Sermons

May 8: Ascension — Mother’s Day

“And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-53)

Ascension 2

We celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus, that in between time of his presence at the Resurrection, and that of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Luke’s gospels ends here and the gospel writer takes up the narrative of the apostles and their witness in the Acts of the Apostles. Here the word “witness” has the meaning of “martyr.”

Today is Mother’s Day. Is there a connection between this feast day and the special day when we honor our mothers?

Let me explore this theme with you this morning.

We celebrate mothers today with over 21 billion dollars generated in revenue for greeting cards, flowers, dining at restaurants, and the myriad ways of saying some thanks to those women in our lives.

For Hallmark Cards, this is the third most popular day (next to Christmas and Valentine’s Day) to “care enough to send the very best.”

Recently, I checked a sample of Mother’s Day greeting cards.

  • “There is no way to be a perfect mother but a million ways to be a good one.”
  • “Sooner or later we all quote our mothers.”
  • “ ’Mother’ (noun) One person who does the work of twenty for free.”
  • “You know your life has changed when going to the grocery story by yourself — is a vacation.”

Mother’s Day as a national celebration began as a result of the “activism” by women during the Civil War. Journalist and public speaker, Julia Ward Howe advanced the idea of a “Mothers Day” to honor the women, including her own mother, who nursed Civil War wounded – sons, husbands, brothers. These women were the only recourse as “care givers” in the aftermath of that deadly war.

In the early 20th century, another activist, Anna Jarvis petitioned President Wilson to make “Mother’s Day” a national holiday. She championed the idea that the brave women who worked in public health, knew first-hand deadly diseases like the 1918 flu epidemic and its effect on countless children.

In the United Kingdom, the idea of “Mothering Day” took a different course. Celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent, so-call Laetare Sunday, this feast honors mothers but also requires a visit to that “mother church,” in one’s town – perhaps, the cathedral of the town or diocese; and to the very location of one’s own baptism.

With the baking of special cakes for dessert – this visit to “Mum” is a recognition of one’s own spiritual birth in waters of baptism – the very location for grace and family celebration.

So this is a day in time, and a day of grace. This time of year is filled with grace-filled celebrations. Yesterday, I attend a first holy communion of second graders. Last week I presided at a wedding anniversary of friends of mine, surrounded by family and friends. There are graduations and high school/college reunions. These are all signs of vitality and growth, transitions and accomplishments.

We celebrate Mother’s Day to honor women and sometimes this is not limited to women, also men, who do the astonishing work of generative love: sometime as single moms, working moms, caring for and being “care-giver” to their children, and older parents.

madonna2

A close friend of mine, Frank Barrett gave an eloquent eulogy at his mother’s funeral Mass recently. She died in Ohio, at the age of 92. Among the themes about Sissy, this remarkable mother and deeply devoted Catholic, these incidents stand out, and say something larger about a mother’s love.

In the eulogy, Frank draws from the deep well of family stories:

 “A saint is a person who wills one thing. The meaningful life is the life of surrendering to an unconditional commitment.” (Soren Kierkegaard). My mother in this sense was a saint – she was completely devoted to family.

(Years ago) her youngest brother, Jimmy, had his high school graduation party, he pulled my mother aside and confessed to her that when he went through graduation he didn’t actually receive a diploma because he hadn’t finished one of his exams. The following Monday she marched him down to the school, went to the administrator and demanded that they give him the diploma. She was making the situation right by providing what’s missing. And she was fiercely loyal in defending her brother Jimmy.

When I was in 7th grade, playing in Little League baseball I was playing first base.   Fly ball was hit to me and I was so nervous that I dropped it. The manager took me out the next inning and I sat on the bench humiliated and dejected.

The next game I sat on the bench the entire game and felt humiliated. I found out later that she went to the little league office and protested. There is now a policy that every kid can play in at least part of every game. My mother changed the rules. She was fiercely loyal to family and provided what was missing.

Frank concludes:

Jesus stands for love. Love is the enemy of fear. Love is openness, generosity, vulnerability, intimacy, gratitude, forgiveness. So pay attention to Jesus’ words on the cross (in this Gospel). Pay attention to what he says to his mother and the beloved disciple.

The Gospel reads: When Jesus saw his mother* and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.”

Today is Ascension Day, and we are his witnesses, and together we do his healing work of love, forgiveness and mercy. But seldom, do we consider Jesus as a mother, maybe a brother or a father? How might we describe the maternal aspect of Jesus?

Saint Anselm, over 1,000 years ago in Canterbury, wrote this unique prayer, making reference to Jesus as a mother.

Anselm prays:

Jesus as our Mother you gather your people to you;

You are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride; tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.

You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds; in sickness you nurse us and feed us.

Lord in your mercy heal us; in your love and tenderness remake us. In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness.

For the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

Amen.

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