Sermon Easter 5 Year C [Mother's Day] | DB Home | RCL Resources Index |

Love like a mother, and more

The new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples as he went out from the Last Supper is a clear requirement of discipleship for all followers of Jesus:

The kind of love with which we are to love one another is then the kind of love with which Jesus loved his disciples: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. And what kind of love was that? We know it was sacrificial and unselfish love, for their sakes, not for his; but what was it like in human terms? Was it like human friendship? Yes, in part it was; Jesus indeed called the disciples his friends in his farewell that same evening:

And we know that Jesus spoke at the same time of showing them the love of his Father,

So his love for them was like the love of a father, the Heavenly Father, to whom he taught them to pray. He also referred to his disciples as his brothers (John 20:7), and identified himself with people who are hungry or thirsty or naked or a stranger or in prison as feeling what was done to them, the least of these my brothers, as done to himself (Matthew 25:40). So in human terms we have the examples of friendship, fatherly love and brotherly love in Jesus himself. This will give us part of the picture of the kind of love with which he has commanded us to love one another. But, on this day, Mother's Day, you might ask what about motherly love?

Now, I must admit that I have sometimes in past years ignored that the fact that it is Mother's Day. Or perhaps I might have given it attention in the prayers of the people, but said nothing about it in the sermon, preferring to avoid the false religion that can be associated folk festivals that have nothing to do with the gospel, and so to teach only from scripture. The commercial promotion of the Day has been one factor in my not wishing to give it too great an emphasis, and it must be admitted that Jesus at times pointed us away from relying too much on the relationships developed in our natural families. For example, when his mother and his brothers came down to Galilee looking for him at Capernaum and those with him told him that his mother and brothers were outside, he said

He had to warn his disciples that loyalty him would have to be put above loyalty to their own families

These are tough words, dramatically stated, even if the word 'hate' does not mean there quite what it commonly means for us. We know that he called us to a higher loyalty. At the same time, Jesus did reinforce the Jewish law about honouring your father and mother (eg. Mark 10:19). So then if we now ask about Jesus using the example of motherly love, it is not for the building up loyalty to the family, the tribe or the nation as a Christian duty, for Jesus called us away from such narrow conceptions of love and applied the same kind of duty to our treatment of strangers and even our enemies. Yet it is still true that beside honouring our parents Jesus gave us an example of motherly love.

During Lent as we travelled with Jesus to Jerusalem we had cause to remember his lament over the city, which tell us that his love for the people there was like the love of a mother:-

That is a wonderful motherly image of nurture. Jesus imagined himself to be like a hen with her chickens, but wept that he could not gather them under his protection.

Do you think that he was at the same time showing us the motherly nature of God? Is it scriptural to speak of God being like a mother to us, as well as like a father? Well there are plenty of examples of it scattered through the Bible. For example God's relationship to the people of Israel is described as that of one who bore them and gave them birth; but like Jesus in relation to the people of Jerusalem Moses spoke of God as lamenting his children's forgetting their mother:

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, we hear God speak of himself as like a mother:

There are plenty of other images of a feminine character to the love of God. When Jesus showed that kind of love and compassion, it was not out of character with what had already been revealed about the nature of God. So the love with which we are called to love one another includes the motherly kind of love, for we are to love in the way that he loved us.

Perhaps you will have noticed the significance of singing "Once in royal David's city" today - "where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed." The importance of Mary in the gospel record and in the church, further heightens the examples of motherly love, along with the love of friends, fathers, brothers and sisters, although, as we have seen, Mary had to learn that the kind of love she had for her son could not limit him, and in the end could not be limited to him or to the immediate circle of the family, or to one's own people however they might be defined. The command of Jesus takes us beyond those primary relationships.

And let us not forget that it was a command. Jesus not only gave us examples from family life of how we should love. He commanded us.

At the conclusion of Lent, on Maundy Thursday, when the traditional rite of washing one another's feet is enacted in many churches to remember the example of humble service that Jesus to his disciples, we recall, from the gospel reading for today, the new commandment that he gave on that last occasion when they eat together:

That is where the name "Maundy" for the Thursday before Good Friday comes from. In Latin "mandatum" means command, its meaning survives in our word "mandate". It is something that is required to be done. It is not an option. We are his friends only if we do it.

The ceremonial washing of feet used to conclude the ceremonies of Holy Thursday, typically at the service of compline, which became known as Maundy Thursday because of a phrase in the latin service mandatum novum do vobis (A new commandment I give unto you. -- John 13:34): dies mandatum became `day of maundy'. So the sign of service to one another that Jesus gave, saying 'you also ought to wash one another's feet', was linked with his new commandment for the unity of the whole church: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. -- John 13:34-35. So also the ceremonial use of "maundy money" as a sign of love or charity, when caring for the poor is symbolized by someone, such as the Queen, providing a good example by giving money in the form of special coins away to people in need.

How is that? Unselfishly! For their sakes and not our own. I don't want to sound mean and unduly critical of the present day, and I am sure there were other faults equally great in former times, but I do think it is tragic that love is today often considered a kind of trade or investment. Parents, both fathers and mothers do sometimes think that way. I have heard serious discussions recently of how much people invest in their children. We expect to get something in return for our love, and we feel cheated if we do receive back mutual affection or service of equal value. In doing so we set ourselves up for disappointment and put our relationships under strain. Not that people do not return affection and give back something of value for what they have received from us, for often they do. Most people are have a measure of generosity and fairness about them, but you cannot count on it. People tend to love those who love them, though not always. As Jesus said on another occasion:

Love which is traded may be useful in human affairs, but it is not the love that transforms, renews, heals, liberates or saves. Love which brings about these greater benefits in human life is unconditional love. It may be sacrificial; and when it is most effective it is unselfish, like the beneficial love with which Jesus Christ has loved us. That is the point of importance, we are called to love as Christ loved us: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. And the good news is that we are enabled to do it because we have been affected by his love, we benefit from the transforming way that he first loved us, not in any trade, and not because we deserved it.

His unselfish love was sacrificial, and he spoke the words giving the new commandment on the night when he was preparing to die. His sacrificial death was the great example, and more than that, the very means of effective love, transforming human life. However, as we remember it now, in the high celebration of the Christian hope, in the season of Easter, it is in regard to what he was shortly to achieve. That was foreshadowed in the gospel today. John brings us the words of Jesus as he went out into the night from the Last Supper as if the resurrection had already taken place:

We too give him the glory, for he showed us how to love. Praise be to him, he who incorporated the love of mother and father, and brother and sister, and love of friends into relationships even with those who were his enemies, and so he opened the way of life for us to follow him, out of the shadow of death into his marvellous light. Glory to him, indeed. Amen.

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