Happy Mother’s day
As a pastor, a relatively minor irritant with the continued secularization of the world is the way in which the majority of people, including the majority of Christians, continue to mark the passage of time with secular dates and occasions. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem normally – heck, go ahead and celebrate arbor day as much as you’d like. It’s very difficult to argue with the simple sentiment of ‘go plant a tree.’ But something that is a minor irritant is the presence of a secular celebration along the lines of mother’s day, even though the readings in our lectionary don’t have much to do with mother’s day.
Now, as I say, the average person expects some mention of Mother’s day on Sunday, as well they might. This is how we mark time now, these are the seasons, but unfortunately, as with all secular celebrations, mother’s day comes with some baggage attached to it. And these days, mother’s day has more baggage than it ever has. Consider this image, if you will.
This image is something that I have seen circulated an awful lot, or images like it. Images that speak to the difficulties in mother’s day, because, like it or not, mother’s day isn’t easy for an awful lot of people. It’s not easy because of the immense pressure that exists within the framework of mothers’ day. For Mother’s day has risen to a fever pitch, as all celebrations do which revolve around the perfection of any human class of people. When mother’s day hits, I’m sure it’s nice and easy for all those people who have perfect mothers, and who have perfect relationships with those mothers, but for those who do not, things are significantly more complicated. The commentary that I hear are from people who don’t have a perfect life with their mothers or with their children; they may not have access to them, they may have died, they may not get along, they may not be able to have children, any of these can and have come up, and normally, these things are perfectly easy to deal with from a Christian perspective – we live in a fallen world in which thing frequently don’t work out. But the trouble is, when you are running the secular next to the sacred, and the secular takes over, all of a sudden, the fallen world conversation fades into the background behind the immense pressure of the perfection of mother’s day. And on mother’s day, you are impelled by and immense cultural narrative to say that you have a perfect relationship with your mother, or with your children, and that your mother is the best ever.
Well, I’m here to take the pressure off of you, to let you know that you don’t have to pretend. And by me, I mean St. Paul.
I am so glad that we had the reading that we did from Acts on Sunday, where Paul talks about the fullness of the Gospel, and the issue of the fullness of the Gospel is that it deals with what humanity actually is. And what that means is that we, as humans, are sinners. We had a baptism on Sunday, which allowed me to remind everyone who was at church that they had all agreed with the reality of the statement that we are all conceived and born sinful. It’s easy to say that about the people you work with, it’s easy to say that about fellow parishoners, it’s easy to say that about your boss or the people in traffic, but the fullness of the Gospel means that it applies to your mother as well. Your mother certainly agreed with that sentiment when she brought you to be baptized, because she knew that you were conceived sinful. She knew that you were going to be born with the propensity for deception, the desire to steal, the ability to lie as soon as you were able to do so. Your mother understood that about you, which is why she brought you to be baptized. And in that same sense, you understand that about your co-workers, the people who make your sandwiches, the people who fix your cars, whatever. The people who seem to let you down an awful lot. The people who can’t be trusted with an unlocked door or an unsecured bike. The people who must be watched lest they thieve and steal. This illustration is getting a bit long in the tooth now, but do you remember the Vancouver riots, where the Canucks lost the Stanley cup? There was mass rioting and looting, and regular people, once it became clear that nobody was going to stop them or arrest them, smashed everything they could. The most alarming thing about it was not that there were a bunch of people smashing the place up, but rather that these people were smashing their own city. These weren’t rioters trucked in to destroy, these were just regular people, once restraints were removed. Okay, so if your mother understood your sinfulness, and you understand the sinfulness of other people, then you should really be able to understand that your mother is sinful as well. She was conceived and born sinful just like the rest of us.
Does that bother you? It might, especially on mother’s day, but I would ask you an important question, which is that what is the alternative? Is the alternative to pretend that you have a perfect relationship with your families? Is it to pretend that everything went well the whole time? Go ahead and try that out, but right now, we as a society are bringing that harvest home. Even after this selection of flowers above, there were still people who said that these categories didn’t go far enough. There should be acknowledgement of those who had abusive mothers, those whose children were taken from the by the courts, those who have been disowned, birth mothers and surrogate parents, and on and on and on. And it’s true, that image above doesn’t include all of those, but you can’t possibly come up with a graphic big enough to include all the ways in which things are not ideal in your own particular circumstances.
For everyone is broken in their own way. And if all that mother’s day does is to hold up an ideal to be celebrated, then all we will be able to do in response is to look at the ways in which we are not meeting up with that perfection. It will only hurt if you are looking for perfection where it is not. And all the cultural weight of mother’s day is built up around celebrating mothers and how great they are. This will automatically make you feel worse.
Paul understood something, a lesson from his whole life. Think about his life before his conversion. He had been a Pharisee of Pharisee, a Hebrew of Hebrews, circumcised on the eighth day, as to the law, blameless, but he took all that and counted it as rubbish for the sake ofgaining Christ as his Lord. And this is why he is so keen to bring up the fullness of the Gospel, because the fullness of the Gospel is the one thing that lets you celebrate mothers, or indeed anyone, with anything even vaguely resembling realism. If you don’t have the fullness of the Gospel, then you have to do one of three things: check out of mother’s day altogether, pretend that your mother is perfect which isn’t true because none of them are, or become tortured with the reality of your experience next to the required perfection.
But if what perfection worked for you instead of against you? What if you actually believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What if you believed in the power of forgiveness of sins in the real world? What if the Gospel of Jesus Christ wasn’t just vague idealism, but was instead the only thing that lets us love one another. We love, after all, because he first loved us. And once you have realized how much you need to be forgiven, how much you have done, and your propensity for evil that you have, then it becomes much easier to smooth over relationships with your mother because the pressure for her perfection is not there. You can’t blame her for not being perfect any more than she can blame you for not being perfect, because you are both sinful, both broken people. And you’re both forgiven people, too.
Christ’s words aren’t just there to take up space, they are the power of God in the world, and the more we ignore them, the worse we end up, because we expect perfection to exist where it does not. It’s not found in our homes or families, it’s not found in our desire for everything to be just so, and it’s not found in the flowery pages of the Hallmarks and Carltons. The perfection that we are looking for exists outside us, which means that we can’t blame anyone for not meeting up with it. We aren’t perfect, we are forgiven. And that means that we can look at each other, mothers included, in the same way as God looks at us: Rejoicing where we do what is right, and forgiving where we have done wrong. And whichever of these issues that you may be having, whether they be strained relationships with your mothers, problematic home life, distant people, or even a death in the family, these are all things that the Gospel of Jesus Christ are there to overcome.
And the best thing about the Gospel is that it doesn’t matter if it’s mother’s day, or any other day, the Gospel is there to address these real world issues that plague and bother us. It’s not theory, it’s absolutely practical.