This Sunday is going to look very different for every church across the country and most the world, because we can’t gather in person. This Sunday is also Mothering Sunday in the UK and for the first time in years I’m excited about it, because this year the church has a bigger message to preach.
Mother’s Day in the UK was never designed to be a day that elevated one role over another, it was about the church family. It was a day when people returned to their mother church and now, in a moment like the one we’re in, we not only need to return to our church family, but we also need to redefine what church family looks. Over the years our idea of church family has become increasingly individualistic to the point where our priorities as God’s people have shifted to look like this:
- Church Family
- Others *
But this isn’t how church was meant to be, this list of priorities doesn’t reflect how Jesus talked about those who followed him, or how the early church met in Acts, or even the original vision behind Mothering Sunday in the UK and if we’re going to get through a global pandemic then this list of priorities simply will not enable us to thrive as a church.
Tomorrow is not about mothers, tomorrow is about redefining what family looks like in a time of crisis
We’ve somehow separated out our loyalty to God and our loyalty to the church family. We’re more focused on experiencing God at a personal level and church often becomes that place you go to when you’re not busy. But now, more than ever we need each other, because there is no way we’re going to get through whatever lies ahead as individuals. Jesus’ call to follow him was inseparable from his call to become part of his alternative family. When you look at the early church in Acts 4, you can see how their loyalty to God and fellow believers was not separated; they had everything in common, no one was in need and the Lord added to their number daily.
Tomorrow is not about mothers, tomorrow is about redefining what family looks like in a time of crisis and we have the most powerful and beautiful examples of this in scripture and from stories across the world of churches that have thrived in times of great struggle.
One of the reasons Sonya and I started the Mother’s Day Runaways service was because we wanted to provide a grieving space for those who, like us, found the celebration of Mother’s Day painful. But the moment for separate grieving spaces is over, because in the space of 5 days people are already in great pain as a result of the Corona Virus. Yesterday, along with thousands of other small business owners across the country, we had to close our coffee shop with no certainty of what lies ahead. Every day I’ve heard stories of pain, stress, anxiety and fear; from NHS workers, teachers, business owners, those with complex health struggles and parents who have no idea how they’re going to survive home schooling their kids.
Jesus’ vision for authentic Christian community doesn’t just challenge us to be more considerate of another’s pain, but to suffer with them as one body. We’re already seeing this as the younger generations are telling the elderly in their community to ‘stay indoors!’ rather than just walk past them on the street. Jesus’ vision for the church calls us to realign our priorities and place our family of faith above our earthly families and this is the moment for the church to rediscover how to rejoice and mourn with each because that’s what family does.
If you want to celebrate your mothers tomorrow then go for it, they deserve it. But the church has a bigger challenge ahead of it, a bigger calling and a far bigger message to preach tomorrow because now is the time for us to redefine what family looks like not just this year, but next year and the one after that. What if next year, Mothering Sunday was no longer the day people stayed away from church because of the painful story they carry around mothering, but was instead a celebration of the day when, in a time of crisis, the church learnt how to be family again.
When the church was family it was on fire** and this is our opportunity to return to that moment.
*Taken from ‘When Church was a family’, by Joseph H. Hellerman