Mother’s Day was yesterday. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about it. Despite my wife’s claim late Saturday night that I had not mentioned Mother’s Day once in the weeks leading up to it, I had bought some cards and presents for the leading ladies in my life.
My church did a bang up job too, giving every woman (not mom, but woman!) in the sanctuary a potted plant. I was incredibly proud of our stewardship team because when they discussed Mother’s Day they were very mindful that we have wonderful and holy women in our congregation who are not mothers but who are just as valuable as the moms. Also on their minds were those who have lost their mothers in the last year as well as those mother’s who have lost children. These are the types of great questions that a people who worship The Holy Trinity ask. They are also questions and concerns that I share every second Sunday of May.
But my concerns run a bit deeper. I am a church calendar nut and have been for some time and Mother’s Day always lands right in the middle of a “trinity” of holy Sundays meant to cap off the first half of the church calendar year. In fact, the month of May is an awkward month for Christians because most Mays there are three major Church holy-days (Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays), one Hallmark holiday (Mother’s Day) and one national holiday (Memorial Day). How is a pastor in the Christian tradition supposed to juggle all these things?!
My gut response is to prioritize the church days. The first two, Ascension and Pentecost, are huge and important events in the life of Jesus and in the church. In fact if Jesus hadn’t ascended and the Spirit had not descended there wouldn’t even be a church! Even more telling is that our “family friendly” church spent 1,900 years creating holidays and never once did it occur to them to create one for mom’s or dad’s. This despite the fact that honoring your parents is one of the top ten commandments! With that said the first Mother’s Day was held at a church but apparently founded to encourage mom’s to join together to work for peace. (Source and source)
Be that as it may when Mother’s Day, or even Memorial Day, conflict with the holy-days, I give them lip service at the top of the service and then move on to the more important topics, like Ascension and Pentecost and Trinity.
However, some days there is no conflict. When Mother’s Day and Pentecost overlap it is fun to talk about the Spirit as our nurturing Mother. When Memorial Day and Ascension overlap it is really fun to talk about that life which we remember the most, Jesus’s life, which did not end but goes on forever.
Putting those clever pairings aside, I still have always found Mother’s Day just too problematic for a church. There are dozens of problems whether they be liturgical (isn’t Pentecost more important?), theological (the Bible tells us to give orphans and widows priority) or just plain practical (we have some women who struggle with infertility).
But last week I read something that made all this a bit less complicated for me. I was reading a fascinating little commentary on the book of Lamentations written by Soong-Chan Rah. Rah doesn’t pull any punches when he compares the honest heartache of Old Testament Judea with the dishonest and fake triumphalism of modern Christianity. At times his words are down right insensitive, especially to this white suburban evangelical pastor whose very existence runs contrary to the heart of a book like Lamentations.
Halfway through the book Rah writes a very poetic paragraph about his mother. Here is what he says:
“My mother has lived through a very difficult set of life circumstances. She endured a very difficult marriage. For most of her married life, her husband was not around, resulting in her raising four kids on her own as an immigrant in a foreign land. Her minimal English skills as a first generation immigrant meant that she took miminum-wage jobs (often two of them at a time) to keep her family together. During one stretch, she worked two jobs: a day shift at an inner city carry out and the graveyard shift at an inner city nursing home. She was working twenty hours a day, six days a week. Throughout all her trials, she never lost her faith. To this day, even with her eyesight failing her, she faithfully reads chapter after chapter of Scripture. She would wake up at dawn to pray for hours every day. Several years ago, I noticed that her knee caps had split into several pieces from the many hours of prayer she spent kneeling. When she kneels, her broken caps conform to the flat surface of the floor. My deep disappointment with American evangelicalism is that stories like hers are deemed less worthy than the stories of the latest greatest, evangelical superstar with his megachurch.” (p. 61 in Prophetic Lament)
I read that paragraph at the end of my sermon yesterday. I had some clever but ultimately stretched tie in to the sermon, something about how Rah’s mother has something to teach us about a relationship with the one who ascended into heaven. But in the end I couldn’t not read about that mom on Mother’s Day because, well yes, a mom like that does have a lot to teach us about what the Christian life looks like.
Later in the day I was talking to my church board about holiness. I asked for concrete examples of the holy life and they all mentioned people they knew who lived it out, but lived it in ways that are hard for words to describe. But the stories of their lives describe it well. I believe Rah’s mother is one such example. And if we want to live out the theology formed on Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays, Rah’s mother might help us considerably in that endeavor.
I am sure there are thousands more mom’s just like her. Maybe it isn’t so bad to take a Sunday out of the year to commemorate them.