothers and sisters everywhere! The Christian who can’t get a bible in North Korea; the Christian who is starving in Ethiopia; the Christian struggling from the effects of global warming in South America; each one is a brother or sister to us, and we should act accordingly. Now we can’t practically care for each person with the same level of attention, but we can pray for the Church around the world, and we can pick one way to help a small number of Christians, whether by donating bibles, or giving money for food and shelter. As we celebrate Mothering Sunday why not commit to learning more about your Christian family, both at home and abroad, and seeking to help some of them in a very real and concrete way. Maybe phone a member of St George’s who is on their own; maybe donate money to persecuted Christians through charities such as Open Doors or Barnabas Fund; and above all these seek to pray for the Church, perhaps using the Diocesan Prayer Diary for those close to home, and perhaps using Operation World resources for further afield. Let’s make this Mothering Sunday an extra special one, not just by remembering our biological mums, but also by remembering Mary, and, therefore, all of our Christian brothers and sisters. Amen (from Rev. Mike).