A reflection for Mothering Sunday Lent IV Sunday 10th March 2024 by Judy Wedderspoon Lay Reader

The fourth Sunday in Lent is traditionally known and celebrated as Mothering Sunday. This is an old tradition. It was the Sunday in Lent when girls in service were allowed to go home and visit their mothers. It was also the Sunday on which it was customary to visit the local cathedral as the mother church of the diocese. More recently, and perhaps regrettably, this Sunday has been effectively renamed Mother’s Day. Let us for a moment put all that aside and consider what today’s readings are telling us!

Our Old Testament reading from the First Book of Samuel, gives us a picture of Samuel’s mother, Hannah. In order to understand the passage, you need a bit of background. Hannah is one of two wives of Elkanah, a devout Israelite. She is childless, a deep disgrace for which the other wife, Penninah, repeatedly taunts her, year after year when they go to make sacrifice to God. One year, Hannah in her misery goes privately to offer prayer to God. She prays for a child and, as part of that prayer, she vows solemnly that if she is given a son, she will dedicate him to God. Eli, the old priest who hears her prayer, blesses her, so she returns home in hope.

And Hannah conceives and bears a son – the gift of God, as she names him. But she does not forget her vow. As soon as he is weaned – about age 3 -   he will be dedicated to God.  And, as we have heard, she fulfils her vow. Samuel will be a Nazirite, effectively a monk in the service of God.

Does Hannah remind you of anyone in the New Testament? Think of Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin, also disgraced by her childlessness. She is at last to bear a son. But the angel has already told Zechariah that her son is to be totally dedicated to God. She will have to be ready to let him go. John too will be a Nazirite.

Think also of Mary herself. She knows from the outset that the son she is to bear will be special, the Son of God. But when she and Joseph come to present the infant Jesus in the temple, Simeon tells her that her baby will be the glory of Israel – but that a sword will pierce her heart [Luke 2:32 and 34]. She too must be prepared to let him go to live his dedicated life.

Letting go is one of the hardest lessons we have to learn in life. I will never forget my son’s first day in kindergarten. I dropped him off and he trotted away, all anticipation that he was finally joining his big sister in her school. He didn’t even turn around to wave. I sat in the car and wept.

It’s not just letting go of a child that is hard. It’s letting go of a spouse, a parent, a brother or sister or a beloved friend, or even a dog or a cat. It’s letting go of a home, of one’s health or eyesight or hearing, or of cherished possessions. I sometimes think that the most we can hope for when feeling the loss of letting go is to be able to say with Job “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21].

But today’s Gospel reading gives us another insight into letting go.

We do not know how the three Marys came to be at the foot of Jesus’ cross. We know that John had followed Jesus and the soldiers into the courtyard of the high priest’s house. We can fairly I think surmise that John continued to follow and watch until he heard his Lord condemned to death. Perhaps then he sought out the women and brought them to the site of crucifixion. 

Looking down from the cross after his night of agony and torture, Jesus sees his mother, and even in his pain he realises that his earthly work is not quite done. He has to let go of his mother. He has to help her finally to let go of him. So he commends her to the care of John, his beloved friend and disciple. They are to be as mother and son to each other. Only then can Jesus take a final drink and exclaim “It is finished”.

 Sometimes that is how we too are enabled to let go. Our gracious Lord provides a friend, or some other help and consolation, music perhaps, or a poem, or a precious landscape, to assist us over the initial pain of bereavement, even as we know that it will never be the same again. Letting go is a process that is never quite completed It is an essential part of motherhood – and of life.

But let us note and take to heart the words of St Paul: “clothe yourselves with love… let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… and be thankful” [Colossians 3:14-15]. That is the message I would leave with you on this Mothering Sunday.