A pause on the way…sermon for Refreshment/Mothering Sunday 2021, Adel Parish church.
Today we arrive at Lent 4. It’s been quite a journey so far. We began in the wilderness, wondering how we could make this Lent meaningful, in a year that’s been a bit like one long Lent.
Then we were invited to follow Jesus, first looking carefully at just who it is we are following. Then trying like him avoid the easy fixes, recognising that this journey leads to the cross.
Last week, Jesus proved an uncomfortable travelling companion…armed with a whip of cords, and angry at how we get distracted by unimportant details, and forget our destination.
This journey’s definitely more serious hike than Sunday afternoon stroll.
As a family we’ve always enjoyed hiking. When our children were quite small, they would cheerfully walk quite long distances. But we had to make sure there was a proper stop in the middle…preferably beside a stream. Here we shed our loads for a while, and ate lunch. But more importantly the kids loved to throw stones in the river, try to dam the stream, or if the weather allowed, go for a paddle. It was important to forget for a while the miles still to be travelled, the hills still to climb.
I think the same applies to our spiritual and mental journeys, and the church seems to agree, since today – mid way through Lent – we arrive at Mothering Sunday…or Refreshment Sunday as it was before the newer celebration took over.
Historically this was a day of relief from Lent fasting. It was also a time when people were encouraged to return to their ‘mother church’. Centuries ago, young people barely out of childhood left home to work in big houses or on farms. On refreshment Sunday they had the day off, to worship at the church they grew up in, and visit their families.
I can imagine the wonderful relief of that day…no longer having to be adults…bearing responsibilities…they would go home, be fed and in a way, be children once again.
I can imagine it because I remember when I first started work…was first a mother, going home to my parents for a weekend. Walking through the door, I was somehow able to put down my responsibilities for a bit. I might take some work, or a baby with me…but we were cooked for, outings planned, decisions made. Obviously difficult stuff didn’t go away, but for a while I didn’t have to be teacher, mother, homeowner…I could just be me.
Sometimes those young people going home would pick wild flowers from hedgerows to present to their mothers, sometimes they would be allowed to bake a simnel cake to take as a gift. Perhaps it was from this that our notion of ‘Mothering Sunday’ grew.
In many cultures…many families, mothers bear much of the burden of work and responsibility. They’re often the ones who take our burdens for a while when they seem too much. So, it seems right that we keep this day, that we try for a day at least to allow mothers to lay down their burdens and just be themselves.
But I rather like the idea of Refreshment Sunday, as a reminder that we all need, now and then, to lay down our burdens and just enjoy being ourselves. It’s an idea that runs through our scriptures, from the institution of the Sabbath, to Jesus taking his disciples aside to rest and recharge after they’ve been out proclaiming the coming kingdom.
We don’t all have a mother around, or the sort of relationship that allows offloading of burdens. But those qualities are not confined to mothers. Jesus didn’t send the disciples back to their mothers; he took charge and responsibility for a while, giving them time just to be.
We can do the same for one another. Sadly, inviting someone round for a meal is still a little way off. But even just a phone call where we say ‘How are you?’, really meaning it and ready to listen, can give someone a ‘refreshment Sunday’…a chance to lay down their burdens for a while.
And there’s the idea of keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest. It gets a bit of a bad press in the gospels, as Jesus and the Pharisees wrangle over whether healing counts as work. But Jesus’ never challenges the importance of Sabbath, only its rules and regulations. Anxiety over keeping rules brings extra burdens to a day which should be about the opposite. Work is forbidden so that we’re free from responsibilities. Difficulties won’t go away, but for a day there is nothing to do but be with God.
Clergy are encouraged each year to take time out for a retreat. Not a holiday, but time away from the parish to be spent wholly on nurturing and refreshing our relationship with God.
In 2020, for various reasons, I didn’t manage this. I’ve missed it. It’s a time to put the responsibilities of the parish aside for a few days…a time just to be with God as myself.
Maybe for you, this is Mothering Sunday…you may be lucky enough to receive some gifts, or be treated however lockdown allows…you may be the one doing the treating…allowing someone a rest from the chores and responsibilities of motherhood. If so, enjoy this special day.
For some, Mothering Sunday is a reminder of difficult relationships, a time of grief. If this is so, may today for you be Refreshment Sunday. You might reach out to someone you know who needs to be asked how they really are, to share their burdens for a while, or to someone who will do the same for you.
And for all of us, let’s make the most of this space in our Lenten journey. Let’s carve out a bit of ‘retreat’ time, to spend with God, without any agenda but to be his beloved children.