Need I tell you, “Today is Mother’s Day”? A day fraught with complexity. For some this is a difficult day—one that reminds them of what they did not have or of what they have lost. For others this is a Holy Day of Obligation—the flowers, the cards, the Sunday brunch. Some preachers wrap the day in cliché. Others avoid it all together. After all, it’s a Hallmark holiday, not a Holy Day in the church calendar.
And yet this is a day that offers us an opportunity to reflect on love—the kind of love that brings us to life, the kind of love we know in Christ, a mothering kind of love.
Jesus says to his disciples, Jesus says to you and me, “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Love”—it’s a word that appears again and again in the Gospel of John and in the letters of John as well. In the Gospel of John, the word “love” appears twenty times and in the First Letter of John which we hear today it appears thirty-three times.
When I was in seminary, I took Greek. We all did. It was a requirement. The text we read was the First Letter of John. Midway through the course, after maybe the sixteenth sighting of the word “love”, I raised my hand. I wanted to know just what John meant by that word. A three-sentence explanation would have sufficed. The professor dodged my question. “Hmm, aah,” he replied and then went on with the lesson.
He never did answer my question. Today, I’m beginning to think that it was a question best left unanswered, a question I needed to answer for myself.
“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says to his disciples. What does that mean? What kind of love is that? What does love like that look like? What does love like that feel like?
Answers to questions like that don’t come from books or scholars or even poets. Answers to questions like that come from life, from experience, from being on the receiving end of love.
There’s a picture I keep on my bookshelf. I look at it every morning as I’m praying. I keep it on my laptop too. It’s a picture of my mom looking at me. She’s looking at me with love and delight. I’m always brought up short by that picture because the looks I often got from my mom were looks of frustration, confusion or exasperation. And yet, when I look up, I see mom looking back at me with love. It’s not that she has forgotten the time I mixed cookies on the kitchen floor or the time I spilled her best perfume on her dresser or the nights I came in rather late. She remembers those but in the love that picture captures, those trifles do not matter. The psalmist says of God, “She rescued me because she delighted in me.”
Perhaps you noticed. I’ve changed the pronouns. That’s because the love I know, the love of God and Christ, I knew first through my mom.
“Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus says to his disciples. He’s not talking about a feeling. He’s not talking about a kind of extended liking. He’s talking about a way of living that involves coming back again and again to those one loves. A way of forgiving time and again. A love that welcomes people as they are. A love that delights in people. A love that says in ways big and small, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” A nurturing kind of love. A life-giving love. The kind of love we all long for.
Today is Mother’s Day—a day fraught with complexities. For some this is a day that reminds them of the nurturing love they longed for but never received. Others find in this day a painful reminder of losses—mothers gone, children never born, children dead before their time. I like to think of this day as a day that invites us to remember the nurturing, loving mothering that runs through every life. Mothering we receive sometimes from our mothers, sometimes from our fathers, sometimes from our friends, sometimes from teachers or bosses or neighbors, and sometimes from total strangers. Mothering that is not gendered. Mothering that is simply an expression of deep, life-giving love. Mothering love—the love of Christ and the love Christ calls us to.