Most people will have realised that this coming Sunday (22nd March) is Mother’s Day – or to give it the ‘proper’ title, Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday is a good occasion to think about the nature of God – for, as Julian of Norwich said in the fourteenth century, ‘as truly as God is our Father, so also is God our Mother’.
People sometimes think that feminine imagery for God is very new, but it actually goes way back to some of the early books of the Bible. The prophet Hosea described the way God cared for his people in a very maternal way.
‘It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led with cords of human kindness, with the bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.’ (Hosea 11.3-4).
Now, we don’t have to start calling God ‘Mother’ – that isn’t necessarily any more helpful than ‘Father’. But it is worth noting that there is this element in the biblical tradition, and it has been picked up by people in the centuries since.
So how can we respond to this God who is mother and father and so much else besides? On Mothering Sunday, like so many others do, perhaps we could say it with flowers.
How on earth can we do that? No floral delivery company has a way to cope with it! But we do talk about offering ourselves to God. I don’t suppose you have ever thought of yourself as a flower, even though flower allusions abound in our language; we talk about being ‘fresh as a daisy’, or we describe someone as being ‘a shrinking violet’. People are sometimes ‘prickly’.
But when you think about it, what kind of flower are you? Are you like a camellia, rather startlingly beautiful? Or like rosemary, starting to bloom right at the beginning of your life and continuing year on year? Are you one of those plants that doesn’t flower often? Or one that props others up? Are you a plant with rather insignificant flowers, but always there in the background to help others give of their best? Do you fill the world with fragrance, or give flavour to life?
Are you one of the plants that bring hope in the dark days of winter? Some plants are very beautiful when their flowers are dead – some people come into their own towards the end of their lives.
Sometimes we put a single flower into a vase and enjoy its beauty. At other times, we put many different varieties together in an arrangement. There is an important place for our individual response to God, but when we come together as a church we discover new things about ourselves as we relate to each other as well as to God. Like a flower arrangement, we can bring out the best in each other, and complement and support each other.
On our own perhaps we don’t look very exciting – that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own beauty – but put with others, the ones who are a bit shy can find support, and those who are rather exotic can lend their colour and perfume to the more retiring. Even those who are prickly can be a great support to those who are fragile.
So we can give God quite a bouquet – and it we listen carefully, we’ll hear God say, as every mother does, ‘Thank you dear, that’s just lovely!’