Today is Mothering Sunday. How gentle that sounds at a time of continuing pandemic and the horror of war in Ukraine, with its destruction of people and places. The cards, flowers and gifts that mothers will receive today as expressions of gratitude for all the love and support they have given their children stands in stark contrast to the bombing of the maternity hospital in Ukraine.
It appears, though, that the history of mankind has been one of both gentleness and horror. Acts of loving kindness whereby we build each other up and acts prompted by fear and hatred whereby we bring each other down. It is a seesaw that has yet to stop going up and down and rest in balance across the world. Only when that happens will the lion lie down with the lamb.
We may be decades away from that position but we must not despair. To keep hope alive let us look at today’s Gospel reading to see where that takes us. Jesus is about to die on the Cross. An agonizing death being witnessed by his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple. It seems at this point as though hatred has triumphed as not even maternal love can save Jesus from his death. Mary’s love can only be expressed in the agony she must have felt in losing her son in such a terrible way. Yet even at this time of extreme suffering there is a moment of gentleness. Jesus puts his mother into the care of the beloved disciple and says: ‘Woman, here is your son’. Then he says to the beloved disciple: ‘here is your mother’ and the disciple takes her into his own home.
In this Gospel narrative, John gives us a perfect example of an act of loving kindness amidst an act of destruction that is a pattern we are all familiar with. It is in this particular act of kindness that we can find the hope we are looking for. We can find it because it is a missionary act. The mission we all have to love and care for one another is not destroyed by the death of any one of us. In this, his last act of mission before his life on earth ends, Jesus is completing his earthly task before bowing his head and giving up his spirit. Our mission is to continue in such acts of loving kindness.
We also know that this death of Jesus is in itself our hope because it is a death that saves us from the power of sin and offers us an eternal life in the kingdom of God. God has put his son on the Cross as an act of ultimate love for us all and our hope lies in this love that is our past, present and future. It cannot be taken from us by destruction and death.
I hope that I have gleaned enough from today’s Gospel reading to offer us all hope beyond the despair we can feel when all around us seems to be going awry. You could say, also, that when times are hard it can bring out the best in us. The lockdown imposed by the pandemic produced numerous acts of kindness. The financial hardship now experienced by so many is being offset by people volunteering in food banks and donating generously. The plight of the refugees from Ukraine has mobilised people left, right and centre in offering aid and accommodation. This is mission in action on a grand scale.
Then there is the positive effect of the narrowing down of some of our daily activities in lockdown, prompting us to reflect on life and to evaluate where we are and what matters to us. All these are positives in the sea of negatives that we currently find ourselves in.
Hope, though, is not just for those who actively seek God’s presence in their lives and do good works for the benefit of others. It is also offered by God to those who regret their wrongdoing. One such was Dismas, the Penitent Thief, who, according to the Gospel of Luke, was one of the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus. Dismas asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingly power. Jesus responds by saying ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’. When I was reading ‘Dismas, the Penitent Thief’ by Mark Thomas Jones, he writes of the synergy between the Virgin Mary and Dismas who are both experiencing agony. For Dismas the physical agony and for Mary the emotional anguish and trauma in losing her son. In the Catholic church St Dismas is commemorated on 25th March, the same day as the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when Christ was conceived and so became Incarnate. For Catholics, Mary is Dismas’s Gate of Heaven and she is the refuge of sinners. I thought it appropriate to look at this description of Mary on this Mothering Sunday as one of parenting of offspring in trouble.
So Mary can be seen as our refuge, God as our ultimate refuge and we can be a refuge for those seeking to escape persecution. All this keeps hope alive and demonstrates our trust in the love of God.