These past several Sundays we’ve been hanging out in a very puzzling part of the Gospel of John. Lots of metaphors Jesus is dealing out in a long speech—Shepherds and Vines; language of love and loving; God is in Jesus, Jesus is in us. It’s a lot that Jesus is explaining to his disciples as they sit down to the Last Supper, on the night he is to be handed over and crucified. Jesus is explaining to them who Christ is, who God is, and who they the disciples, and we the Church, are, what our commandments are. It’s a lot!
So as we celebrate Mother’s Day today let’s just focus on one word. It’s in both our lesson from Acts and our Gospel lesson. It is “Abide.” In Acts the same word is translated as “stay,” as in—the newly baptized Gentiles invited Peter to stay. To remain, to make a home, to dwell, and also to be still—all the same Greek word, “abide.”
This word certainly reminds me of Mother’s Day. I remained in my mother’s womb for 9 months. I abode in my mother’s home for 17 years before I moved out. And even after that, when I started seminary I went back and stayed at my parent’s house for a year as well.
But I also tread lightly, Mother’s Day is complicated because human beings are complicated. Not everyone had a mother growing up, not everyone knows the woman that gave birth to them. Nor do all people have a good relationship with their mother. And not everyone stayed in the same place for very long either.
And though children abide for a time with parents, they do not remain in the same place or stay the same for very long. Babies leave the womb, toddlers leave the crib, and young adults leave the house. Maybe that’s what makes Mother’s Day so poignant—there’s an underlying nod to the toughness and tears that parents face. It is a lot about letting go.
But, our God, knowing all this about parents and children, knowing all this about us and our human condition, Jesus says we will not only abide in him, as in the image of the vine last Sunday, but this Sunday Jesus says we will always abide in his love. The yearning of both parent and child that we know so well, God uses it as an image to teach us what God’s love is like.
We always are welcomed to stay in Jesus. The love never grows brittle or distant God promises us. This is our faith, that is why we say “Alleluia,” not even death can break this love. Marking out the unbreakable chain of love between God and Christ and Us, Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Stay in my love, be still in my love.
Jesus invites us to always stay in his love, which is the love of God. Jesus says we can crash there anytime. The door is always open, it’s always supper time, when it comes to Jesus. But what does it mean to abide in Jesus? What does it mean that he is always staying with us?
Well, Jesus in John says, it means joy. And if you unravel the complicated sentences from our Gospel lesson, abiding in Jesus, in God’s love, means growing into loving others.
The only rule in Jesus’ house is loving. Of course on Mother’s Day we think of all those components of love, when we give thanks for all those who provide mothering care: patience, compassion, discipline, understanding, yearning, sacrifice—all that love means.
That this is the only rule, though, is simple and wonderful, but daunting and terrifying.
On Mother’s Day we celebrate the mothering love of parents, the mothering love that often so beautifully reflects God’s own Mothering love. But you also know there are limits to a human mother’s love, whether you would like to admit it or not. Human love is not unconditional. Sometimes it runs out, or comes up short, or stumbles and falls. Sometimes children are not easy to love! Kids make foolish decisions and carry out hurtful rebellions.
And as children of God we are likewise fools and rebels. Jesus goes on in John’s Gospel to talk of the hatred of the world. The world that was born through Christ, the Word of God, but did not know him, rejected and crucified him. Jesus’ only abiding house rule is to love one another, but I hope you can admit with me that that is a hard command indeed.
I know there are people in this world that you find unloveable. Or as the saying goes, there are people that only a mother could love. Importantly, in our Gospel lesson from John, Jesus also says: “You did not choose me but I chose you.” Jesus commands us to love all, as God in Jesus loves us. But Jesus doesn’t stake his own love on our ability to perform. Sitting with his disciples, knowing they will abandon him, he reminds them, and us too, that his “abiding” in us, and our “remaining” in him—depends on nothing we do.
This is very similar to a child born of a mother that never chose to be born, just so: Jesus says it is the same with those who trust and believe that he abides with them. Our faith and love is not of our own doing, incredibly, but are gifts given to us. So, it makes Mother’s Day very special, very spiritual because it is a celebration of a mother’s love, is first a celebration of God’s love in Christ.
It is a really sad twist of history that God is so consistently referred to only as “Father.” It’s really a drag because a mother’s love is perfect expression of how Jesus loves us. And many contemplative Christians throughout the centuries have noticed this error as well. Julian of Norwich—a woman from the 14th century in England, whose saint day was on Saturday May 8th—wrote boldly that Christ is our Mother.
It’s pretty easy to see: Jesus’ love remains with us, despite all. We abide in Jesus, no matter what. God in Jesus shows us the perfect image of God’s love, God’s will to give us everything, lay down everything for us. God gave birth to the universe, and Jesus gives birth to the Church on the cross. The people of the Church get to crash at Jesus’ house into all eternity (the refrigerator in heaven is always full). So, today, as we give thanks for all parents who mother, let us also give thanks that in their actions, Christ’s own love abides.
And like a parent rocking a crying child, God knows that patience and gentleness is the only way. Though God was faced with betrayal and rebellion, faced with violence and death, God in Christ defeated these, not with manipulation, with neither power nor silence. But God in Christ on Easter Day we celebrate conquered these with abiding love.
So I leave you with some words from Julian of Norwich from the 1300s. She writes, “It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good. … Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts. And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never cease to surround us.” So let us remain in this love, let us be still in it. Let us abide in Christ’s love.