Monday, March 15, 2010

Mothering Sunday

As I write this, we have just celebrated Mothering Sunday.  The Church was packed and, as is our custom, we distributed posies to all our mothers.  It was a very happy occasion.  Mothering Sunday occurs on the fourth Sunday of Lent and so falls on a different date each year.  In the UK, Mothering Sunday is also known as Mother’s Day, largely due to the influence of the United States, which celebrates its Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May.  This is also the day on which it is mainly celebrated in Hong Kong.

In fact, however, Mothering Sunday, traditionally, has a meaning that goes much deeper than that of simply Mother’s Day.  In the past in the UK, people would return to their mother churches; normally, a large parish Church or a Cathedral.  Inevitably, the return to the 'mother' Church became an occasion for family reunions as children who were working away returned home.  (It was quite common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old.)  As they walked along the country lanes, children would pick wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.  Our giving of posies to our mothers keeps this tradition alive.

The Gospel reading for yesterday was that of the so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son.  (I wrote a little about this last year. See under: Lent)

I say, ‘so-called’ because the parable as Jesus tells it is about two sons not just one.  The parable is the third in a series of three parables.  St Luke introduces them like this:

‘Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’’  (Luke 15:1-2)

So Jesus tells first the Parable of the Lost Sheep and then the Parable of the Lost Coin.  The shepherd who finds his lost sheep asks his friends and neighbours to join him in celebrating finding his sheep.  The woman who has lost the coin also invites her friends and neighbours to join her in celebrating her finding her coin.

After each parable, Jesus speaks of the joy in heaven over a sinner who repents.  He then tells the parable we know as the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  It is Jesus’ longest parable and one of the most popular.  The younger son behaves scandalously by asking for his share of the inheritance before his father is dead.  He then wastes it in dissolute living.  It takes a famine that reduces him to near starvation to bring him to his senses.  Sometimes it takes a crisis or tragedy to do the same for us!

The Prodigal decides to go home and to ask to be taken on as a hired servant.  He knows he no longer deserves to be called a son.  His father sees him from a distance and runs out to meet him.  The father won’t hear of him being a hired servant and orders for him to be restored and a party to be held to celebrate his return.

This is often where we stop when thinking about this parable.  It is easy to see why.  It is a message to us of the love and forgiveness of God who ‘when we were still far off’ met us in his Son.  It reassures us that God runs to meet us and welcome us back to him if after we have strayed and failed him, we return to him.

But this is not where Jesus stops in his original telling of the parable.  Jesus continues to describe the anger of the elder son on hearing that his father is giving a party for the lost son who has retuned.  The father goes out to him as he had gone out to meet his younger son.  Jesus concludes the parable with the words of the father:

‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’  (Luke 15:32)

In the same way that the shepherd rejoiced over finding his lost coin and the woman her coin, so the father and the elder son should rejoice that the prodigal has returned.  Jesus is speaking directly to the scribes and Pharisees.  They are like them the elder son who refused by refusing to rejoice that sinners are responding to his message.  Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost.  The reaction when they are found should be one of joy and celebration.

The Church should be a ‘community of celebration’: places where people not only discover the forgiveness of God, but can celebrate finding it with others who also have found it.  Our services should be occasions of celebration.  And anyone coming to our Church for the first time should get a sense that a party is going on.

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