As I was doing a little research about Mother’s Day this week, and thinking about what it really means to celebrate mothers—I realized it is a very complicated holiday, for both women and men. No one has the same view of motherhood. Mothers and children in our world can experience everything from violence and absence, to love and tenderness.
I’m even a little nervous even to broach the topic. But I do believe our God today speaks a powerful word about both parenting and Mother’s Day.
Even the history of Mother’s Day is a little complicated. After years of hard work by Anna Jarvis from West Virginia—president Woodrow Wilson in 1914 signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day a national holiday, to be observed on the second Sunday in May.
But it is important to remember, however, that in 1908, when Anna Jarvis first brought this holiday before the U.S. Congress, they rejected the proposal to make Mother’s Day an official holiday—because then, they joked, they would also have to celebrate a “Mother-in-law’s Day.”
Basically, the men in Congress said, “That’s too much work for us now…” And women seeking a little recognition for the untold amount of work and sacrifice that is often their lot as mothers… had their love thrown back in their face with a joke.
The deeper origins of Mother’s Day are fascinating too! Anna Jarvis’ own mother Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, also of West Virginia, in the late 1800s had formed humanitarian groups through her church called Mothers Day Work Clubs. These were groups of women who provided medicine and medical care for families in need. So when the Civil War broke out and both armies were encamped near where the Jarvis’ lived in 1861, the Mothers Day Work Clubs became a neutral group, of both Confederate and Union volunteers, that tended to sick and wounded soldiers and civilians from both sides.
So, Anna Jarvis—inspired by her mother’s humanitarian and peacekeeping work for all people—invented today’s holiday to honor her.
I guess it also shouldn’t be surprising, that both war and sickness, violence and death, are a very large part of being a mother, being a parent of any gender. Parenting a child, like it or not, I guess is to accept certain risks. Our Scripture readings today point to these realities and risks that are part of our world.
When Revelation sees Christ wiping away our tears, that is because living so often involves weeping. The Psalmist knows that we must walk so often through very dark places, even if God is alongside us. And Tabitha, in the book of Acts, does indeed die before Peter raises her again.
Motherhood and parenting I guess is the same way: immense challenges, even partner violence, and still the hope that God will guide us through.
On Wednesday of this week I came across the review of a very good—very disturbing—study of domestic violence. It’s called No Visible Bruises, by Rachel Snyder. She seeks to break down myths about domestic violence, or intimate partner terrorism, as Snyder calls it. Snyder reveals the complexity of this violence, and to show, in large part, that women who appear to “stay” do so because their situations, so often as mothers of children, are precarious, and that they are all the time plotting the delicate timing of their escape.
Maddy, my wife, worked in domestic violence housing when we lived in Seattle, and the stories of these women’s elaborate escapes are staggering—everything from secret addresses to jumping out of windows.
It’s reported, for comparison, that between 2000 and 2006, 3200 American soldiers were killed in combat. During that same period, in the United States, more than 3 times as many women died at the hands of their husbands and boyfriends.
This kind of violence is not the fate of an unlucky few. It cuts across race, class and religion. It is everywhere. Indeed a United Nations report in 2018 puts it starkly: “The most dangerous place for a woman is her own home.”
Our country has been slow to respond. Apparently, until the 1990s, we had more animal shelters than women’s shelters. The statistics in Snyder’s book are staggering. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, why is Pastor dragging this out on Mother’s Day? Because into this great gulf of pain and violence it seems sometimes that all our commercialized society can do is sell cards that say: “Happy Mother’s Day.”
God thinks you deserve more. Today you deserve to hear God’s Word of solidarity, of love and of life for Mothers. Because on Mother’s Day we celebrate all who mother—men and women—
we cheer them on, and we also acknowledge that God is our Mother. And as our Mother God desires so fiercely that we have life and health, and that we—God’s children—work, in turn, to end all kinds of disgraceful violence.
Thinking of what many women in our country endure, our Scripture readings today are as fierce a scream of defiance I have ever heard. Into this abyss of pain and fear Scripture speaks today a powerful word like this:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
She makes me lie down in green pastures; she leads me beside still waters;
she restores my soul. She leads me in right paths for her name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
The words of the Psalmist fly in the face of the cruelty and confusion
that our world is so capable of dealing out.
We who gather here in this house to hear God’s Word, we do not do it idly. Even though the sharp pangs of life never seem to get dulled, and even though the power of our faith, our proclamation, gets a little cloudy under the dust of tradition sometimes… it is always stronger than the pain of the world, it is always a source of true hope.
Revelation does declare, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The Lamb who is our fragile savior who perfectly reveals to us the mothering love of God that holds up all existence.
Revelation goes on, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” The answer: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’’ Revelation says that the final Word of God is always a Word of life and love.
Even more, today in John, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” No one can pull you from the hands of God. These are words of such immeasurable power, such defiant trust in the face of a cruel world—a world and a country wracked with confusion and violence.
Now, it is very true that words, even the Words of God, don’t magically prevent abuse, or build women’s shelters. But let’s not forget our lesson from the Book of Acts. Doesn’t Tabitha this morning—devoted to good works and acts of charity—sound an awful lot like the founders of Mother’s Day: Anna Jarvis and her mother?
But Tabitha got ill and died. Her widow friends washed her body. They got her quilts and tunics and other clothing that she had made and laid them out. They believed that this was truly the end. …But still they sent word to Peter to come.
Now, you might remember a story from the Gospels where Jesus raises up a little girl, the daughter of Jairus. Jesus goes to her room, and all believe her dead, But Jesus takes her by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up.” And—this is important—in Aramaic that’s: Talitha coum.
But now, in Acts, we see that it is Peter who says, “Get up.” It is the Church’s turn to act. Today, it is still the Church’s turn. Just as Jesus says the Father and the Son are one, so in our Baptism are we one with the Mother-love of God.
So, Peter enters the room. And he kneels down and prays. And instead of saying, like Jesus, “Talitha—little girl—get up.” Peter says, “Tabitha, get up.” And into her flows new life. This means that the Church, in Acts, knows how to say people’s real names. We have the proclamation that gives hope, that guides on dark paths, that finally gets us to sleep at night.
Just like Peter, it’s our turn to use our relationships, to speak the names of the people we know, especially our mothers, to bring health and life and hope into a confused world.
It is the Church’s turn now—the Church made one with the love of our Mothering God—the Church guided and led by the Resurrected Christ—it is our time to put God’s love into action as Peter did, to give thanks for the blessings we have been given, and to try our best to wipe away tears from the eyes of our mothers, and all in need.